Last weekend I participated in WordCamp Europe 2019, my fifth one of these annual events for the European (and beyond!) WordPress communities to meet, exchange knowledge and celebrate themselves. This fifth WordCamp Europe also marks my fourth anniversary as part of the WordPress community, as the 2015 event in Sevilla was my very first interaction with the community. Hence, it is time for my annual personal recap of what has happened in the past 12 months.
A New Job – The Same Mission
This year’s WordCamp Europe took place in Berlin, hence the German title of this post. Oddly enough though, while I had always been looking forward to having WCEU come to my country, circumstances ended up being different so that I travelled there from Switzerland, where I have been living for about 8 months now. Which brings me to the certainly biggest change for me that happened in the past year, when I joined Google. My exact start date was actually this day 8 months ago, and before I get into any details, let me just say that I am loving it. While the working world of today is generally fragile and of course I don’t know where I’ll be at in 5 or 10 years, at least at this point I feel I would like to be here for many years to come. But let’s start at the very beginning.
The First Days
I’d like to take you back to my very first working day – because my start at Google was anything but ordinary. I arrived in Zurich on Saturday night after a vacation overseas, so I spent Sunday sleeping. Which was not only good to recover from the previous lack of sleep but also to prepare for the upcoming one. I ended up overexcited and therefore slept only a little bit in the night leading up to Monday, before I went to the office to start my new job.
Since I started the job on a so-called off-cycle date due to some circumstances I’ll get to in a bit (typically you go through a “Noogler” introduction week at the beginning, but that happens only once a month), Alberto had sent me a message before that I would meet John Muller who would help get started with everything. (In case you aren’t aware, our team at Google is split between Zurich and the US west coast, so Alberto wasn’t actually there.) So I met John and then we needed to figure out some organizational stuff, get my building badge and such things. For whatever reason I was not in the system when we checked, so we needed to contact my manager who is also on the US west coast, and fortunately enough he was actually available to reply (there is a 9 hour time zone difference). It all worked out, I got started and had several resources to work through. John led me to my seat, and there was almost nobody else there. Why that? Had I just been put into a space where I will work all by myself? Of course not. It was just some funny coincidences that led to this at my first day: Regarding our team at Google, my two direct colleagues weren’t there: Thierry had started the job before me but was on parental leave at the time, and Pascal would only start the job a bit later. Regarding other Googlers, John explained to me that there was a conference happening in Mountain View where most of the people were going to. And then it got even better, John himself would go there as well just a few hours after welcoming me, he had stayed a little longer in Zurich to help me get started. It was all so weird that I couldn’t help but smile about it. Of course I didn’t end up sitting there all alone, John introduced me to a couple of other Googlers that were still there, who I got to hang out with for these first few days (and to some of whom I still am in regular contact).
The other anything-but-ordinary thing is that I already went on my first big work trip on my third day already, which was the main reason I didn’t start on a regular date for new Googlers. Because neither Thierry nor Pascal were around in Zurich at the time, I travelled to Portland, Oregon where Weston is working, to meet there with him and Alberto who had come over from San Francisco. We participated in WordCamp Portland where I was speaking, and spent a good week working from the office there which helped me significantly getting into everything quickly and starting work on some substantial tasks. In addition, it was great to spend more time with Weston and Alberto and eat approx. 25 pizzas at the best pizza place in the world. Their gluten-free pizza is better than any gluten-full pizza I have ever eaten. After that, we got to spend a few days in San Francisco where I snuck into Chrome Dev Summit, which was really exciting for me to attend (Alberto and Weston also spoke there). It was a preview of what would happen to me at Google all the time going forward: Basically every talk opened a completely new world of interesting topics to me, and with everything I asked myself “How can we leverage this technology and make it available in WordPress?”.
Working in the Content Experience Team
I could keep going for much longer, telling you all the things that have happened since then in detail. It has been a super exciting few months, in which I feel that I have been learning a ton every single day. Continuing on the theme I hinted at at the end of the last section, new projects are lurking around every corner – which sometimes poses a challenge because we have to say no to a lot of things, as our CMS-focused team consists of only five people at the moment (hopefully not much longer though!), but overall simply indicates how many cool things are happening on the web. What excites me a lot is that, as part of such a massive company, I’m continuously exposed to such new technologies as they’re being developed, so it really helped me looking beyond the Tellerrand of the WordPress platform. Needless to say, WordPress is still the core focus of our work. I am beyond grateful that I get to contribute to the platform as part of my work, and also particularly about what exactly our team is focusing on, which is to simplify the creation of compelling and performant content experiences for every WordPress user, regardless of their technical knowledge.
I am also beyond grateful for the other team members. I get to work with friends who each are incredibly talented in their own ways. We complement each other very well with our skillsets, and there’s always someone to answer a question you might have. I also enjoy all these small cross-team collaborations that regularly happen, learning to see things from another perspective or simply getting inspired for new ideas. Last but not least, I think it’s quite funny that despite all the job being primarily English-speaking, we have a weekly German lunch (including non-native speakers!) and I even speak German with my manager.
While there have been many efforts I have helped moving forward since I started, my main project so far has been the Site Kit plugin for WordPress, which makes it easier for publishers to gather insights on how their website used and how it is performing. It has been a great experience working on the project, collaborating with various other Google teams as well as 10up. With a project of such massive scope, there have been several challenges to solve, from the project scope to permission management to OAuth, but looking back, all these challenges eventually helped improving the product and also helped me grow personally. I’m both super excited and super relieved to have launched a developer beta of the plugin before WordCamp Europe, and it’s been a rewarding experience hearing all the feedback and suggestions. I’m looking forward where we all can take this, especially now that it is available open-source – let’s work together on bringing it to a 1.0.0 release!
Another big project that I’m really happy to have been involved with is the Servehappy project with WordPress core: After almost two years of work which I continued as a Googler, it felt so good seeing the first half of it released as the main feature of WordPress 5.1 and the second half released as another substantial feature of WordPress 5.2. Yet again, this project helped a non-technical audience to learn more about and perform the technical challenge of updating PHP, for which unfortunately as of today the web does not provide a truly user-friendly solution. Another area where there is more work to do. Nonetheless, the project had a significant impact on the PHP version distribution and paved the way for finally increasing the minimum required PHP version to use WordPress.
I’m also excited for where we can take the AMP plugin and the PWA plugin. The latter has stagnated a bit recently, but hopefully we will find time to pick it up again soon – after all, it would be crucial for WordPress project to have a central service worker foundation available in its core platform. Regarding AMP (both the framework and the plugin), it’s been amazing to see how my colleagues have been improving it over the past few months, and I am looking forward to focusing more on it personally in the future. I am also curious for what else the future will bring. Let me just summarize it as, I’m looking forward to the years to come!
No longer remote – yeah alright!
When I joined Google, I was certainly done with working as a freelancer. Oh sure, I was done with it technically, but I also was done with it mentally. I thoroughly enjoy going to the office in Zurich every day and spending time with my coworkers there. Not only is it efficient to have people around right next to you who you can ask something or have a meaningful discussion with, it also feels very good to have a clear separation between my workplace and my home. While I spend many hours at the office, I personally prefer doing that rather than taking my laptop home and having meetings from there. Yet, it’s great that Google gives you the flexibility to do so, as that is obviously a personal preference. I often talk about separation of concerns in coding, but this separation of concerns also goes for my workplace (I don’t even know whether I should add a “ha ha” because this comparison was probably really bad and not even funny).
Going back to working at the office, it feels very good both socially and regarding efficiency, plus I also feel like I am much more focused at a designated workplace (contrary to popular belief). I had already noticed that before joining Google, during the days when I had worked from the Yoast offices in Wijchen.
A thing that I thought I might miss from the remote work is the traveling and exploring new places. I was completely proven wrong. While I don’t typically travel somewhere random for 3 weeks and work from there now, our work involves a lot of traveling, whether it is for meeting other teams (or even our own team as a whole) or participating in conferences. I have been travelling a lot since I joined Google, been to new countries I had not visited before, and I love it. Since our team is distributed, we typically work together for a few days during such trips, which not only leads to really productive outcomes every time, but also maintains the part of remote work that I have always liked – just go somewhere and work from there.
The conferences we have been attending as part of our work in Developer Relations have been very valuable and great experiences as well. It’s been amazing broadening my horizon beyond WordPress-focused conferences. Just in these past two months, we participated in AMP Conf in Tokyo and Google I/O in the Bay Area. Each time it is a whole new audience you meet and a whole lot of new perspectives you can learn from.
Long story short – I feel like I still have the parts I liked about remote work while I have dropped the ones I didn’t.
A New Country
It’s also exciting to be in Zurich, Switzerland. Granted, people still speak German here (in ways I don’t understand, although I’m improving), but it is a different vibe. The city is gorgeous, with its big lake and surrounded by mountains (for folks from here it’s just hills though). There are tons of cool places, events happening all the time, especially now in summer, lots of good cheese of course. Another great thing is that Zurich is a very international spot which comes with all the perks of that, while still being very small for that matter. There are only around 400k people living here, and the city is very walkable. I can walk to work every day (that I have to walk to work is another plus of not just working from home) in about 15 minutes, I can reach the city center walking in about 30 minutes, everything is fairly close.
The Google offices they have here are also great. Zurich is one of the biggest Google locations outside of the US, there are two different campuses here which are about a 20 minute walk apart from each other. While I generally have a seat where I commonly work, it is generally very flexible – occasionally I also work from the other campus for a change (which is even closer to where I live). The campuses are pretty much what you have probably heard about in terms of Google campuses: Tons of fun rooms, neat little secrets can be found everywhere – and of course you can take the slides to the cafeteria in one of the main buildings. My favorites are a jungle lounge, which is entirely full of plants with a few sofas and lounge chairs in between, and a Western saloon room, including old piano and swinging doors. If you ever come here, let me know – we can have guests. 🙂
WordCamp Europe 2019
This year’s WCEU was my favorite one so far. After getting to Berlin on Wednesday morning, Pascal and I went to the Google Berlin office for a bit, pretty much just to badge in. Yep, each employee in Google has a map where they can see which offices they’ve been to, so of course we are very passionate about that. If you use Swarm regularly, you probably get it. Over there in the office we met Alberto and Rick and hung out there for a while, before having lunch and beers with my “multisite buddy” Jeremy and his colleague Phil. Later in the afternoon I met with Thierry who had arrived in Berlin in the meantime, so that we could push the Site Kit beta release button (of course there were actually a few more things involved). Of course we both felt super good after that, so it was certainly time for a toast. For the rest of the evening we all hung out at the beer garden by the hotel, and, as always, it was a pleasure meeting old and new friends again and catching up. Similar to last year’s event, even my sister was now part of the WordCamp, which was really cool.
The event itself was a blast. During contributor day I mostly worked on improving HTTPS support detection in core, as well as preparing the 2.0 release for the WP Rig starter theme, which is another big project I have been involved with over the past year. The conference days I mostly spent at the Google booth. Talking to other attendees at the booth has been something new to me, having done it the first time at last year’s WordCamp US and now again at WordCamp Europe. I have to say I really enjoy it – it is great to be able to show attendees what you’ve been working on, how they can benefit from it, gather their feedback, whether excitement, suggestions, concerns.
In addition, I was excited to be a speaker again, and this time I presented the topic of using custom elements in Gutenberg. Web Components have been an interesting topic to me, particularly in the context of Gutenberg and AMP, which ties in closer to specific WordPress use-cases. While for now usage of these APIs in Gutenberg is mostly a experiment, I’m curious to see the adoption evolve. Given that most popular frameworks implement a similar component-based mechanism, I’m excited about Web Components standardizing these approaches, and I can certainly see some of the frameworks providing interoperability measures or possibly event switch to using these APIs under the hood, which would be another great leap forward for the web. Why implement our own solutions when we could as well all work together?
The after party was also lots of fun. Despite some issues with the venue, I think it was a great event, and it was a good time for all of us as the WordPress community to celebrate ourselves with all that we’re giving back to the web. Of course I was already very exhausted before the party, but the excitement kept me going. I spent the evening having good conversations with more WordPress pals, before some colleagues and friends dragged me on the dancefloor where we ended up having a blast for the rest of the night – including a conga line and invention of weird running-around dance moves.
How did the trip end for me? With a very special highlight. If you know me, you might know that I still crave the joy of downing a package of Ahoj Brause which has become a tradition at WordCamps for almost three years now. Turns out that McDonald’s in Germany is selling a “McFlurry Ahoj Brause”, as Jon had discovered during the event. That’s why, on Sunday for lunch, we all went to McDonald’s for dessert, as classy as it can get. The look on the cashier when we ordered six McFlurry Ahoj Brause was just priceless.
And with this joyful memory, let me wrap up my fourth annual recap as part of the WordPress community. It’s been an amazing ride, and I can’t wait for where the years to come will lead us.