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Trialling at Automattic – without success this time

Just the closest friends of mine might know this, but over the past ~2 months I’ve been offered a chance to give a trial at Automattic. To give out some context, I’ve sent my CV twice to this awesome company: in August 2015 and January 2018, but sadly I did not make it through their screening process and thus the first step, getting a favorable response after my intention email.

So given this context, I already thought I am not good enough for them and did not have the courage to apply again. But it was a great joy when at the end of March 2021 I received an offer for a role with Automattic on LinkedIn. I was not ready to move to another job, but given it was a role at my dream company to work for… I figured…. why not?

The first step was to have a short interview on Zoom with someone from the recruiting agency that wrote on LinkedIn. It was a nice interview, even though I was alone with the kids back then, after my usual working hours, and in one moment one of my boys entered the office room and I had to pause the interview a few minutes to take care of “family issues”. Nevertheless, I passed this first interview and they went over and sent my details to Automattic.

Coding challenge

I got into their Slack channel on April 9th and a few days later I received my coding challenge, a quick test that is supposed to take a few hours to solve, but I got around 1 week to submit the final result for review. I spent the night when I got challenge working on it, did not want to spend a lot of time on the exercise so 1 day later I pinged the person that had to review my final result saying that I am ready.

It took around 2 hours and then I got this magical message:

Thank you for taking the time to work on the code test, I have reviewed your results and we’d like to move you forward 🎊🎊🎊

I could not believe it, I knew I did the main requirements of the challenge but I was pretty pessimistic about going further in the process. The imposter syndrome is real while you are in this process, I can say this for sure.

Trial project

A few days later I was informed that I will be moving further into the trial project phase of the recruitment. This trial project is a close-to-real-world project, you get access to some of their internal systems and you become to feel part of the team day-by-day.

The trial project is paid and the flat rate for anyone doing the trial phase is 25$ per hour. The project is part-time and you are not expected to work on your normal daily working hours, weekends and nights are fine. Later I did found out that it is supposed to take around 40 hours in total, the average being 30.

You get a trial buddy in this phase, a person that is there to answer your questions, help, and guide you through the trial project.

I got the trial contract ready and signed a few days later and the HR person announced that the start date for the trial is April 21st. After I signed the contract, I began to receive access to the Field Guide (the blog where you can find out absolutely anything you need for working at Automattic. If you have a question, the Field Guide probably has the answer).

I started the trial period on April 21st as scheduled, received my trial project code on GitHub and the main requirements on what I need to do. A few days later I had a nice Zoom call with my trial buddy, a project kick-off session where I could ask anything about the trial project. After the call, I was ready to work on the Trial Project.

This is where things started to be a bit harder for me, especially because I wanted to give my best to the trial project and really show the people @Automattic that I can code well.

I spent around 35 hours on the trial project in the span of a bit over two weeks. Those 35 hours were not spent only coding, I had to write a few P2s (P2 is the internal communication method at A8C, check out at https://wordpress.com/p2/ it is pretty awesome), I wrote comments on those P2s for my trial buddy, and so on.

So it is not 100% coding, you have to write your thoughts on those P2s before starting to code actually.

Waiting game

After I finished the trial part on May 6th, the “waiting game” began. The trial buddy had to review all my work and decide if they would recommend me for a full-time hire or not. So the first time I was told to wait was May 6th, then on May 12th, I was told to wait a few more days before they can make a decision as one colleague with decision power was away.

This waiting part was the hardest for me because I kept reading about Automattic, I already felt like a part of the team, I did my best to read the Field Guide and I knew most of the parts that would come after if I were to be recommended for a full hire.

It is hard to stay around without a clear answer, at least it was for me. 14 days without a yes or no answer went by veeeerrrryyy slowly…

The refusal

Finally today, May 20th I received my refusal answer from the trial buddy, after 2 weeks of radio silence about my work.

Sadly, the answer was a big no this time.

As you can see in the picture above, my 3rd time trying to get hired at Automattic failed, mostly because of 2 things:

  1. Attention to details – I had to solve some tricky parts in my trial project mostly about performance, not day-to-day issues you meet in everyday programming. In the end, I ended up with a good solution to the performance problem, but I knew it was a bit too late because it was after the trial buddy gave me the guidance questions on “how can we do this better?”. Already at this stage, I felt like I will be refused.
  2. Rushed research – when writing research P2s I was told the research I wrote seemed rushed. I felt like I did it ok and some factors were out of my abilities to fix the performance (I had to work with an external API), and as I told above, I got to the desired state by the team, but after a few failed attempts.

I am pretty used to working alone and guiding myself, but this was at another level of “alone”. Even though you have the trial buddy there for you, you can’t just ask him “how to do X” or “how to make this code more performant”. So it was a bit hard for me to guide myself in this new project and also I did a huge mistake wanting to show my trial buddy that I know how to code well: I went ahead and refactored the whole plugin even if it was not in the requirements, only because some initial feedback from him told me that my initial code lacked in extensibility and DRY patterns. This was another nail in my coffin I think.

Conclusion

I can’t lie, I am a bit sad because I did not make it. But not because I am unhappy with my current job, not at all. It was because I was not looking for a switch but the “company” reached out to me and pushed me to apply. I got false hopes while being in this process and it is hard to not start dreaming about working at Automattic while you are in the hiring process. I was already dreaming about traveling to the annual company meetup, wondering what my team will be, and so on.

The Automattic hire process is not for those that are weak, and I am not even talking about weak in coding, because the issues that needed solving in the process were fairly simple, I do a lot of more complicated stuff daily at Meevo. I am talking about those emotionally weak because the process is a rollercoaster of emotions. The process can also be felt as impersonal for some because you mainly write to the team and they write back if and when they have time. I am used to this async communication time, but if you rely a lot on your team all the time, Automattic might now be a good fit for you. There were some questions that I asked that were answered after 12 to 24 hours, some were not answered at all. Also, throughout the process, you have the impression that everyone has some canned responses for you and that might make you feel you are in a less-than-personal space. Sure, some messages were canned and they follow a process because without a process they would not be able to choose from the hundreds of monthly applications, but they make sure to personalize the messages according to your person and your situation.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! But the next time I will give it a try I will try to spend more time on the problems and not rush with an answer or with an implementation in code. Also, I will try to stop myself from dreaming that I will be hired, this is my main regret this time, I planned so much what will happen after the trial period that I forgot to 100% focus on the problems given and show that I am a good coder and can tackle much more complicated things than a trial project.

You can read more about the hiring process at Automattic here and if you feel lucky, apply yourself for a position @ Automattic here. They always have open positions and it is one of the best distributed companies to work for. Just learn from my mistakes, have more attention to detail, and do not rush, there is plenty of time for you to succeed.

Let me know in the comments if you have a similar experience with Automattic or if I convinced you to apply to work at Automattic. I promise that If I will get hired in the future at Automattic I will write more about the process and details, right now my energy is a bit low and I might now be the best one to give you insights as I failed.

Until my 4th try friends… I will spend some days trying to get over the rejection and then I’ll start improving myself and my confidence and will try again in the coming months or years.


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