Two years with Automattic

Two years ago, today, I started the current adventure of my life. I found a work community that appreciates who I am and the work that I do. I found friends that hold me up, and push me to be better on a daily basis. I found home.

In the last year, I’ve seen quite a few changes in both my life and my work.

I now help to lead our Store Team, and do less user-centric support. I harmonize happiness for 35 incredibly talented, driven, and passionate people. These people keep me up at night thinking about all that is possible. They drive me to push harder and be the best that I can be. These are the people that make the world go round, and I’m so lucky to be of service to them.

I lost the person who understood me most. Automattic held me up and allowed me to take the time that I needed to process and move myself forward. I would be in a very different place if it weren’t for this support. I’m eternally grateful for those who stood by me, and made this life transition as smooth as it could have been.

I started walking. After years of sitting all day, Automattic purchased a tread-desk for me. I now walk about 6 miles each and every workday. I have more energy. More focus. More happiness. Walking every day fixes something that was broken for way too long.

I’ve started to give back more to the community. I became one of the organizers of the Philly WordPress Meetup, and of WordCamp Philly. I’m excited to give back, even a little bit, to the community that has given me so much in life. I’m excited to continue to learn.

I traveled quite a bit to meet my coworkers. Italy, Kauai, New York, New Orleans, Mexico, Charleston, and Park City. In the two years since I’ve been here, I’ve traveled close to 68,000 miles to 26 cities in 7 countries. What an incredible gift.

There are more words than I can possibly write about the gratitude that I feel towards the company that I call home. I have a true sense of community and ownership. I have a true sense of belonging, and I’m just as passionate as the day that I started. I’ve grown up at Automattic and have learned more about myself than I ever thought possible.

Thanks for the amazing two years. Here’s to many more laughs, ah-ha moments, forward movement, late nights, and making the web a better place. Here’s to the future.

WordCamp Philly

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking at WordCamp Philly. What an amazing event in an incredible community.

The whole place was alive and there was so much learning happening around every corner.

My presentation was WordPress for Non-profits: For when your Operations Manager is also your Webmaster. Here are the slides from that presentation:

SEO Presentation

On July 19, 2013 I gave a presentation about SEO to the Asbury Park, NJ WordPress Meetup group, hosted at Cowerks. (I’ve actually been working out of Coweks for the last two weeks. If you ever need a coworking space while at the Jersey Shore, this is it.) It was a ton of fun.

Here are the slides, for your viewing pleasure:

Edit: A similar presentation was also given at the Philly WordPress Meetup on July 23, 2013. (I feel like I’m on tour.)

MakeyMakey

The MakeyMakey is AWESOME. The concept is to connect the real world to the internet, and it does it in such a fantastic way. It’s super-fun finding conductive objects to play music, games, or do anything else that you would normally do with a keyboard.

In our house we decided to do some learning using a math skills game with strawberries as the controller. Check it out:

Where are we with home automation?

A few months ago, I somehow convinced myself that buying the Belkin Wemo was a good idea. The thought of home automation has always felt like the holy grail of geekyness, and if I could figure out a reasonable way to do it, I’d be the happiest kid on the block.

The truth about these types of gadgets, though, is that we’re not quite there yet. It’s totally cool to have a wifi-enabled socket, but it’s not quite useful enough. It’s a straight power/no power switch that you can do geeky things with. But how many of our modern devices work by simply plugging them in?

I’d never be able to use it to brew my coffee, because I have to press the brew button. I can’t use it to turn on my stereo, because I have to hit the power button. There are so many things that I want to do with it, but as I said, we’re not quite there.

belkin-wemo-switchThe unit itself is pretty cool. It’s a breeze to set up and totally works as advertised (for me, anyway) but I can’t help but think how far away we are from where I want to be with home automation. I want to be able to control ALL THE THINGS from one device, or automate how I interact with my house in a way that’s useful to me.

One thing that I will say about the Wemo is that whoever decided to integrate it with ifttt is a genius and should be given the biggest raise ever. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the coolest and only way to put it to use.

I haven’t come up with any useful ifttt recipes yet for it, but my favorite so far is that every Friday at 10am, my light turns on to remind me to go get a burrito for #BurritoFriday. Sadly, though, as awesome as that is, it still isn’t worth the price tag.

I’d love to hear about your home automation setup. Besides Nest for climate control and Wemo for power, are we any closer to Back to the Future II?

 

Awesome Screenshot + Cloud App = Magic

In my work and in my life I take a lot of screenshots. A LOT of them. According to my logs, I take anywhere from 10-35 per day, half of which are usually annotated in one way or another.

Generally speaking, I need to create these on the fly. Whether it’s for Engineering Happiness or showing my wife that I did something cool, I need to make them quickly.

I’ve found an amazing combination of little apps that has made this process super simple, quick, and magical.

First and foremost, the best way to take a screenshot on a Mac is Cmd+Shift+4. This allows you to select the area of the screen and automatically save it to your desktop.

Cool, right? Well, sort of.

By saving an average of 22.5  screenshots to my desktop per day, I’d have to make cleaning up part of my daily routine or else I’d be overwhelmed with a messy desktop at the start of each day. Boo to that.

Luckily, we can fix that pretty easily with a Terminal command. The Terminal can be found under Applications → Utilities on your Mac.

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 9.54.01 AMI’ve created a folder on my desktop called Screenshots where all of my screenshots are automatically saved. If you want to do the same, launch the Terminal and enter this command (after you’ve created the folder, of course):

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Desktop/Screenshots/

To make this stick, you need to enter one more command which is:

killall SystemUIServer

After you’ve done that, go ahead and give it a whirl. Cmd+Shift+4 yourself away and watch all of your screenshots be saved to a folder instead of directly to the Desktop.

Now that we have that out of the way, here’s where the amazing happens:

Awesome Screenshot is a screenshot annotation add-on for your favorite browser. I personally use the Firefox version, but they also have versions available for Chrome and Safari. This add-on allows you to capture all of the screen or part of the screen and circle, point, and text your way to descriptive annotations. It is super intuitive, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Oh, and it’s totally free.

Awesome Screenshot at work

Awesome Screenshot at work

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 7.06.27 AM

Cloud App Menu

Cloud App lets you upload and share files really easily. One of the most amazing features is  Auto Upload Screenshots, which means that each time you take a screenshot it automatically gets uploaded to your account and given a URL, which is automagically copied to your clipboard for easy sharing. You can upload and share almost any type of file with it, which is equally awesome.  Another cool thing is that you can use your own URL with it so that your sharing is more personal. I use the URL http://im.alxb.co for my screenshots. They do have a free version, but I’ve found the need for the Pro version which is $3.75 per month. Totally worth it.

Now each of these on their own is super powerful and helpful in many ways, but what happens when you combine them? Magic. That’s what happens.

The flow of it is pretty simple, but totally powerful:

You’re on a page where you want to point something out to someone and you simply click the Awesome Screenshot icon in your browser. This opens up a new tab, where you can annotate away, making your screenshot. . . um. . . awesome. The next step is to Cmd+Shift+4 that puppy so it’s automatically saved to your Screenshots folder and uploaded to Cloud App. Once it’s automatically uploaded to Cloud App, you have a nice neat URL copied to your clipboard, ripe for sharing. Magic, I tell you, magic.

Here’s a quick video of the flow. It takes no time at all, and works great for quick sharing of ideas (Full-screen this bad-boy to really see it in action):

I’m an Automattician!

automattic-logo

I’m super excited to announce that I’ve joined Automattic as a Happiness Engineer, working with WordPress.com!

You may not know the name Automattic, but you certainly know the products. WordPress.com, Akismet, Gravatar, and VaultPress, just to name a few. In short, Automattic is the powerhouse of the web. It’s important to note that WordPress.com sees over 100,000 new blogs added per day, and as of the time of this posting, has 62,935,144 websites in it’s network.

I don’t really have words to express how excited I am about this move forward, and what it means for me both personally and professionally. It’s been a wild ride getting to this point, and I couldn’t be happier with where I’ve landed.

Since I will be working with Automattic full-time, I have decided to close the doors to Elixr, which has treated me SO well since its inception over 2.5 years ago. In many ways, opening the doors to Elixr was the best thing that I ever could have done (besides having kids, of course.) It allowed me to pursue my dreams and learn more every day than I ever thought possible. I’m forever grateful to the amazing clients that I’ve had the honor to work with over the years. They have taught me well, and I am completely humbled by the experience.

wordpress-logo-stacked-rgbBeing a non-profit guy, this is the ideal move for me. Automattic is a for-profit company, but it’s roots are in the Open Source movement. Being in such close proximity to WordPress.org (powering just about 20% of all websites worldwide,) and the WordPress Foundation, I get to stay in the same place as my values, moving the world (and the web) forward with each step.

Since the whole company is distributed, I’ll get to stay in Philadelphia. Being distributed means that the whole company works from where they are. That translates to having colleagues from all over the world, in every time zone. It’s an incredible concept, and there is nothing else like it. I’m super excited to get to work with such an amazingly talented, nice, and super-driven bunch. These are people that I’ve respected and admired for years. To have to opportunity to join them is an incredible honor. I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting a few of them already, which just showed me how great of a personal fit this move is.

Of course, I’d like to thank my wife Lula, and my whole family really, for holding me up during this process. It’s because of their constant faith in me and the work that I do that I was able to get to this point in my career. Also, thanks to Peter Slutsky for his constant encouragement.

Onward and upward! Here’s to fantastic movement forward, and always following your dreams. If working with Automattic is one of your dreams, you should totally go for it. We’re hiring. Seriously. Apply.

See you all in the ether.

 

Awesome Twitter tool

I’ve been working on a little pet project for a while that has taken on a mind of its own. Last year, I was posed with the challenge of creating an easy way to take a large chunk of text (large as in LARGE, like the Tanakh, Large) and break it down into 140 character parts. The idea would be to tweet the entirety of a book, or a chapter of a book in a way where:

1) People that you’re tweeting to know how far into your tweeting you are.
2) All of the tweets include a hashtag so that they can be easily found.

Hence, the Twitter #Torah Tool was born.

It’s a pretty nifty little thing. You paste in the text that you want to cut into 140 character chunks into the top box, and it slices and dices it for you and plops it into the bottom box. You can then take those chunks and tweet away! One bonus that I added was the ability to embed this tool on your own website.

Web Apps That Keep Me Going

I’m all over the web all-the-time, and I’ve found some pretty cool things along the way that really help me to do what I need to get done.

Here’s a few lesser known web apps that I’ve integrated into my daily freelance workflow, and honestly would be lost without:

drop.ioDrop.io: This is literally one of the coolest things on the web that I’ve seen. “Simple Private real-time sharing,” is what they say. “Super awesome and can’t-live-without-it” is what I say. This thing boasts upload/downloads/view online of files, voicemail, subscriptions, and yes, you can can even integrate it into your site (or client’s sites!) using their great API. Totally worth taking a look. It won’t cost you anything. Promise.

wiggioWiggio: Dude. If you’ve think you’ve collaborated online without Wiggio, you’ve got another thing coming. This site keeps you totally organized and has some of the most useful collaboration tools out there. Really. It’s kind of impossible not to stay on top of all of your projects with this thing. It’s totally free and my work would completely suffer without it.

FirebugFirebug: This is for the developer in you. Firebug takes the web and makes it malleable by letting you change/rebuild the CSS of any website. Imagine “view source” becoming interactive (and addictive!) and you’ve got Firebug. I won’t build a site without it, and generally I don’t even look at a website without even opening it once. I mean. Haven’t you always wanted to tweak the CSS of your Gmail account just for a giggle?

I’m always looking for the best stuff to integrate into my workflow. If you have something that you can’t live without and want to recommend it, feel free to give it a shout out in the comments.

-Alx