Blog Post

An Interview with Seth McLellan

Interview with Seth McLellan

Job Title:

Marketing Wrangler

Place of Work:

Automattic (specifically, the WordPress.com product)

Industry or specialization:

Automattic is the umbrella company for many different publishing and ecommerce products. WordPress.com is in the website and blog space.

What got you into Web Design/Development/working on the web?

I would never have guessed I’d end up here. Degree in aerospace engineering led to an analytics job running paid search ads on Google. SQL at the analytics job got me my first taste of coding. I learned how to code a website from scratch as a side project. Down the line I received an offer to join an in-house marketing team running display ads. I was interested in becoming more of a generalist and the new role eventually allowed me to dabble in many different marketing areas (site copy, emails, display ads, affiliates, product improvements, the list goes on).

What does a typical day or week look like for you? What sort of things do you do?

It’s a very flexible company with few official rules and a ton of trust, so it’s up to you to determine whether it’s a light day or a really busy one. All of our communication is done through private blogs (called p2’s) for each team, we have access to every team’s blog. I spend the first 90 mins catching up on mentions in p2 and quick responses, mentions in Slack, interesting posts people have made in spaces I follow. The rest of the day is very freeform, writing longer responses, iterating on copy for a certain project, following up with a designer on edits, usually making a couple p2’s on product improvements I ran into. It’s a ton of reading, a ton of writing, and then wearing different hats between design, copy, product, data, and effectively conveying all that to teammates.

What types of web technologies do you work with most often?

WordPress, SQL, basic Figma

What is your favorite thing about your job?

The stated mission that everything is everyone’s responsibility. If you see a product bug or improvement, bring it up. If you’re capable of writing a blog post for our public blog, kick it off and get help from the experts to polish it. If you have a great idea for a product feature, mock it up, get buy in from others that it’s worth working on more, and then get experts to polish. It takes a while to get acquainted with being responsible for so much, but it makes it fun when you’re in the flow collaborating with people all over the company. It’s really, really fun.

What do you wish you could change about your job?

Our company is fully remote all over the globe and we actively work with people in all timezones (our job functions are not siloed by geo). I love the flexibility working remotely gives, and we do have meetups in fun cities a handful of times a year, but I wish I could see my teammates more often and work next to them. You make it work, you find out how to make online relationships meaningful, but there are many days it’s just not the same. We are given monthly co-working allowances, but you don’t work with those people.

Where do you see your section of the web development/design/etc industry going?

For online publishing and ecommerce, there’s a ton of flexibility if you’re a developer and you can do more and more things with less effort. But even if you don’t have coding skills, people are able to ship beautiful websites, powered by amazing infrastructures, and reach untold numbers of people all at a couple clicks of the keyboard. Sure, it might take a bit to get acquainted with a particular platform, but once you start to see how all the different pieces connect, you’re able to get really creative. The web is constantly changing and so are peoples’ tastes, so those organizations and technologies that can stay relevant and adapt over multiple decades seem like the ones that will persist.

What technology and/or skill do you wish you learned before you entered the industry?

I wish I had a broader skillset earlier so I could dabble in more things, more often. Design, different coding languages, copywriting, executive communication—It all can play a part at different times in your career. I’m better at asking for help and trying my hand at different things. The kicker is: the learning should never stop. If you’re in the industry you want to be in, keep picking up new skills to tackle those cool projects or try your hand dabbling with an intriguing lead. If you’re not in the industry you want to be in, now’s the time to dive in. 

What are you looking to learn or what skill are you looking to build next?

I’d really like to learn more about fraud detection. I’ve been running various tests and analyzing those results over the past year and it’s really rewarding to find patterns in the data. It requires a lot of creativity, collaboration, and adaptation which I find to be skills that make every day really interesting.

What questions should I have asked that I didn’t?

Build a formal professional network or rely on organic work relationships to find jobs and move around? I’ve personally found that when you’re yourself at work, and do your most interesting work, and hang out with the people you most respect–those naturally turn into assets over time. Then it’s natural to reach out to those folks, your friends, to pick their brains (not eat their brains). I realize others find a lot of success in professional networks, like LinkedIn. But I’ve never had it and I’ve had plenty of success hearing about openings and opportunities. Those opportunities that come across your plate are highly qualified, people who want you for you or are willing to put in a favor and a good word because you’re you.

What would you tell someone to do who’s looking to get into the industry? How should they best prepare themselves?

Do a personal project, or two, or three (building your own blog or website). Build up some broad experience across slightly related skills and then come with an expertise/specialty. And make sure you bring a voracious curiosity.

Anything else you’d like to tell future designers, developers and web people?

It all changes so quickly. Come with a skill, keep improving it, pick up new ones, keep adapting. Stay flexible to new ideas, jump on successful ones early. Be willing to admit you’re wrong, or that someone else is right. And move boldly into the future.

Is there a way people get in contact with you to ask questions etc?

If you’re interested, email me, I’d be happy to chat: seth.mclellan [at] automattic.com. Say you’re from here.

Last Question: If you had to be a zombie and you had to eat someone’s brains, whose would it be and why?

Brad Pitt, because World War Z ended too happily.