Leaving Automattic

Yesterday was my last day at Automattic.

Leaving a remote job is a little unusual. When I checked out on the last day, I was sitting at home. I said goodbye to my colleagues online, and closed Slack. It was otherwise the same as any other Friday. There was no office to leave, no boxes to pack, nobody to hug, no hands to shake. The first sign that my employment was properly ended was an authentication error from the proxy server.

Fortunately, I had a chance to say goodbye to my team and a few others in person a few weeks earlier. Even after I gave notice, Automattic was generous enough to keep my booking to the team meetup in Portugal. It was great to have the opportunity to say goodbye and spend some time with colleagues (many who I hadn’t even met in person) before signing out a few weeks later.

Automattic was such a fascinating place to work. If you’re interested in the inner workings, I highly recommend The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun from his tenure at the company several years ago. It’s a pioneering company in so many ways – remote work, open source, HR, team structure, all are nonconventional in some way. Of course, like any company it has its challenges, but the way that these challenges are faced and dealt with is something I could never imagine in most companies of its size (600 and counting). Chats with HR are actually enjoyable, decisions are made based on facts more than politics, and everybody is incredibly switched on, interesting, and motivated. The hiring bar is high – it’s a long process including a trial period, so to get in you need to be good at your job rather than know somebody senior. I’ve made some amazing friends there, and had the opportunity to contribute to some really interesting (and open-source) projects.

With that said, it might be obvious from the above that it was a really tough decision to leave, honestly I think I’m insane to give up such a great gig. But I had ideas brewing, and once you get that itch it’s hard to avoid scratching it. The best part of leaving a remote company is that I’m no further from my colleagues and friends than before. We’re all still using the same internet, even if we no longer interact every day.

What’s next

I’ve decided to take some time to work on project ideas I’ve had brewing. I’ve added to a growing list of ideas over the years, and now I’m really keen to get started on some of them. I couldn’t build these while working a full-time job, both because it’s exhausting to use spare time to work and because Automattic isn’t so keen on moonlighting. So, I decided to rip the bandaid off and dive right in. I have some savings to survive on – by living extremely frugally I think I can stretch it to almost a year without income, and I plan to pick up a few freelance gigs along the way. Next week I’m moving house; once that’s out of the way I’ll let you know the details on the master plan 🙂


Apple’s new Touch Bar isn’t a gimmick, it’s a stepping stone

Apple has already faced a fair amount of criticism for the new Touch Bar. I’m going to go against the grain here and say the Touch Bar is a useful stepping stone.

Why not just go full touch-screen?

Microsoft tried leaping straight to touch-screen with Windows 8, and ended up with an interface that wasn’t ideal for either touch or mouse. Apple might some day end up with a full touch-screen on the Mac, but you can’t just add a touch screen and call it a day. Third-party developers need time to develop touch specific interfaces, and the current macOS + touch would be a nightmare without significant changes.

The new Touch Bar is a stepping stone. It’ll encourage macOS developers to introduce multitouch functionality into their applications without compromising the existing experience. It may not be a permanent feature of future Macs, but I’m excited to see what it enables.

The Case of the Sleeping MacBook

The Case of the Sleeping MacBook

Sitting on the late night subway train home in Tokyo, I thought I’d try to finish off some code I’d been writing that day. I wouldn’t usually pull out my MacBook on the train, especially a busy Japanese train, but I’d snagged a seat and the problem was still swimming in my head and I thought I could knock it over on the 45 minute ride home.

But about 15 minutes into the trip, my screen suddenly turned black. Not like a freak-out, something went terribly wrong cut-to-black, but a gentle, Apple-like slow fade to black. The kind of fade to black you get when you actually ask your computer to go to sleep. That’s odd, I thought, that’s never happened before. My laptop wasn’t plugged into anything nor had I bumped the power button. I was simply typing away in a terminal when it happened.

It was around 10:30pm, and many of the passengers were lightly sleeping. The train was quiet and humming along quickly and smoothly. A drunk businessman fell into another man and apologised in English.

I pressed a few keys in an attempt to wake it up, and sure enough after a few moments the screen returned as if nothing had ever happened.

Nothing to see here, move along

I continued coding, chalking it up to a glitch in the matrix. A few minutes later though, it happened again. This time I took my hands off the keyboard. It woke itself up about 5 to 10 seconds later. Strange. I continued coding. It happened again. I kept my hands off. It was happening without any intervention, and with uncanny regularity, a few minutes apart each time.

Tokyo residents are incredibly talented at squeezing in some shuteye on the trains, even while standing. Often somebody will fall asleep, fall into the wall, wake up, fall asleep again and repeat over and over until – through some kind of sixth sense – they suddenly awaken just as the doors open at their stop. Maybe this culture was wearing off on my laptop. After all, my smartphone changes its personality to fit in when in Japan. Putting in a local SIM card disables the camera’s “shutter sound” setting, forcing it to always make a shutter sound, even when on silent, just like every single mobile phone in Japan.

This strange sleeping behaviour only started happening after I changed seats. About 15 minutes into the train ride the coveted end seat opened up, which has the benefit of being next to a dividing wall. This means you only have to sit beside one person instead of two. These seats are precious, they are always the first to be occupied. Was my MacBook aware that the end seat was significantly more suitable for sleeping, since you can lean your head against the dividing wall instead of falling asleep on a stranger’s shoulder? Don’t be silly, a MacBook doesn’t have the capability to feel embarrassed. It was late, my head was still in programming-mode, and I thought I was going a bit mad.

Then it hit me. A week earlier, I’d noticed the compass indicator on my Android would go haywire on Tokyo’s trains. The magnetic field from the train’s electric motors must be doing something to my MacBook. But surely something more sinister must be happening with a magnetic field strong enough to put my MacBook to sleep… There are no magnetic disks in MacBooks anymore, and I wasn’t carrying any floppy disks so at least that wasn’t a concern.

What does the MacBook possibly have that would respond to a magnetic field?

The lid sensor.

mind blown

The MacBook uses a Hall effect sensor to detect the presence of a magnetic field. The magnets in the lid cause a change in the magnetic field, which the Hall effect sensor picks up, thereby putting the Mac to sleep. But so do the electric motors in Tokyo trains.

Since I still had a few stops to the destination, I tested this theory. Sure enough, just as the train started accelerating out of the station, my Mac would fall asleep. It then stayed asleep until the driver lightened his foot on the gas pedal and the train started coasting along.

tldr: Good luck using a MacBook on the Tokyo subway.