Automattic Shakeup

My employer Automattic‘s having a bit of a reorganisation. For unrelated reasons, this coincides with my superteam having a bit of a reorganisation, too, and I’m going to be on a different team next week than I’ve been on for most of the 4+ years I’ve been there1. Together, these factors mean that I have even less idea than usual what I do for a living, right now.

Dan, wearing an Oxford-branded t-shirt, shrugs and looks confused in front of a screen showing Automattic's "Work With Us" page.
What is it I do here again? Something something code WooCommerce something something marketplace awesome something, right?

On the whole, I approve of Matt‘s vision for this reorganisation. He writes:

Each [Automattic employee] gets a card: Be the Host, Help the Host, or Neutral.

You cannot change cards during the course of your day or week. If you do not feel aligned with your card, you need to change divisions within Automattic.

“Be the Host” folks are all about making Automattic’s web hosting offerings the best they possibly can be. These are the teams behind, VIP, and Tumblr, for example. They’re making us competitive on the global stage. They bring Automattic money in a very direct way, by making our (world class) hosting services available to our customers.

“Help the Host” folks (like me) are in roles that are committed to providing the best tools that can be used anywhere. You might run your copy of Woo, Jetpack, or (the client-side bit of) Akismet on Automattic infrastructure… or alternatively you might be hosted by one of our competitors or even on your own hardware. What we bring to Automattic is more ethereal: we keep the best talent and expertise in these technologies close to home, but we’re agnostic about who makes money out of what we create.

A laptop computer on a desk, showing a WordPress wp-admin page.
This stock photo confuses me so much that I had to use it. It’s WordPress, as seen in Chrome on Windows Vista… but running on a MacBook Air. The photographer has tried to blur their site domain name (but it’s perfectly readable), but hasn’t concealed the fact they’re running µTorrent in the background (for Obviously Legal Reasons, I’m sure). Weird. But the important thing is that, crazy as this person’s choices are, they can use Automattic’s software however they like. It’s cool.

Anyway: I love the clarification on the overall direction of the company… but I’m not sure how we market it effectively2. I look around at the people in my team and its sister teams, all of us proudly holding our “Help the Hosts” cards and ready to work to continue to make Woo an amazing ecommerce platform wherever you choose to host it.

And obviously I can see the consumer value in that. It’s reassuring to know that the open source software we maintain or contribute to is the real deal and we’re not exporting a cut-down version nor are we going to try to do some kind of rug pull to coerce people into hosting with us. I think Automattic’s long track record shows that.

But how do we sell that? How do we explain that “hey, you can trust us to keep these separate goals separate within our company, so there’s never a conflict of interest and you getting the best from us is always what we want”? Personally, seeing the inside of Automattic, I’m convinced that we’re not – like so much of Big Tech – going to axe the things you depend upon3 or change the terms and conditions to the most-exploitative we can get away with4 or support your business just long enough to be able to undermine and consume it 5.

In short: I know that we’re the “good guys”. And I can see how this reorganisation reinforces that. But I can’t for the life of me see how we persuade the rest of the world of the fact6.

Any ideas?


1 I’ve been on Team Fire for a long while, which made my job title “Code Magician on Fire”, but now I’ll be on Team Desire which isn’t half as catchy a name but I’m sure they’ll make up for it by being the kinds of awesome human beings I’ve become accustomed to working alongside at Automattic.

2 Fortunately they pay me to code, not to do marketing.

3 Cough… Google.

4 Ahem… Facebook.

5 ${third_coughing_sound}… Amazon.

6 Seriously, it’s a good thing I’m not in marketing. I’d be so terrible at it. Also public relations. Did I ever tell you the story about the time that, as a result of a mix-up, I accidentally almost gave an interview to the Press Office at the Vatican? A story for another time, perhaps

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  1. Wren Wren says:


    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      Oh! You mean instead of “cards”? I think Matt was making it sound a bit like a party/social deduction game, but given that we’re such a t-shirt-wearing company (at least, I have a wardrobe mostly-filled with Automattic t-shirts!) t-shirts might be more appropriate!

  2. Spencer Spencer says:

    I want to hear the Vatican interview story. But not the real story, I want a movie adaptation written by Dan Brown and directed by Rian Johnson.

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      Maybe I could do a whole line in retelling anecdotes of my life but in thir style of popular movies?

  3. Ruth Ruth says:

    Also weird in the picture – who uses their notebook in landscape? Also – what’s going on with the surface of the coffee?! Are they about to be attacked by a T-Rex?

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      The longer I look at it, the weirder it gets. I hadn’t even noticed the landscape notebook. But I did just notice that their phone is also logged into WordPress and is being used to write a new post… but it’s not doing so in mobile mode. It’s like they’ve manually told their phone to force the desktop mode on that site, which is definitely not necessary (wp-admin’s interface has been mobile-friendly for ages): notice how it must need sideways-scrolling to work!

      Increasingly, I wonder if the photographer added the screenshots on both the phone and laptop in post-production. Which might go some way to explaining why it’s a Macbook running Windows Vista (which is otherwise probably a pretty rare event!). But still doesn’t answer any of the why-questions!

    2. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      Oh, and the caption the author provides claims it’s a cup of tea.

      Turned-on Macbook Air Beside Black Iphone 4, Cup of Tea, and Notebook on Brown Wooden Surface

  4. DG DG says:

    I started thinking this was an undercover way of saying Automattic were firing a few people …

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      Hah! No. Some folks have gotten shuffled around a bit, but nobody’s been laid off. 🤞 Automattic is weathering the storm in big tech jobs much better then most companies, I feel, and that’s at least in part thanks to the commitment to sustainable growth as embodied in the Creed.

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