Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Mahangu Weerasinghe a Happiness Engineer at Automattic and the first thing that struck me about him is his humility. It’s there right from the word go! So, when I got to know that he was an English teacher before becoming an Automattician I was not quite surprised.
His reason for liking and disliking his job is the same, Remote Working. He likes the concept of remote working as it allows him the flexibility to manage his time and he dislikes it as meeting teammates is rarer than it might be for most of us.
He lives in sunny Sri Lanka with his wife, he has a puppy who is called Sirius, and he’s known to eat huge amounts of chocolate when not reading or writing.
Let’s take a look at the happiness this Teacher, Automattician, WordCamp Speaker and Good Person has in store for us today.
Tell us a bit about yourself, and your journey from being an English teacher to a Happiness Engineer.
I’ve been using WordPress since 0.70 and have always helped friends and family install and maintain their sites. On the other hand, I also love teaching. Helping someone learn something new is quite addictive, and it’s one of my favourite things to do.
Therefore, my background as an English teacher actually made sure I was able to transition quite easily into my role in support. 🙂 At Automattic, we try our best to ‘teach‘, as opposed to ‘fix‘, and this makes the support experience very enjoyable for me.
Automattic is very different from most other places I’ve worked before. Everyone works remotely, so there is a lot of freedom when it comes to scheduling your work hours and managing your time.
On the flipside, everything you do work-wise is public, and can be viewed by anyone in the company, at any time. I’ve always been a member of the work hard – play hard school of thought, and this kind of results-driven workplace really feels like home.
I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt is that if you give people the chance to work in an environment they are comfortable in, they will, by and large, produce great results!
Apart from the obvious answers like problem-solving skills and technical expertise, I think a truly great developer is able to see things from the user’s point of view. The last decade has been full of seemingly fantastic projects that went under because they weren’t able to cater to the needs of their users in time.
I think any good developer in 2015 has to be comfortable with constantly keeping track of user behaviour and needs and making adjustments to their products based on that. We’re fast entering an era in which data is becoming easy to access and use, and I feel that the line between ‘good’ and ‘great’ will be defined more and more by how much and how quickly each person or organization is able to make use of this data.
Can good support save a poorly built plugin or theme?
Save it completely? Probably not. Extend its life by a little? Sure! 🙂 Good support can be used to hold up a plugin or theme that is being improved upon in a future release, but it can’t do that indefinitely. In the real world though, poorly built plugins or themes will often have poor support, and vice versa, simply because a lack of thought in one department often goes hand in hand with a lack of thought or preparation in the other.
Is WordPress development on the cards for you?
I wrote some simple (and pretty terrible) Plugins back in the post 1.2 days, soon after Plugins first became a possibility. But I haven’t written much code in the last few years. Though I did recently attempt (and failed!) at writing a patch for a Core bug! 🙂 I would definitely like to do more dev in the future, especially if that means understanding WordPress better. However, I think working with users fits in better with my core skillset, so I don’t really see myself attempting to work towards switching roles in terms of my day to day focus.
And if you don’t make it in the first time, work on your skills and apply again.
My first application to Automattic was in 2008. It was hasty and not well put together. I didn’t make it in. I started work as a teacher, and worked on developing the skills necessary to be a Happiness Engineer, and applied again in 2014. And that’s when I made it in!
Also, as you work on your skills and experience, never underestimate the value of being a part of the WordPress community. For obvious reasons, Automattic really values open source contributions, whether that’s submitting bug reports and patches to Core, creating and maintaining themes and plugins or helping out on the WordPress.org support forums.
That last bit I totally agree with. The WordPress community is made of many people working towards making free software available and if you can chip in and do your bit, don’t shy away.
Thanks a lot Mahangu for your time. It was indeed great talking to you!