Site icon Siddarthan Sarumathi Pandian

My Automattic story – from application to getting hired:

Prologue: It was 3 AM and I woke up to the dramatic slack notification sound and saw the word “congratulations”. Without even checking the whole message, I woke my girlfriend up to tell her that I have passed the Automattic code wrangler trial. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t wearing my glasses and I had mistaken a congratulatory message meant for another Trialmattician as my own. I apologized to my girlfriend for the false alarm.

I first applied to Automattic in 2015 when I came to know that they are the company behind WordPress and was extremely impressed with the culture the company had built. I didn’t hear back from anyone for a month, and then I got an email from Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic saying that I wasn’t a great fit at the time, however, the mail did say I could reapply as my skills level up. I was rather thrilled to be sent a mail, albeit a rejection one by the CEO of Automattic.

In June 2021, I was talking to my twin sister on the phone, and she asked me casually “Have you heard of Automattic? I wish I worked there”. I didn’t say much to her, but later that night I landed on the Automattic careers page and started looking for open positions, and there were quite a few positions open for software engineering. I read in detail about the hiring process and the whole async nature of it blew my mind. I have been largely uncomfortable with the usual whiteboard interviews often used in the hiring process in many tech companies, I was awful at them when I began my career, but have gotten better at them over the years, but I never really felt I could showcase my skills wholly while solving those whiteboard questions. 

The Automattic application isn’t your usual job application where you attach a cover letter and hit the send button. It asks you some really interesting questions. I took my time with the application and was very honest with my answers, I knew my application may not be good enough, but I wanted to make sure that anyone who’s reading my application got my story and hopefully had a good time reading it. I wrote about my tryst with a hard-to-track-down bug that I had been battling for a long time. 

A couple of days later, I found a mail in my inbox with the subject “Hello from Automattic!”. My heart began racing immediately and having received a rejection email the first time around, I was prepared for another one. I took a couple of deep breaths and opened my email. To my delight, my application had made the cut and I was through to the first step in the hiring process.

 As I come to learn, I was told what to expect up front. I was added to the Slack channel created exclusively for me and I was provided with quite a few links. I was also given an opportunity to ask any questions I might have and an engineer was added to the same channel, and he was kind enough to answer all the questions I had and gave me some brilliant insights into the company. All of this communication happened in an async manner, and I was told that I can reply at my own pace as well. I came from a culture where I was expected to reply within a minute to any ping on slack and Automattic’s way of doing things was very very soothing for me. Of course, I tend to reply as soon as I see a ping even now, but I am working on resisting my urge to respond to messages immediately. 

The next step in the hiring process was a code test, the test I was told would take around 6 hours, but I could take however long I wanted. I initially didn’t understand much of the problem statement on my first read, but I re-read it a few times till it made sense to me. I also asked some clarifying questions to the engineer on my Slack channel. I ended up spending around 20–22 hours on the test, and I gave it all over the three days. My girlfriend and I had discovered a lake nearby, and walking around for it an hour once a day was the only time I wasn’t thinking about the test. 

I doubted if my solutions were correct, but I was sure that I had done my very best. I submitted my solution 3 days later and waited. One of the people I look up to, M S Dhoni, former Indian cricket captain and the captain of the cricket team Chennai Super Kings always said that process is what one can control, the result isn’t in their hands. 

I was thrilled that I was given a chance to attempt the test, and that my application had made it this far and I was prepared for both eventualities. Luckily, I had cleared the test and was told that the next step in the hiring process would be a trial project, where I will be paired with an engineer from Automattic, who will be my trial lead. I had heard about the famous Automattic trial and how it gives you an experience of how it’s to work at Automattic. One great thing until this point was the constant support on Slack from anyone I interacted with. It felt like I was already a part of the company. Between the time my code test was approved and my trial started, I started reading more and more about Automattic. A sense of calmness started growing inside me. 

As someone who’s known to do things fast, I had already clocked 12 hours on the first three days of my trial and hadn’t requested feedback from my trial guide. As I learned later, Automattic is big on a feedback culture and I had to slow down a little bit to allow the feedback loop to go through. I had two guides throughout my trial and both of them were extremely kind, warm, and welcoming. I don’t think I would have made it without their support and input. They encourage you to explore more than one solution and of course, that entails significant research. A few days into the trial, I decided to work at my own pace and wanted to be sure that I didn’t get burnt out since I had a full-time job as well. Automattic lets you work at your own pace, and the trial project is supposed to last about 40 hours. It’s a distributed company, which means working with people from different time zones. By this time I decided to forget about the end result and live in the moment. I broke the project down into minuscule subtasks, one day I would pen down my code architecture and thought process for a task on the internal blogs known as P2s and continue with my life. Once I received feedback on my architecture, I would go ahead and build it and request a code review. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t stressed at all throughout the trial, but with time, I became more and more comfortable. Some days were brilliant, some days were normal, and some days were tiring (but rewarding), where I had to push myself a little bit harder. 

After a month, I started believing that I was close to the finish line. My project had clocked around 43 hours at this point and I knew that my project was about to end.

It was 3 AM and I woke up to the dramatic slack notification sound and saw the word “congratulations”. Without even checking the whole message, I woke my girlfriend up to tell her that I have passed the Automattic code wrangler trial. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t wearing my glasses and I had mistaken a congratulatory message meant for another Trialmattician as my own. I apologized to my girlfriend for the false alarm.

The day after the aforementioned incident, I decided to go back to MS Dhoni’s words and focus fully on the process. I had to complete a few more tasks over the next few days, and I decided to forget about the end result. 

And then, it happened. It was around 3.00 AM and I got another ping on slack. I didn’t want to wake my girlfriend this time around. I slowly walked to my living room and opened the Slack app on my phone. I saw an incredibly sweet message from my trial lead saying that I had passed the trial and that I was going to be recommended to be hired full time. I didn’t want to take any chances, so I drank a bottle of water to be sure that I was awake and I wasn’t dreaming. I woke up my girlfriend and I didn’t even have to tell her why I woke her up in the middle of the night, yet again. Of course the next morning I rang everyone in my family to tell them about the good news. 

I am all set to start at Automattic on November 15, 2021, and I plan to write more and more in the years to come.

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