I felt a sense of happy inevitability when I joined Automattic, the ‘foster parent’ company of WordPress, at the end of 2014. I loved working with the software, but more than that, I loved what it stood for – and Automattic provided the foundations it stood upon.
In Automattic, I could see a company committed to bold principles of user and employee freedom. One of the first companies to recognise and actively embrace the emerging realities of a hyperconnected world. A company with both the desire and the potential to shake things up.
I joined an Automattic of 300 people. Tomorrow, after five and a half years, I will be leaving an Automattic of 1,200 people.
In some ways, it’s a very different place: that’s good in some respects, not so good in others. In other ways, it’s remarkably similar: that’s also good in some respects, not so good in others.
I’ve been very happy to see many parts of the business – notably my own area, the VIP enterprise services team – growing larger, more mature, and more stable.
A few years back, I gave a talk at the annual all-staff meetup, drawing parallels with Ikea: founder Ingvar Kamprad’s 1976 corporate creed The Testament Of A Furniture Dealer maps surprisingly well to Automattic’s ethos. My conclusion was not simply that it’s possible to build a successful business on the principle of democratisation; but that if you want to deliver democratisation, you need to have a successful business model beneath it.
But there’s never been any doubt in my mind about where my own motivation lies.
Each year, Automattic runs an employee engagement survey. There’s a cheeky little kicker right at the end: ‘what’s the one thing that would make you leave?’ I always felt that was a dangerous thing to ask. It forced me to define what the test would be, if I ever suspected it might be time to move on.
My answer, each time, was that I would leave when I no longer felt I was in the best place to have the impact I wanted.
Returning to work earlier this year, having taken up Automattic’s very generous offer of a sabbatical after five years service, I found myself applying the test. With the clarity of mind that comes from three months away, and with a heavy heart, I concluded that my time had come.
I’ve been doing this thing long enough to know what I’m best at. But recent evolutions in my job description were moving me away from that, rather than harnessing it. Sometimes, what’s best for the team isn’t what’s best for every individual on the team.
I don’t have a next gig lined up yet; and I’m open-minded about what that next gig might be.
Perhaps it’s time to bring some truly internet-generation startup thinking to some larger, more established contexts. Perhaps I should be working through the second-order consequences of a world that has been transformed by open source and global connectivity. Perhaps a combination of those.
But whatever I end up doing, it feels like an exciting time for a fresh start.
Automattic’s magic formula of distributed working, radical transparency and global cooperation once seemed pretty bold.
Right now, as we ease out of the coronavirus crisis, and remember the various crises we all put on hold, it seems like the only reasonable way forward for the entire planet.
I’m available. We should talk.
So many lovely responses to my news on Twitter. Thank you all.