This past week saw the annual Automattic Grand Meetup take place; the one time of the year where every single Automattician that is able gathers together in the same place. Previously this has been in Park City, Utah (see the posts from 2014 and 2015), but this year we headed up to the mountains, in Whistler, near Vancouver.
Whistler is a bit of a strange place. Situated in amongst some beautiful scenery, it’s a purpose built ‘resort town’, which is something I’ve never experienced before. The hotels blend seamlessly into the local shops, and the streets are all the same colour and style – which is pretty bizarre. I’m not sure it would be somewhere that I would ever choose to go to on my own, but then again, I’m not really well known for my prowess in outdoor sports, which probably colours my perspective. If you spend the whole day careering wildly downhill on mountain bikes, I can understand the idea of wanting something a bit more cosy and familiar in the evening.
Anyway, the dynamism or otherwise of the local town wasn’t really all that important to the point of the whole week – which was to see people that you might interact with on a daily basis, but never get to speak to face to face. Getting to work from home is an amazing thing, but it’s pretty easy to end up siloed off in a corner, or feeling isolated. This week is a chance to check in and try help with that.
When you work with people largely online, their personalities take on a larger presence than they might if you were to share an office. You form ideas of their personality and image based on fairly different cues, and seeing all of that come to life in a concentrated space can be a pretty surreal experience. I lost count of the number of people who seemed politely confused when I was introduced as Steve, only to see realisation wash over their face as they checked my badge: ‘Ahhhh, Clicky Steve!’.
Going from working completely to your own schedule, to a more structured daily routine like the GM can be a bit of a jolt to the system, especially when you might only ever have yourself or a dog for company during the day. Add into that mix some jet lag and a hangover and it can be quite the tiring experience.
All of the above said, this was my third Grand Meetup, and the whole thing has taken on something of a comforting familiarity; just another one of the quirks that make up the rhythm of working at a distributed company. Despite still being an exhausting week, there is a lot of history to be found in three years, and for me the GM is now more of a joy to get to see friends (both new and old) than it is an overwhelming and extraordinary ‘event’. I think that’s a good thing.
Out of 11 years of existence, over 60% of Automattic have joined in the last 3 years alone. That sort of growth would pose challenges for any company, but it seems even more keenly felt in an environment that has a strong engrained culture, and where people are so spread out geographically. It felt that this year there was some real emotional moments as a result, and it was refreshing to hear people sharing their struggles and frustrations as well as the many positives. When you only see people once a year, and then spend a solid week with them, it can be intense, and strong bonds form quicker than they might in other scenarios. That sort of atmosphere means that a familiar camaraderie develops. For many of us – especially those who have been around for a while – it’s more than just a job, but a community, and it’s hard to imagine ever not being a part of that. You feel genuinely invested in the future and value of what you are doing, rather than just paying lip service to the idea, like at so many other jobs.
I took a lot more portraits this year than I have in the past, and unlike last year, they were almost all candid. There are so many strong characters at the GM, and everybody is so open to chatting or just hanging out that it is the perfect opportunity to capture some of that. I always wish I’d taken more, and don’t feel like I did the variety of different folks that were there justice in the number of shots I took, but that’s a perennial issue.
There were the usual opportunities to do all sorts of different non-work related things whilst we were in Whistler. From experience though, simply meeting and hanging out with people was enough to burn out on alone, so I didn’t do a whole lot. I made an exception for the Whistler Beer Festival though, which was coincidentally in town the same time we were.
On the last night, we had what is becoming a traditional leaving party, where the main hall in one of the hotels is taken over with a full club-style setup, complete with neon and flashing lights. Apparently last year the sound system was so loud that we shattered the lights in the ceiling, which is pretty impressive, so there were high expectations this time around. First of all though, we all had dinner together.
Before the resident Automattic DJs kicked in, there was a band of rotating members – made up of Automatticians – that played a set of various different songs – including one of the most impressive renditions of The Final Countdown that I have ever heard. I had a throw back to my teenage years and played Basket Case. Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of this whole bit… partly because shooting bands feels a bit too much like work, and also partly because… well, if you’ve ever tried to shoot a gig with strong backlights on a rangefinder with a lens prone to flaring, then you’ll understand why. Not built for the task.
I did get a whole bunch of party shots though – all with available light only. I’m pretty impressed at how the M and 50mm f0.95 performed, given how dark and varied the light was in there (not to mention the smoke). It really does bring out the colours pretty wonderfully.
I definitely took more photos proportionally this night than any other day, but then… the colours were too beautiful to resist – and besides, I could feel the party photographer extraordinaire in me coming out. Loud music, lights, and lots of alcohol is like a second home in lots of ways.
Even the bar staff got in on the act.
and I have no idea where he got the fan. It seemed to be battery powered as well, or at least with a really long cord. This picture was not posed.
I’ll wrap this up with some words of wisdom. Staying up all night to make sure you catch your 5.30am bus to the airport may seem like a great idea at the time, especially after a cocktail or twelve, and with other (sober) people advocating that plan. However, the reality is very very different. The long journey home the next day was not a good one, but I’m glad I stayed up. It was worth it.
This post is dedicated to all of my fellow Automatticians. I’m going to miss them.
All photos were shot on a Leica M Typ 240, with either a Canon 50mm f0.95, or a Leica Summicron-C 40mm f2. The indoor ones are usually the former, and the outdoor ones the latter.