Automattic Women: Kirsten Johnston

Welcome to Automattic Women—conversations with some of the remarkable women working all over the world to design and develop Automattic software and make the web a better place. Today’s interviewee is HRmattician Kirsten Johnston.

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Kirsten, I live in a little village in Scotland with my fiance, dog, and cats, and I’m an HR Wrangler partnering with Talent, Accounting, and Finance.

Outside of work, I’m renovating my house and planning my wedding, so I’m pretty busy! In my spare time I like visiting my friends back home in mid Argyll, attending rugby or ice hockey games, and hanging out at the beach with my best fluffy pal—my dog Freyja. 

You’ve done HR professionally for 15+ years, mainly in traditionally organized companies. How does that experience stack up against doing the same work at Automattic?

It’s very different! I’ve spent the majority of my time working with engineering and manufacturing teams in traditional companies such as BP, Aggreko, Scotrail and Argyll, and Bute Council. Our HR model at Automattic has a very different feel—we’re much more hands-on here! Previously my client groups would range between 200 to 450 people, which didn’t leave me much time to actually get to know my folks. At Automattic, I have more opportunities to join team syncs or have 1:1s with people to properly connect and get to know them.

There are different challenges, too. For example, in previous roles, I had to deal with folks having physical fights on the shop floor, or the time somebody absconded with a bin lorry (garbage truck). Those kinds of incidents thankfully don’t happen here! The physical distance adds a different kind of complexity, though; I can’t stop by folks’ desks or grab them for lunch, and I can’t rely on body language when we’re connecting over Slack, so I’ve definitely had to sharpen my communication skills in new ways. 

It’s also safe to say that this is by far the most accomplished and high-performing HR team I’ve ever had the pleasure of being part of. The Super Human League is a wonderful team: we have a load of diverse experience, and there’s always somebody available to bounce ideas or ask for help. The team is also excellent at healthy challenges and feedback; we may not always agree, but we have built the mutual trust to challenge one another to get to the right outcomes.

What drew you to Automattic, and what keeps you here?

I took a career break when I was 27 to go to university and formalize my HR learning with a degree. We discussed Automattic in a class talking about the future of work, looking at startups and their ways of working, and my class all reflected that working in a fully distributed environment was a pipe dream! When I was looking for a new role in 2022 I recognised the name, saw the HRW opening, visited the “Work with Us” page a few times, and the automated nudge encouraged me to apply. As I went through the application and trial process, the more I heard about Automattic, the better the company sounded! The folk I worked with on my trial were such a pull, too. I really wanted to work with these amazing people.

I’ve been here for 10 months now; it’s gone by in a flash. What keeps me here is a combination of things; happily, everything I was told in the application process has turned out to be true, which often is not the case! We have wonderful people here, my team are ace, I get to work on interesting and stretchy projects, I’m learning new things every day, and our benefits are amazing—particularly the opportunity to work with a coach, it’s the best!

If you could do any other job, anywhere in the world, what would you choose to do, and where would you do it?

This may sound a bit low-key, but I always wanted to be a florist! Coming out of lockdown in 2021, I decided to give it a shot, and attended night school to get my City & Guilds qualification in floristry. Making beautiful designs and arrangements was even more delightful than I’d imagined! I did toy with the idea of opening my own florist shop, but Automattic appeared on my radar and this job seemed like more fun 🙂.

So, to answer the question, I’d be some kind of traveling florist, creating glamorous and extravagant designs for folks while I explore the world! 

That’s it for this edition of Automattic Women. Follow Developer Resources and Automattic Design to meet more great women of Automattic. And if you’d like to do more than just read about these great people, consider working with us! Join our team of diverse, global perspectives building a better web, and connect your career to the power of Open Source.