Tammie Lister

WordPress Interviews : Tammie Lister from Automattic

Today I have a privilege to introduce a very special lady that will share some of the stories from her WordPress journey and beyond. She is a UX Designer at Automattic, member of the Theme Review Team as well as Core and Design Teams. She was one of the organizers of WordCamp Brighton 2016 and WordCamp Europe. She is passionate about open source and contributing back to WordPress project. We are also happy to have met her in person as she is a very nice, simple gal and someone you can learn a lot from.

First of all thank you for taking your time for the interview Tammie. Let’s get to know you better :). Could you tell us a bit more about your background and how your life led you to WordPress?

I was blogging and using my own system. It was pretty much tied together with hopes and dreams rather than being solid at all. I was part of a blogging network called 9rules and saw more and more people starting use WordPress. I was constantly having to fix my own system so figured this would be easier and once began using it, I haven’t ever made my own again.

Before your current role in Automattic, you were specializing in designing communities using BuddyPress. Can you tell us a bit more about that period? What have you learned from it?

Sure, I found BuddyPress out of an existing passion for communities. Community is one thing that struck me and got me about WordPress in the first place. I also have a long history of being involved in online communities. Over a few years I began to bring together my skills and passion as the amazing community within BuddyPress welcomed me.

I learnt a lot about communities and how people interact online.

I did a lot of deep dive research as my projects became more and more focused on the user experience. As a designer it was often challenging as projects could be very long in terms of freelance – some up to or over a year to see to end. I also quite often came in for a part of the project into agencies as a specialist. It was a really great time and the BuddyPress community is also really special within WordPress.

I know you are passionate about art, design, development, psychology and user experience. How easy or hard was to choose what to do in life? Do you have some formal education related to coding or design?

I actually feel I have found a role now where I combine all of them. I have formal education in all of those things from college level, starting with psychology, making a switch to art and ending up a few years after exploring being an artist going back to do software engineering. When I finally was done with a long time in education this new thing called the web was emerging and I got to join at the right time. Over the years I have come to realise as it emerged as a role that user experience was where I could combine my passions into one path.

How you ended up working for Automattic? Is that your dream job?

I would say it is my dream job as I get to grow and focus on all my passions.

My path to Automatic was one that emerged only after going to WordCamp San Francisco and speaking. I had been asked a few times by different people if I was going to apply to Automattic. I was doing really well in my freelance role, so it didn’t feel the right time. However, after going to that WordCamp and talking to several people, it felt like the time was perfect for me. I began writing my application on the plane home.

If it’s not a secret please tell us a bit about how your working day looks like? Do you have some tips on how to keep work enjoyable and stress free?

I try and get up and at least a little yoga before I have breakfast. It’s a way to get my day mentally off to a good start. After that, I usually get up and have breakfast whilst catching up on my iPad. Then I tend to make a cup of green tea and begin my day, I start later in day choosing to do any chores in morning, as I work later in night. I try and make sure lunch is done away from the desk – I have a standing desk so this helps not eating at it.

My afternoons are the most productive times of the day for me and I tend to listen to a lot of music during them. I’ve just moved so I am working out my routine in new house, but I tend to from the later part of the day move from my standing desk to comfier chairs. If things are not focusing or I need it, I’ll also take an afternoon break for a walk, yoga, meditation or something that doesn’t involve my screen. Later on, I try and take a break before dinner if possible, although sometimes I opt to skip it and just finish earlier.

The focus on my work in the evenings moves onto catching up, Slack conversations and text tasks. If I have something designing though I can hit a focus run of that in evenings, but usually it’s the afternoon where I do my best work. My evenings shift often to core where I put my contributor hat on. I tend to finish late but I try and turn my laptop off around midnight and shift to my iPad again. I then move to catching up on reading and winding down.

Tip wise, I would say give yourself space to breathe in your day. Learn to take breaks, learn that you don’t have to respond to things right away. Having a standing desk has helped me a lot with back pain too, I tend to do a lot of movement and also standing poses whilst at the desk – this helps my posture. I would also say that making sure your routine works for you is important. It’s easy to get routine envy and think you have to do something – my routine is very much what works for me and probably won’t work for everyone else.

You are passionate about open source and contributing to the WordPress project. Thank you for all the contribution. Please tell us more about it, how you manage to coordinate your job at Automattic and contribution to the design team for WordPress.org?

The pleasure of contributing is all mine, I get far more back from it than I give – that’s the way with open source. I am lucky that now a small part of my job is contributing back, so it makes doing that easier. Over time it’s become more and more something I do, which is something I embrace and I’m very happy about. I also tend to shift gear in the evenings, made easier by most meetings being in that time for me. It’s not always easy juggling and sometimes I do end up working longer at weekends than I want. I do try and keep my weekends as free from work as possible.

You were one of the organizers of the first WordCamp Brighton 2016, congrats, how hard is to organize a WordCamp and do you have some tips for the future WordCamp organizers?

I would say people should start out small with WordCamps – although as I was one of the original WordCamp Europe organisers before doing a small one. I probably should have listened to myself! Learning to not do everything yourself is a crucial thing for organizers, particularly lead organisers. It’s easy to think you have to do everything, but you’ll rapidly learn you can’t.

Making sure you have someone to champion and lead each area is one way you can have an easier WordCamp.

Document it all for the next organisers too, that way each time it’s easier. I think often WordCamps feel they have to be huge or x number of people, don’t feel that. Small WordCamps are amazing and give people a different but important experience.

Tell us bit more about your passion for the user experience and “design for humans”. How colour theory interact with human psychology?

Users are so important to everything we do as is understanding them, I would urge everyone to read some psychology books and learn more about what makes humans work. Designing for humans is about creating experiences that work for as many people as possible, not just about creating things that work for our headspace or within our bubble of experience. Everything adds up to the experience from colors – which is why understanding their theory is important – through to every click, flow and content. If you don’t create experiences for humans you can create experiences that even harm, cause emotional distress. That’s something we absolutely want to and should avoid.

We’ve seen you speaking on different conferences and you are a passionate speaker. How you decided to take part in it? Do you have stage fright? Can you give us a few tips on how to become a good speaker?

I am lucky enough to get asked to speak at a different places but I also have applied to speak at some. When I apply, I try and find a conference where my voice and particular talks I’m working on that year fit in. I absolutely get stage fright, I am not naturally the type of person that enjoys or even thrives in large groups, or speaking up. However, speaking has taught me and enabled me to be able to cope in groups and it’s given me so many interaction skills.

Tip wise, I a little while ago ran some speaking workshops with Kathryn Presner and a site came about from that: https://getspeak.in/. There are some great resources in that site I’d point to. Ultimately, though I think it’s important to realise no matter if you think people have heard about a subject, your voice, your interpretation will be different. I think everyone also can benefit from the experience speaking.

I don’t want to miss this opportunity to mention your passion and talent for photography. How important is photography in your life? When and how your love for photography started?

Photography was with me long before this web thing, so very important. When I was studying art photography and painting were my focus – so it’s been something very close to my self. I am lucky enough to travel and over the years my photography has moved from art exploration to documentation of my traveling and events I go to.

What are your plans for the future?

Life wise, I want to travel a lot more and plan on having my husband join me at some point in that adventure. It’ll be a little bit in the future though. Work wise, I am incredibly happy where I am so there are no plans to change that.

You seem to be very busy and days still have only 24 hours. Do you manage to save some time for yourself? What do you do in your free time?

I always try and every day to make sure I have time for myself, it’s crucial for my well being.

I practice yoga and try and at least once a day do some form of meditation – be that using an app or through Yin yoga. I enjoy time with my dog and husband, I’ve just moved from the sea to the countryside and enjoying exploring that. I also enjoy playing games – my passion for stories is something they tap into. My art is still a passion and a lot of my hobbies loop into that. I also often do crafts like knitting and sewing, it’s great to create something practical.

Last but not least, here’s your chance to freestyle. Write anything you think could be interesting or useful to our readers.

I would encourage people to even in life and WordPress find their happy place. Whatever you do, if you aren’t happy doing it then change it. We are lucky enough in our industry to unlike others have the luxury of changing things we aren’t happy about. Use that rare gift and make sure you also keep healthy and balanced.

Tammie Lister

A UX Designer at Automattic, member of the Theme Review Team as well as Core and Design Teams. One of the organizers of WordCamp Brighton 2016 and WordCamp Europe.

Twitter: @karmatosed | Website: diaryofawebsite.com | WordPress.tv: Tammie Lister


By Ana Segota

Co-founder of Anariel Design - online web design agency that specializes in developing premium niche WordPress themes.

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