Andy: Let’s do the important intro first. What pets have you brought along with you today?
Mel: Hey! I’ve brought my two cats, Pixel and Voxel, with me today. Pixel’s a diluted calico, about eight years old. Voxel is a black cat, and she’s around seven and a half.
Andy: Oh my, some amazing cats you’ve got there! I’m a big fan of black cats, so I might also be slightly bias.
So you’ve got two senior citizens in cat terms on the go. Do they spend 99% of the day asleep or have they still got a bit of kitten left in them?
Mel: They are both pretty spry and playful! Recently Pixel has been dragging around a shoelace and screaming at us to play with her. (Yes, screaming. She can be a very loud cat sometimes.) She does some pretty epic flips while trying to catch it. Sometimes I think both of our cats are half-dog.
Andy: Oh I love a cat that behaves like a dog. It’s good to see that a more senior cat still has plenty of life left in them. They must be very happy and well looked after 🙂
I guess the next question is how they are as work buddies?
Mel: I don’t think they’re senior quite yet — more like middle aged. With luck, we’ll have another eight years with them.
I guess the next question is how they are as work buddies?
Oh, these cats. They are... they are cats. When one’s not climbing onto my keyboard to get attention, the other is walking in front of my camera (only while I’m on video calls!), distracting everyone. Pixel has a habit of slowly slinking into your lap like you can’t see her if she just goes slowly enough (and sometimes it works, especially on my partner, who works from a sitting desk). Voxel is more aggressive about it. Both are easily distracted, though—if we put a box down next to our desks, one of them inevitably ends up in the box instead of climbing all over us. So there’s that.
But they’re cute. So... they can get away with being distracting little butts.
Andy: Oh I feel your pain. My cats are almost exactly the same. I deploy a blanket in random areas of the house when I really need to get my head down. There’s a 100% chance that they’ll sit on it and leave me alone.
This segues us perfectly to my next question. What do you do on the web and how did you get started?
Mel: I’m a product designer at Automattic, where my time is donated to working on WordPress. I’m essentially a full-time volunteer. I’ve spent the past two or so years focused on customization.
I have a very nerdy origin story—I started making fan websites as a kid. I learned HTML and stuck some sites up on Angelfire and Tripod. In college, I had the opportunity to do more web work through my work study jobs, which sparked off a feeling of, “hey, this could be a career!” I managed to land a local internship, which turned into a part-time contracting job, and then eventually worked my way up through several local agencies to designing full-time.
Andy: Ah that’s a really cool origin story. A lot of good folks learned the web by making fan sites. Those were the good old days of the web for sure.
I’m a big fan of the work that you folks are doing at Automattic. I’m especially a big fan of the Gutenberg project. What’s it like working on CMS platform that powers nearly 30% of the web? Is it daunting?
I’m a big fan of the work that you folks are doing at Automattic. I’m especially a big fan of the Gutenberg project.
I’m so excited about Gutenberg. I just tried it after three months of not posting on my site, and even in that time the amount of refinement is stunning. Before my sabbatical, I was kind of in the thick of it—so it was hard to really see the tremendous change happening around me, because I was seeing every increment. Distance has given me a lot more appreciation for how far it’s come. It’s really becoming a first-class editor.
What’s it like working on CMS platform that powers nearly 30% of the web? Is it daunting?
I constantly waffle between “this is just business as usual” and “oh my god if I make a bad decision I can mess up over 30% of the internet.” Like, I’m not just ruining one person’s day—I could potentially be ruining thousands of people’s day. So mostly, I try to internalize the inherent responsibility of working on something as large as WordPress without letting myself get overrun with indecision and anxiety over the potential impact.
The work itself is super rewarding, but can be difficult—I’m constantly working in the open, navigating community politics and occasional vocal spectators. I’ve had to find a good balance between soliciting and giving public and private feedback, communicating across cultures, and giving folks the benefit of the doubt. Overall, I think working on something as public as WordPress has made me a much better (and restrained) communicator.
Andy: I suppose the enormity of a project like WordPress becomes so normal that your perception of it changes over time. A bit like when you work with huge clients: by the end of the contract, they’re just another client.
I’m glad you mentioned your sabbatical for two reasons.
It should be celebrated that a company provides that sort of benefit to its staff.
We have something in common…we’re both drummers!
So, important question: what kit are you playing and what styles of music you like the play the most?
Mel: Any kit I can get my hands on!
I have this practice kit at home, but otherwise do most of my drumming at a local studio. I try to drop in there at least once a week for practice, along with my weekly lesson. I’d love to have a real kit, but I live in an apartment in the city, and it’s just not possible because of space and noise.
I mostly play rock, but I think that’s a product of being a beginner taking lessons. I’m in a band right now called Peachfuzz, and we sound a little bit like Ben Folds meets Dresden Dolls. I also have aspirations of one day being in a synthpop band. I’ve considered getting a small electric kit before, but I think even that would have trouble fitting in my apartment, and I’ve had a drum instructor warn me off of them as a beginner, since it’ll make me sound better than I actually am. One day, though.
Andy: That’s good advice from your instructor. Also, the feel of an electric kit is super different to an acoustic kit, so you can affect your overall playing style unwittingly. That practice kit you’ve got looks handy as heck though!
Drumming is something I’m really keen to get back into one day. Fun fact: I was actually aspiring to be a pro drummer, not a designer! I just got unlucky with music college which resulted in me giving up and here I am today. I’d love to play in bands again though—especially a funk or hiphop band.
Anyway, I think we can wrap this one up. Thank you so much for your time, Mel, Pixel and Voxel. It’s been a pleasure interviewing you. Can you let the readers know where they can find you on the web and how they can support the work that you do?
Mel: I kept joking to my fiancée over my sabbatical that I was going to quit my job and become a drummer. She was, err, not into the idea.
Pixel and Voxel mrow back! (Especially Pixel, she’s been very vocal lately.)
Folks can find me at https://choycedesign.com/ or @melchoyce on Twitter. Folks can support my work by volunteering their time at https://make.wordpress.org/! We’re always looking for new contributors.