Every year Automattic has a “Grand Meetup” (GM), where all the employees, from across the world, get together for a week. This year it was in Whistler, Canada, a resort town which hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics.

As my first GM I was, understandable, apprehensive. I’d been told that a GM could be overwhelming, so I made it my task to make sure it wasn’t.

Monday

Up at 4:45am, for a quick cup of tea and shower before a car came to pick me up to take me to Manchester airport. Thankfully I got there in plenty of time so took the opportunity to have a decent breakfast (knowing full well it may be a while until I eat). Meeting up with a number of fellow Automatticians, our plane took off at around 11am.

Anyway, the flight was okay. The seats on the plane were narrow and I couldn’t sleep, no matter how hard I tried. Instead I ended up watching 3 films and listening to a few podcasts. I managed to spill my lunch down my top (beef in a red wine sauce) and then, on the bus to the hotel, managed to throw coffee over my trousers as well. My clothes didn’t get through the journey particularly well.

Once in Vancouver, arriving Automatticians collected near the airport exit before boarding a specially laid on bus that took about 2.5 hours to take us to our hotels at Whistler. We are split across 2 hotels – Westin and Hilton and are also due to make use of a nearby third building, which is a conference centre. I’m in Westin, which is very, very nice.

After dinner, I stayed awake as long as I could but finally crashed out in my room and was asleep by 9pm.

Tuesday

7 hours later and I was awake. 4am. Oh. But, it turned out, pretty much everyone else who had come off a long-haul flight had done the same, so I wasn’t alone. This is my first experience of such a long flight and, therefore, jet lag. As well as sleep it also totally screwed up my eating patterns too. When I awoke at 4am I was starving – not surprising as it was noon back at home. So far, I’m not a fan of jet lag.

I dozed in bed until 7am and then showered and came down for breakfast. Breakfast is buffet-style but it includes healthy options (fruit, porridge, etc) and not-so-healthy (bacon – so much bacon, eggs, pancakes, etc). I’m going to like breakfasts this week!

Today is team day. The VIP team got together until lunch to discuss our individual sub-team targets and what our plans are for the next year. After lunch, we got together in our sub-teams for a short time, before all meeting up again at a nearby bar. Happy hour! Free drinks and it was time for a team photo as well…

The view from the bar was pretty good too…

Next was the keynote talk, which was on inclusion, followed by the obligatory company photo.

I was also asked if I wanted to help out on Sunday. In the evening, as it’s the last day, there’s a big dinner and entertainment, the latter kindly provided by ‘Automusicians’ –  a rather talented group of musicians and singers. I was honoured, therefore, to be asked if I’d help with backing on I Want You Back (yes, the Jackson 5 song). So, at various points through the rest of the week, I’d need to take some time out to rehearse with the rest of the group.

Dinner followed, and has been planned in such a way that we sit with people we don’t know. After dinner is free time to do, well, whatever, with numerous events being planned for each night. In my case, I stayed chatting after dinner before heading back to my room at a reasonably late time.

Wednesday

After a more reasonable 10:30pm bedtime last night, I was hoping to get a good night’s sleep. Sadly, 3am decided to say ‘hello’ again but, thankfully, I feel asleep after about 30 minutes, only awoken by my alarm at 7am.

After breakfast, the Flash Talks started. I stayed around to watch a couple of colleagues but then dropped out to call home. For the uninitiated, Flash Talks are 4 minute presentations that Automatticians give on any given subject. In the past everyone has had to give one, each year, but this time it was just for those who haven’t done one before.

Classes and projects started today too – I’d signed up for Elastic Search but it became apparent quickly that this was covering the most technical aspects of the product and wasn’t going to answer questions about how WordPress uses it. So I left and joined fellow co-workers on tickets and general “day job” work.

Another thing that started today, and was new to this year’s GM, was ‘Home Room’, where everyone was divided into a number of ‘teams’ (or, in this case, ‘Home Rooms’), who met for an hour each day to perform various team-building exercises.

After dinner, a large group of us decided to take a 30 minute walk to a nearby lake, as there was a good chance we’d see the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, they didn’t make an appearance but the sky was still amazing…

And, yeah, there are bears outside. Here’s a picture a colleague took on another day…

Thursday

Again, I awoke at 3am. No idea why. But I soon dozed off again and, this time, I was up at 6am, as I was on shift to look after VIP tickets until noon.

As with yesterday, once breakfast was over, I watched some flash talks before heading to a song rehearsal and then joining colleagues again to co-work.

Early evening I was asked if I would provide backing on another song – King of Anything. Like most people I’d not heard of this song but, still, it’s really nice…

Friday

What is it with 3am and waking up? I get back to sleep but I feel really drained for the rest of the day.

Today was pretty much like yesterday but with additional fun in the early evening, building an Ardueno board and running software on it.

Dinner was bizarre. Not the dinner itself or the locations but the conversation. I was sat with a fellow Automattician, who’d I’d not met before, and our conversation ended up pretty much driving everyone else at the table away, long, rambling and specific as it was. He lives in the US but was originally from the UK. And it turns out his wife came from Beeston, which is just up the road from me. In fact, as if to prove his local knowledge, he mentioned that Beeston has the best fish and chip shop. I immediately knew he was talking about Humber Road ‘chippy’.  Bizarre. I fly to Canada, talk to a random Automattician who lives in the US and it turns out he know the Humber Road chip shop. The world really is small.

Each evening there are various activities going on which you may, or may not, get involved with. Tonight, I played Jackbox – a great online gaming system, where you use your own mobile devices as controllers. I’ve played it before and it’s very addictive

Saturday

It’s the day for my flash talk and, boy, was I nervous at the point of doing it. I was told it was great although I think my copious use of the word ‘wanker’ in it raised a few eyebrows (there was a reason – honest!).

Once that was over I shot off to the local shops to do a bit of souvenir shopping and then back for song rehearsals. Here are some brief videos I shot on my phone (unedited)…

There was the final home room today and it consisted of a ‘speed dating’ style thing where we got 4 minutes to chat to different people in the room. It was fun.

Most of the day though (4pm until 11pm) was taken up by the ‘Town Hall’. This is where we get to ask any questions we want to our CEO, Matt, as a couple of throwable cordless microphones were passed around.

There were breaks in this for the occasional coffee, dinner and another attempt at the team photo (the previous one didn’t come out very well – I’m happy to say this one did!). I haven’t yet seen it, but here’s one of the ‘Boldermatticians’ – those who are 40 and over…

Tonight’s social event, for me, was a quiz night. Our team did badly. In my defence a lot of the questions were US specific so… yeah.

Sunday

In bed for about 11:30pm last night and up at 6am, as I’m on the ticket queue for the morning.

It’s a quiet one today. And, by that, I mean not much is arranged. In the morning we had the first run through of the party music, just before lunch. Now, am I nervous? I will be standing up in front of 500-600 people. Well, I am and I’m not.

What you have to remember is that my singing background is in musical theatre – I have 6 months to rehearse, have sheet music to hand, along with a musical director. Here, I have a matter of days and not much else. It’s why I don’t do karaoke. So, there are some nerves there but nothing I don’t think is visible. One thing I’ve not been able to do is learn my words (my memory is bad at the best of times) so will rely on my phone during the performance.

The afternoon was demos of the various week-long projects but I was feeling a bit worse for wear from the week so I skipped this to relax, listen to the music I was singing, blog and generally chill until 5pm when I was needed at the main party venue for rehearsals. Oh, and I packed – it’s a 4am start tomorrow!

Early evening I got a chance to see the main party room as sound checks took place…

Okay, yeah, I’m more nervous now – that’s a lot more professional than I was expecting but it sounded amazing.

Later the doors are opened and it’s a fantastic experience with hundreds of Automatticians eating and enjoying themselves. The theme is ‘Through the Decades’ and outside the main hall are a number of retro arcade cabinets for us to use, along with Rubiks Cubes, which appeared to be, literally, everywhere….

Some came dressed up and others didn’t (I didn’t, although I dressed smartly). The food was amazing.

Matt opened things up with a short speech (this is one of my favourite GM photos).

@photomatt waiting to address Automattic #a8cgm

A post shared by Donncha Ó Caoimh (@docinphotos) on

And then the music started and it was over all too quickly (nerves had gone by this point).

Playing King of Anything in the Automusicians band last night. #a8cgm

A post shared by Kristen Symonds (@therealkristarella) on

I was actually quite exhausted, physically and mentally, by this stage of the week and knowing I had an early start in the morning, left around 10:30pm, although I struggled to get to sleep much before midnight.

Monday / Tuesday

My alarm goes off at 4am. I do not like this time.

I shower and head downstairs to reception to check out. I series of buses have been laid on throughout the morning and I’ve been allocated a 5am leave, along with a number of fellow UKmatticians.

I sleep a little on the long bus journey.

Arriving at Vancouver airport, we have a long time to wait, as our flight doesn’t leave until 10:30am so we take the opportunity to pay for a premium lounge, where we grab some breakfast and do some work (yes, really).

Instead of heading straight home we have a stop in Toronto first. That takes 4 hours to get to and, once again, I nod off whilst, mainly listening to podcasts (no films on this flight as it’s a relatively small, short haul aircraft).

We have nearly  4 hours in Toronto so we get another lounge and do the same again (albeit eat lunch this time around). The flight back to Manchester, which was due to arrive on Tuesday at 9:35am, was relatively uneventful until we landed in fog and struggled to find a gate, which delayed our arrival somewhat. I got through 2 films and a number of podcasts and may have slept a little more.

The advantage of getting a driver is that I don’t have to worry about driving, no matter how tired I am. And you get someone waiting for you at the exit with an iPad with ‘Mr David Artiss’ on it.

It was a great week but I was glad to be home. I immediately had some lunch (a nice, healthy salad after the excesses of the week), showered and unpacked.

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