Trial Work At Automattic: Part 1

“Events Wrangling” Posts About Becoming A Member Of The Automattic Team

Automattic logo 2Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about the Initial Chat Interview with Automattic that a prospective hire has after submitting their “application,” assuming:

  1. Automattic is actively interviewing for that position (they’re always hiring — check out their website!).
  2. The application information submitted meets Matt Mullenweg’s criteria for moving ahead to an initial interview.

happiness engineerOne week ago, my post took a first look at the Automattic Happiness Engineer work every new hire does for their inaugural three weeks with the company, regardless of the position for which they’re hired. (Every Automattic employee also becomes a Happiness Engineer for one week per year after their first year with the company. Matt is serious about effective customer service and delighted WordPress users!)

Posts And Articles About Automattic Trial Work

Today’s installment in this un-series of posts about “becoming a member of the Automattic team” addresses the trial work a prospective hire is offered if they do well on the initial chat interview. Much has been written about the Automattic trial work aspect of their hiring process, from informal short posts to detailed articles in Harvard Business Review (HBR). Below are three excerpts from these “trial work” posts and articles.

Jeremy Duvall’s post presents an informative overview of the trial work period but doesn’t go into great depth regarding specific tasks done during the trial or details about feedback he was given during the trial.

When I told other people about the interview process and how carefully Automattic selected potential candidates, they were floored by how detailed the process was…During the trial period, you perform the job just like you would if you got hired on full-time. I was allowed the same permissions, answered the same tickets, and worked alongside the same folks as I will on Monday when I start full-time. To be honest, the first few weeks were rather intimidating…Still, the full-time folks were extremely helpful in getting me up and on my feet.

…Despite how difficult it may have been, forcing applicants to work a trial before being hired on guaranteed three things:

  1. I really wanted to work at Automattic.
  2. I seemed to fit in well with the team. Full-time team members were able to give their opinion on whether or not they wanted to work alongside me.
  3. The hiring team was able to watch me progress through the trial and observe how I adapted to certain tasks and evolved my skill sets during the trial.

This comes in direct opposition to most hiring procedures that go something like this: Interview -> Interview -> Hire. Most companies don’t get to see applicants in action before they’re hired on…there’s a huge benefit to Automattic to make sure that new employees fit well within the company culture. The trial period gave them a chance to see me in action, but it also gave me a chance to see them at work as well…While it can be difficult to navigate the trial period alongside a full-time position, I think it’s extremely beneficial to both parties and can really save some major headache in the end.”

anne mccarthyIn contrast to Jeremy’s post, Anne McCarthy’s post gets into specific tasks she worked on during her trial, feelings she experienced during the trial, and specific feedback she was given each week by her Automattic trial buddy.

“…The major things I learned and focused on this week were Refunds/Payments and Domains (in all their glory). I had not dealt extensively with either prior and found the two to be highly interlinked…My feedback session with my trial buddy was very general and more of a check-in. One thing that stood out to me from this conversation was the following one liner: “The trial, then, isn’t to prove them wrong. The trial is for you to prove them right.”…

Week #2: Slow Down: The Devil is in the Details. This week I found a groove in terms of quantity. I felt comfortable going through tickets thinking I found the answer and feeling good in my responses. This left some users pleased and others baffled…My feedback was centered on improving quality, slowing down, and really thinking about how I was phrasing/formatting my response. The main message was that engineering happiness is about solving problems users didn’t know to explain they were having (love that)…

Week #3: Above and Beyond. This week something clicked in terms of how to investigate problems…I remember feeling that I understood the support documents, forums, and blog posts much better at this point so that my mind was already turning when I read tickets. The main surprise was having another full time employee closing out some FRs for me!…Feedback for the week was really strong from my trial buddy with a lot of positivity about my interactions with users. However, I felt a nudge to “step it up” and do more to solve a user’s problem so they are successful in the future…”

HBR logoHere’s a 2014 HBR interview with Matt Mullenweg in which he discusses the trial work. There are a ton of online descriptions of Automattic trial work for Happiness Engineers and quite a few for Code Wranglers. But I have not yet found anyone’s account of the type of trial work a prospective Events Wrangler would do, likely because Automattic has many fewer Events Wranglers than Happiness Engineers or Code Wranglers. The trial work depiction which seems most relevant for an Events Wrangler is the one in this HBR article.

Matt M“…The more we thought about why some hires succeeded and some didn’t, the more we recognized that there is no substitute for working alongside someone in the trenches…The most significant shift we’ve made is requiring every final candidate to work with us for three to eight weeks on a contract basis.

Candidates do real tasks alongside the people they would actually be working with if they had the job…The goal is not to have them finish a product or do a set amount of work; it’s to allow us to quickly and efficiently assess whether this would be a mutually beneficial relationship. They can size up Automattic while we evaluate them…If you’re applying to work in customer support, you’ll be talking directly to customers. If you’re an engineer, you’ll be writing real code. If you’re a designer, you’ll design.

In some cases the nature of the job means that we have to get creative. If you’re looking for a role in business development, we can’t send you out to negotiate deals with potential partners, so we come up with something as closely related as possible to the actual work. A business-side hire might prepare presentations, or do an analysis of a business problem, or run numbers on a potential project. Tryouts may not offer 100% overlap with the job in question, but they give us a better window on someone’s skills and cultural fit than a lunch meeting would.

We’re especially interested in how well candidates self-motivate, how well they communicate in writing (because most of us work remotely, we rely heavily on instant messaging), and how they deal with mistakes. We don’t expect perfection—we care more about how quickly they identify an error, how they communicate about it, and what they learn from it…”

Proposed Events Wrangler Trial For Bob Waldron

events wrangler trialBased on what Matt said above in the HBR article, the trial process for Happiness Engineers and Code Wranglers seems proven through many iterations and more clearly defined than the trial process for Events Wranglers. Automattic seems open to trying different things that will likely lead to hiring the best employees, so my proposal for them is to structure my trial work as a combination of remote and onsite work. Prior to an Automattic event, I propose working remotely with the Events Wrangler(s) organizing the event. Then, during the onsite prep work period and during the event itself, I’ll work with the Automattic team at the city and venue where the event is being held. Here are the reasons this will work well for both Automattic and me:

  1. It appears there probably isn’t a typical tried-and-tested way to do a comprehensive Events Wrangler trial project completely remotely.
  2. Doing Events Wrangler trial work partly remote and partly in-person will give other Automattic employees at the event site a better feel for whether I’m a good fit for their team. This is valuable because after they hire me, the onsite work will be a very important part of my job.
  3. I’m passionate about events wrangling, enjoy seeing how others manage events, and want to become involved in Automattic events as quickly as possible.
  4. I’m not currently working in a full time paid position, so it’s easy for me to travel to the event site and participate in onsite prep work, be an event go-fer, help in any way possible to make the event better, and be part of the event debrief.

Learning More About Events Wrangler Trial Work

Over the next month, I’ll learn as much as I can about the trial work for Events Wrangler candidates. Three tasks currently on my to-do list to help me become more knowledgeable about this trial work are:

  1. Search online using different keywords.
  2. Ask a contact at Automattic for more info about Events Wrangler trial work.
  3. Ask a contact at Automattic to connect me, if that’s appropriate, with an Automattic Events Wrangler to discuss the possibility of them doing an interview with me for an Events Wrangling blog post.

Four weeks from now I’ll publish Part 2 of this look at Automattic trial work, especially as regards Events Wranglers..


Here are eleven more links with relevant info about Automattic trial work:


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