New hobby: Woodworking

I think I have an addiction to hobbies.

Musical instruments, new skills, new sports, I can’t get enough.

One of my latest hobbies is amateur woodworking.  I say amateur because my brother in-law knows what he’s doing, and I just pretend.  I’ve been collecting tools and slowly learning how to make things.  It’s actually a lot easier than you would think.

Continue reading “New hobby: Woodworking”

the art of un-learning

I have spent a lot of my life pursuing knowledge. From the early years of struggling learning how to speak in two languages and knowing which one was appropriate at what time – to studying music theory in University and having to memorize note intervals – learning was my life.

From time to time I was even tested on my knowledge – how well did I actually learn?  These tests would surely measure my success.

I have spent a lot of time learning to play badminton, learning how to run, learning to play new instruments, and learning how to be a good husband.

One of the problems I encounter over and again is that I have to un-learn just as much as I have to learn.

Un-learning, to me, is the process of getting rid of things you’ve been taught were “the right way to do things” or the “right answers” to your questions, to make room for new ideas.

Without getting rid of these bad habits, ideas, doctrines, and processes, it’s almost impossible to learn.

When I got married – I had to un-learn how to be single.  I was great at not doing dishes, eating whenever I felt like it, and never making the bed.  (My wife would probably say I’m still great at that) – but the things I learned how to do so well didn’t suit me very well anymore.

It’s hard to un-learn.

I’ve had to un-learn religion.  I went to a school that taught me that science was bad, that God hated certain people, to be scared of everything, and that dinosaurs co-existed with people.

It takes time to un-learn.

I’ve had to un-learn how public transportation works.  I grew up in a country where people don’t wear watches, where buses come and go as they please, and where siestas are part of every day life.  I live in a country where being 5 minutes late is very rude, and if you’re napping in the middle of the day you’re lazy.

It takes patience to un-learn.

It’s hard to give up things you hold on to, especially the things you thought were right for so long.  It’s hard to apologize to those you hurt with your wrong ideas.

It takes guts to change your mind about your opinions and to let your friends know where you’re at.  I’ve lost jobs for things I’ve un-learned, I’ve lost friends, but most importantly I’ve gained an open mind.

I’ve learned that being wrong is ok.

I’ve learned that admitting that I don’t know everything is more powerful that knowing it all.

I’ve learned that the most important thing is to keep learning (and un-learning).

Some thoughts on turning 30

Birthdays are always a bit strange to me.

Some cultures don’t practice or have birthdays, some religions ban birthdays, some people love them, others’ hate them.

I have never been a huge fan of my own birthdays, mostly because I don’t like having forced attention on myself.

Turning 30 is kind of interesting, though – and the age of 30 brings with it some of its own baggage.

Milestone birthdays like hitting 18, 20, 30, 40, etc, have some expectations behind them and lend themselves to reflecting a lot more on what you’ve done with your life.  I didn’t think twice about turning 29, and frankly forgot I was 29 for most of the year.  I think I actually told someone I was 26 when I was asked.

I think for a majority of our forming years, we have very neat and orderly categories and clear expectations of what we should be doing. You go to pre-school, elementary school, high school, university, get a job. There’s a linear sort of progression there. That’s good, most of the time. We don’t all fit into those neat categories but if you do, you get herded into the next stage without too many problems.

My linear development looks pretty standard:

Go to school > go to more school > go to university > get a job > get another job > get married > buy a house > have goats*

*no kids yet, just goats.

Of course other things were happening during that time, but these life events help us frame our history and give meaning to what we do. Going to school in itself is not that important in my opinion, what you do while you are in school is far more crucial to your development.

Turning 30 is where things get a bit nebulous for me. Where did my easy linear plan go? I checked off my list and now what? Kids? More goats? Should our goats have kids??

When you turn 30 you also get a lot of existential questions popping up like “What have you done with your life?” and you start thinking a lot about the choices you’ve made and how you somehow ended up where you are.

As I was reflecting on all this, I realized that the culture I am in really values accomplishments over character. When I start thinking of “accomplishments” there is a tendency to lean toward possessions, equity, status, happiness, job titles, influence, and power. I’m not so sure those are good indicators.

Some of the most accomplished people I have ever met are in poverty, have very ordinary jobs, have no power, no status, and very little possessions.

So what do you measure? What metrics do you use to measure where you are and “examine” your life?

Here are some questions I made for myself to examine my life:

1. Are you doing something meaningful with your everyday life?
2. Are you loving and encouraging those around you in meaningful ways?
3. Are you contributing to your community and helping those around you?
4. Are you continuing to learn every day and challenging yourself to grow?
5. Are you influencing those around you in meaningful ways?

I have been 30 for about a week now, so I asked myself these questions again today. I can both see where I’ve grown in each area and at the same time see all of my inadequacies in each one of them.

Here’s to another 30 years to get better at each one.

Joining Automattic as a Happiness Engineer

pictured: latest Automattic group shot (Fall 2013).

Over the past 8 years I have had 8 different jobs. I’ve been an unpaid intern, a youth pastor, a behavioural interventionist, a rent-a-geek (yup), a web developer, and even a day care worker.

This past Monday – I started my 9th job.

I had a crazy idea about 2 years ago.  I wanted to have a job that I not only liked, but loved.  I wanted to work not for a company but with a community that shared my passions, values, culture, and most importantly – I wanted to work hard each day to make a difference in people’s lives.

Why is that a crazy idea?

I say crazy because I think most people stop at a job that’s ok, or a job that’s good enough, or even a job that just pays the bills.  I knew that I needed more then those things.

Like with most questions I have, I began with a google search.  I wasn’t looking for a job, I was looking for a culture and a community that I could come alongside of and make a difference with.

One of the most interesting posts I read back then was “My 8 Core Work Values“, in which Daniel Espinosa talks about figuring out what your core values are and how important it is to find a career that fits those values.

It was almost immediately that I stumbled upon Automattic – the company behind WordPress.com, GravatarAkismet, Polldaddy, VaultPress, Simplenote, Cloudup, and more.

One of the things that caught my eye instantly was the first thing you see when you go to Automattic’s website:

We are passionate about making the web a better place.

That was something I really wanted to do, too.

Then I stumbled across their creed:

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

The creed really struck a chord with me.  I felt like it was describing so many things about me and it was certainly describing the kind of place I wanted to be a part of.

I decided I was going to be a “Happiness Engineer”.

Happiness Engineers are what most companies call the “support” or “helpdesk” team, but at Automattic, they go way beyond that.  It’s not just about answering people’s questions and and getting onto the next customer – it’s about truly engineering people’s happiness, even if it means recommending they stop buying your product.

Before applying for the position, I decided to make a list of everything I should know for the job and work hard at honing these skills. I would practice during my lunch break at my job, I would keep up with all the news about the company, and I decided to go and meet some people who worked there and ask them about their experience.

That’s when I went to WordCamp Vancouver.  Not only did I meet some amazing people from Automattic, but everyone there blew me away.  The community, the volunteers, and the speakers were so kind, generous, helpful, and welcoming to even a stranger like me.  It felt like family right away.  I realized that the community and culture wasn’t just part of Automattic, but it was part of the broader WordPress community as well.

After WordCamp, I sent in my resume and after a few Skype chats, I was ready to start my Trial.

Automattic’s hiring process is as radical as the rest of their work environment.  In past interviews I was used to answering questions like “What’s your biggest weakness” – those are easy.   This hiring process felt more like getting to know a group of friends and discussing interesting questions together and I even forgot I was being interviewed at times.

Doing a “Trial” is a crucial part about joining Automattic.  Many people are used to driving to work, working at a desk or cubicle, and have been trained well in office etiquette (e.g. wear pants to work).  Automattic’s work culture brings a whole new paradigm to work.

Bosses?  Nope.

Schedules?  Sometimes.

Pants?  Totally optional.

Because the job is so different than your regular 9-5, it’s important to have a Trial period to see if it’s a good fit for you, and to see if you’re a good fit for them.  It’s kind of like going on some dates with your new job and if they go well, they eventually “pop the question”.

During my trial – I would go to my regular job at 6:30am, get back home at 4:30, finish dinner by 4:50, and hop on the laptop by 4:55pm.  I would then work on my trial duties until I basically was so tired I had to go to sleep.

After an intense and exhausting 6 weeks, I was given a job offer to become the newest Happiness Engineer at Automattic, and I couldn’t be happier.

I actually miss my job when I’m not working, and the best part is that I get to work with the most creative, funny, best people in the whole world.

If this sounds like something you could be passionate about, I have some good news:  we’re hiring.