After Sabbatical at Automattic

In May of my 10th year at Automattic the company adopted a paid sabbatical policy: 5 years on, 3 months off. It wasn’t easy to consider how to spend this opportunity. It took a couple of weeks to decide that my first sabbatical should be personal, free-form and soon.

The policy was still new and evolving. One early amendment was a planning requirement: if taking 3 months off, give notice 3 months in advance. I got in before that went into effect (or abused my senior privilege, maybe) and chose July, August and September of 2015.

It took the month of June to clean up after myself, document things and pass leadership of our in-house Hadoop projects to Xiao Yu. I offered to be on call for emergencies but Xiao knew that it was just the workahol talking. No ping would issue.

The first couple of weeks were a period of withdrawal. Soon I was able to stop scanning my inbox for important requests. One work-related tweet momentarily elevated my pulse but it was actually nothing.

We took the kids to Vermont to visit friends and family for a month. This was our shortest Vermont summer trip to date. We used to stay for fall foliage but the kids are in school now. Automattic lets me work from anywhere so I would just rent office space and keep working. But this time it was a real summer vacation for the whole family.

On the way home we crossed into Canada to see Niagara Falls. That’s one box checked, but probably worth doing again in a few years.

Other than a few Swift tutorials and false starts with iOS ideas, I didn’t code at all. Everything I did was in Xcode so my Emacs hands will need some exercise.

One significant event was my oldest child starting kindergarten. Every weekday morning at 7:15 we walk to school. This is my first externally enforced daily routine in more than ten years. This rekindled my interest in knowing what time it is throughout the day. So I got an Apple Watch.

Automattic can change a lot in just three months. People come and go, projects advance, priorities evolve. Three things are making the reintegration easy: full documentation, good search and great coworkers. It’s good to be back.

Want to work here or work with me? Apply!

From TN to VA

For those interested in following along, my motorcycle adventure photos will appear in a Flickr Photoset.

Today’s ride was awesome. I am having more success at staying comfortable on the motorcycle throughout a 500-mile day. The route I published earlier turned out to be a little too scenic due to the late start, so I cut out almost 100 miles of twisty roads to make sure I got to my destination before midnight. I still rode VA 16 from Marion to Tazewell and I almost died twice: once when a young jerk in a red Camaro ran a stop sign and once from an overload of beauty.

I’m sorry. I mean I’m really, really sorry. Those were the twistiest, turniest miles of road I have seen in my entire life and I got to ride them on a motorcycle and I can’t even begin to share how wonderful it all was. I just can’t share it. I took a few pictures but the best views were impossible to photograph due to the narrow road and my camera phone is barely worth using. It made me feel selfish and greedy to soak it all in by myself. My only consolation was the sight of three other motorcyclists riding in the opposite direction; at least they got to see it. I’m sorry.

It made me wish I had a passenger with nice camera with a wide-angle lens worthy of Donncha, and maybe just a little bit of his photographic ability, but even the best photographs could not capture the experience. You can feel the motorcycle pushing you up through countless switchback turns under a lush, green canopy. You can hear birds singing over the engine and the wind rushing past your ears. A pickup truck races toward you, past you, away from you down the hill and in its wake you catch the smell of burning brake pads. You descend under more dense foliage to emerge in a valley flanked with steep cow pastures and the road just keeps pulling you along past barns and homes and everything is wet with life. You are rapt with awesome beauty. You can not stop flowing through it for the sake of a mere photograph.

I hope I can borrow my Dad’s camera when I get to Vermont. It is the same model as the one I forgot at home.

If you ever find yourself riding a motorcycle up Interstate 81 in Virginia and you have a couple of hours to spare, get off in Marion and ride up to Tazewell. You’ll thank me… unless you get killed by the red Camaro.