After 10 years of running my agency, Gamajo, I’m becoming a VIP Developer at Automattic.
I’m joining the Developer Squad to debug complex client issues, build tools to make the Support team more efficient, do code reviews before deployments, and generally be a positive disruptive influence to the help the rest of the VIP team be more successful in their roles.
My journey has been a long one. It’s been 20 years since I first started writing code, 11 years since I started playing with WordPress, and 10 years (and 10 days!) since I registered as self-employed and started taking paying clients.
It’s time for a change though.
For the first 6 years, I generally worked alone. I was doing small jobs and sites, no maintenance, and what I took in turnover pretty much was all profit.
I then found what was my ideal client – big budget, technical understanding, interesting challenges, Genesis theme, and far more work than I could ever
As such, over the course of a couple of years, I built up a team of five subcontractors who did much of the work for the main client, and a few smaller clients. I was doing more and more project management (which I enjoyed), and code reviews, and less hands-on coding. It was working well, and financially it was sustaining me.
There were bits I didn’t like of course. The chore of entering in time sheets from my subcontractors, so I could generate invoices for my clients was by far the most painful. There wasn’t an easy way to automate or streamline this.
The dynamic with the main client changed back in March 2018 though, when some emergency development to change the payment gateway provider with two weeks notice was required. Sal got it done, but it was unexpected in terms of the client’s yearly budget, so we had to ease off of development and plan some “shutdown” months when only absolutely essential maintenance would be done.
At the same time, the client company decided to take on an in-house developer, which Gamajo was happy to support and handover to, but ultimately this would have meant less work being done by Gamajo.
I did get Alex to write up a marketing plan for Gamajo, and I was ready to execute it, if needed.
WordPress VIP @ Automattic
VIP is Automattic’s enterprise business. It provides hosting and support for many top names, particularly in the publishing industry: The Sun, Microsoft, TED, TIME, Facebook, People, New York Post, Spotify, and many others you’ll have heard of but which I don’t know if they are public knowledge or not.
VIP works with Agency Partners, as well as Technology Partners, to create websites and customisations that meet the needs of the clients. There’s a focus on leading the roll-out of the new block-based editor (Gutenberg). My role is to interact with folks from these groups, and review their code and help debug issues.
The VIP team is relatively young, but growing fast. As I understand it, the team was bolstered when Automattic acquired Code for the People in late 2014, a 6-person UK WordPress agency, led by Simon Dickson and Simon Wheatley.
Simon Dickson is to “blame” for pushing me to look into the VIP Developer role. I spoke to him at WordCamp London in April 2018, where he first mentioned that he thought I’d be a good fit for VIP. We chatted again at WordCamp Europe in June, where he again suggested me being a VIP Developer. While I wasn’t at all interested the first time around, the changing dynamic meant that I did look into it after our second conversation.
The Application Process
I applied on 15th July. I had an initial 1.5-hour interview over Slack, followed by a code test – to improve a plugin, though I ended up rewriting it from scratch – and then a trial where I dealt with real client tickets and code reviews.
Funny aside: The very first ticket that was assigned to me was from Nick Croft, a developer at Reaktiv Studios who was formerly at StudioPress and who I knew from the Genesis Framework community. Small world.
The trial was supposed to last around 4 weeks, but I was on holiday for a week, and then the VIP team all went to Montreal for their Grand Meetup, meaning folks weren’t available to get me started on my next tasks. So be it.
I was told I passed the trial stage after 6 weeks, on September 14th, the day after I had met my trial lead, trial buddy, and team lead at the Big WP London meetup at the News UK offices.
I then had a (text) chat with the CEO of VIP, Nick Gernert. It was over Slack, and the clash with the Automattic GM that he was attending meant we had three rounds of chat (1.5-2 hours each) over the course of a week.
Finally, after 3 months since first applying, I was sent an offer, which I accepted, and so I start on 24th October. This gives me enough time to wrap up everything with Gamajo.
I’m excited about the role – I’ve not worked at this level of
The end of my involvement with Genesis?
One of the potential drawbacks of accepting an offer at Automattic was that I would potentially have to stop contributing to the Genesis Framework. I’ve contributed for about 8 years, both to the codebase and to the community. At one point, about half the code in Genesis was written by me, and if you manipulate the dates correctly, GitHub shows periods where I’ve been the most active developer to the code base than anyone else.
But, WP Engine bought StudioPress, and as WP Engine is a competitor is to VIP in the enterprise space at least, I feared that the conflict of interest policy at Automattic would mean that my contributions have to stop.
I was wrong though.
The top people at WP Engine and Automattic had a call, and an additional item in that ended up discussing my desire to keep contributing to Genesis, with the outcome that Matt Mullenweg has personally encouraged me to do exactly that. Result!
As a VIP Developer, I can go back to my developer roots, solving puzzles, and not worrying about how to run a business, with the bonus of having a salary and additional benefits. Since we moved to a bigger house a year ago, and my wife recently decided to pivot her life and give up work, the stability of a regular income will be appreciated.
I may be a little less visible in Slack workspaces focused on being a freelancer, but you’ll still see me around the WordPress community. I’ll still be a General Translation Editor for British English, still contributing to core and writing plugins,
Fun Trivia: Because I’m based in the UK, I’m not joining Automattic Inc. directly as an employee, but Ministry of Automattic Limited, which is a subsidiary to the Irish company of Aut O’Mattic A8C Ireland Limited, which is a subsidiary of Automattic Inc.!