At some point in my career, I stopped caring about Open Source. I don’t know exactly when. But I know that when I met Matt Mullenweg just a few months ago and he told me how much he cared about Open Source … well, at first I didn’t get it. And then after a while, I frankly felt a little guilty.
I was at MIT in the ‘80s when Open Source was just starting to take hold, and it felt super “hippie” and “decentralized” and “<insert other intoxicating adjectives that feel like freedom>.” It was important to a lot of the software engineers back then at MIT and across the world. It was a new, yet-to-be-discovered universe with unbridled enthusiasm. I grew up. I lost it. And there standing before me was someone who I had a few decades on, age-wise, but I didn’t at all feel wise. I felt his wisdom. I felt a wisdom that once mattered deeply to me. It called me back.
In recent years I’ve kept hearing the phrase “open web”—in reference to how Snapchat and Facebook and other so-called “walled gardens” do their best to keep their users inside their own universes of attention. I didn’t fully understand what that meant until Matt shared with me how 26% of the web runs on Open Source WordPress. My immediate reaction was, “26%?!” That’s crazy, I didn’t know that. Matt smiled at my reaction at first, but it wasn’t a real smile—it was as they say in Slack, a “:simple_smile:” which technically isn’t a full-fledged smile. It is a knowing smile—not one of being elated or happy per se, but one of understanding. An understanding that I didn’t have.
Until just yesterday, when Wired’s Margaret Rhodes interviewed me about joining Automattic and I shared this number with her as if to brag, “26% of the web runs on Open Source WordPress” … it finally hit me! That didn’t mean the number was a huge number, it meant that most of the Web was not running on Open Source WordPress. 74%, which includes other material open source efforts out there, but also a whole lot of closed source systems. And a lot more closed source tech companies are in fashion right now—as I got to see by spending my last 3 years in the venture capital industry. I realized that Open Source is treated as a curiosity, by myself included, and not the revolutionary movement that it was, and should/could be today.
Because in a world where there is less Open Source, there’s less opportunity to participate in the construction of the Web in an open, inclusive manner. Realizing that, I could feel inside me all my “<intoxicating adjectives that feel like freedom>” being taken away from me, my friends, and the entire world.
In the beginning days of the Web, Open Source was a human right. I can remember in the 90s as the Web was just starting to emerge how important it was that all of the Web could be decoded by simply pulling down the menu and selecting, “View Source…” which let you see the underlying code that created a website. And you could easily copy it, and adapt it, and share it with others so that more people could make more sophisticated websites. But the “View Source…” menu is now buried deeper in the browser’s menubar; and ever since Flash and other closed systems arrived on the Internet, it hasn’t been possible to view a lot of code written by the biggest companies out there. It’s happening in little pieces, but not at scale. Something important to creativity—Open Source—can easily go away. It’s vanishing, slowly and quietly.
So when Matt offered me the opportunity to join Automattic to serve the Open Source mission, and to get to work with interesting folks from all over the world (50 countries to be exact) to head design, I thought to myself, “How can I refuse?” It got even better when I asked him if I could make my title, “Global Head, Computational Design and Inclusion” because I wanted to do three things: 1/ highlight Automattic’s international community of designer-engineers (global), 2/ advance the kind of design that is being fully impacted by Moore’s Law (computational), and 3/ highlight how cutting-edge design requires the capacity to embrace human differences (inclusion).
What was the best response that Matt could give to me? “It’s a long title, but I get why. It makes sense.” There’s a pause in the Slack feed from him, and then he adds, “And if you ever want to change it at any time, it’s just a matter of updating a field in one of our systems and requesting new business cards.” Matt’s matter-of-fact response reminded me of the absurdly beautiful freedom that comes with Open Source. That elegant ethos is succinctly stated on the home page of Automattic.com: “We don’t make software for free, we make it for freedom.” So from today I am proud to fight for freedom with new colleagues, my fellow Automatticians.
Automattic is spread across more than 50 countries. If you work at Automattic, you can literally work anywhere in the world — we are completely decentralized.
So if you are a designer living anywhere in the world who wants to work from anywhere in the world, we are the place for you. Just visit our Work With Us page to learn more.
Applying to work at Automattic starts with an email to jobs @ the Automattic domain (note the double “T”), and taking special note of whether you are interested in a Product Designer role or a Marketing Designer role. That’s it!
Automattic’s Global Head, Computational Design and Inclusion
Prior to Automattic, Maeda was Design Partner for the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) where he partnered with over 100 technology startups to best leverage design in their business practices and growth. At KPCB, Maeda launched the #DesignInTech Report, together with Jackie Xu, Aviv Gilboa, and Justin Sayarath at SXSW 2015. When first released, this report quickly made the “Best of Slideshare” list with its comprehensive approach to identifying trends at the intersection of technology, business, and design in both private and public companies. He currently serves on the boards of Sonos and Wieden+Kennedy, and is the author of a few books including The Laws of Simplicity, which has been translated into 14 languages.