Ryan Cowles:

The team over at Alfred is starting a “How You Use Alfred” blog series. I was lucky enough to be featured today. You can read the full interview on their blog. And you can read more about my workflow here.

Originally posted on Alfred Blog:

In this new series, we’ll be taking a look at how some users have adopted Alfred in their workplace. They’ll give us a glimpse of how they use Alfred, how they stay productive and what it’s like working for some of the companies we know and love.

Today, we begin the series in good company, with Ryan Cowles, who is a Happiness Engineer for Automattic, who you’ll also know best as the company behind WordPress.com. I’ve been using WordPress for over 10 years now, so it’s great fun to see people like Ryan are there to keep WordPress users happy!


Who are you, and what keeps you busy?

Hi there! I’m Ryan. I work for Automattic (the company behind WordPress.com, Jetpack, and a whole bunch of other cool stuff). I’m a Happiness Engineer, and most of the work that I do is supporting the Jetpack plugin. This involves answering support requests, beta testing…

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Although it might not seem like it from all of the pictures, meetups can be hard work. On my most recent meetup, we spent most of our time focused on workflow, efficiency, team goals, and discussion. But as usual, we managed to sneak some fun in as well…

Mid-week, we took a break from work and went tubing through an old sugarcane plantation with Kauai Backcountry Adventures. The tour started with a bumpy drive in an off-road vehicle that took us to our put-in. Along the way, we had a chance to see the beautiful scenery and snag a few photos. After a brief safety demonstration, we boarded our tubes and headed down river.

The tour took us through the former irrigation channels on the plantation. We passed through five tunnels – the longest of which was just under a mile long. The current varied from lazy river to mild rapids. In the last tunnel we all shutoff our headlamps, and drifted through in complete darkness. I fought the urge to turn my headlamp back on, and accepted the surreal feeling. And I’m glad that I did.

I took my GoPro along, so I was able to take some pictures and video along the way. Even with the headlamps, it was still too dark in the tunnels for the GoPro to capture much. But you can check out some photos and a video below.

On our last full day on the island of Kauaʻi, we took a drive up to Waimea Canyon. The scenery was beautiful, and unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I thought I saw a few small dinosaurs… but it turns out they were just chickens.

The Aurora team is staying on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai this week. After spending some time working in these horrendous conditions today, we explored the area by foot.

When I was younger, I was constantly sketching, drawing, and scribbling on things. As I got more into digital mediums and web development, I found myself doing this less and less. Then along came an iPad app called Paper. I began playing around with the app last year. Since then I’ve been drawing more often – both digitally and the old fashioned way, with a paper and pencil.

These past holidays, Alanna got me Pencil, which is a stylus specifically made for Paper. I don’t think anything can completely replace a physical sketchbook. But the combination of Paper and Pencil comes pretty close.

FiftyThree, the company behind the stylus and the app, recently created a community site called Mix. Mix allows you to share your own work and follow other artists. You can remix ideas that other people post, and they can remix yours. I’ve found that it’s a great way to find some inspiration and have some fun. You can find my profile here and you can see some of my sketches in the gallery below:

I’ve found that Paper is also great for quickly sketching ideas and wireframes. Here’s an example of a quick sketch that became the foundation for Just Write:

Just Write wireframes

And here is a quick sketch that became Loose Leaf (the current theme on my portfolio site):

Loose Leaf wireframes

So, if you haven’t done so already, go check out Mix. And if you have a profile, let me know so I can give you a follow!

Alanna and I are playing host to a couple of friends from the East Coast this week. Yesterday, we all took a trip down to Long Beach, to visit the Queen Mary. After exploring the Observation Bar for awhile, we took a guided tour through the ship. The tour brought us to the second class pool, the engine room, and other “haunted” locations on board the ship. Most parts of the tour were too dark for photography. But I found a few flat surfaces, and attempted some multi-second long exposures.

I started working full time at Automattic in May 2013. When I see the date written down, it doesn’t seem like a long time. Yet I can’t imagine working anywhere else. I often get questions about what exactly I do. Or what it’s like working for Automattic in general. Some questions are easier to answer than others. But perhaps sharing my own personal experience will shed some light on some of the most common ones.

I’m part of the Aurora Team. Most of the work that we do is with the Jetpack plugin. The work itself can vary quite a bit depending upon the day. But the endgame is always the same – try our best to make sure our users are happy.

Just yesterday, I wrote a small plugin to help someone customize Jetpack for their site. I found and reported a bug. I answered support questions from our users. I participated in our monthly Townhall, which is a live Q&A with our CEO, Matt Mullenweg. In my free time, I also volunteer on the Theme Review team. So, following the Townhall, I hopped into the Theme Review team’s weekly chat. Most days aren’t quite this busy, but it goes to show that it’s hard to be bored at Automattic.

Aside from our day-to-day work, we also get to meet up with other Automatticians in person throughout the year. Sometimes this happens at conferences. Sometimes this happens at team meet ups. And once a year, the entire company gets together for the Grand Meetup. I’ve seen a lot of new places and met a lot of incredible people. But don’t let that fool you… we work, and we work hard.

We’re a company of motivated people. We have to be. We’re given a lot of trust. We need to be motivated to thrive in an environment with so much autonomy. And with so many moving parts, we need to communicate well together. We talk, we plan, we laugh, we make mistakes, and we learn together.

Working with so many people was intimidating at first. Especially considering that they are some of the best and brightest folks in the industry. I’ve looked up to many of them for years. It’s humbling. But I am constantly amazed at how friendly, welcoming, and modest they are. Whenever I need help, someone is more than willing to pitch in. And whenever I have a question, someone is there to help teach me.

Of course, there are downsides. Nothing says, “Good Morning” quite like an angry user telling me that I suck, our product sucks, and everything sucks. But I’ve learned to let it roll off my back. I’ve learned even this clearly negative feedback can be helpful. Is there an issue with our product? Is there a bug? Did they have trouble getting in contact with us? What can we do better? Luckily, the angry users are few and far between. But it goes to show that even the negative feedback can be helpful.

No matter how much I love my job, I realize that concerns will arise. We will have disagreements. But the incredible part is that we actually address these concerns. And disagreements open the floor for discussion. Just about every decision made that affects our users or our company gets posted on a P2. If there are differing opinions, we are free to weigh in with our thoughts.

We’ll never be able to agree on everything 100%. But these candid and open discussions are something that I’ve never seen in a workplace. And I believe the value given to each individual opinion plays a very crucial role in our success as a whole.

Not every day is perfect. Or easy. But I wouldn’t want it to be. It’s challenging. It’s rewarding. I get to work for a company that shares many of the same beliefs and principles as I do. And I truly enjoy going to work every day, because I will never stop learning.

But this is all just my opinion based on my personal experience. There are 300 other Automatticians in 37 countries who have their own personal experiences. And if you want to see what it’s like to be an Automattician for yourself, we’re hiring.