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An Evangelist for Remote Work Sees the Rest of the World Catch On

  • July 12, 2020

I think clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. And it is something that we look for in the people we hire. If you were going to apply for a job at Automattic, probably the most important thing you can do is the cover letter.

Why did you buy Tumblr?

Tumblr was a contemporary of, then was sold to Yahoo for $1 billion, then Yahoo merged with AOL and then that was sold to Verizon. Then we heard it might be shut down, and we figured out a deal. We’re doing our best to really revitalize it, and hopefully we can create a place on the internet that’s safe, fun and creative — a good alternative to other social networks.

Is that a criticism at a certain level of some of the dominant platforms out there? Do you believe Tumblr could be a viable alternative and could be structured in some fundamentally different ways?

  • Frequently Asked Questions

    Updated July 7, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

I do wonder if fundamentally, an advertising-driven business model is incompatible with democracy. Automattic is primarily a subscription business. I’m very curious to explore if we can make Tumblr not solely dependent on ads, and what incentives that creates for the product to evolve. Could that provide a third space, a space where the algorithms aren’t driven to show you the thing that’s going to get you the most riled up? Or the advertising is not targeted in a way that shifts elections? The good news is Tumblr is very active. It’s getting 60,000 to 70,000 sign-ups per day from its mobile app. So I think we have an opportunity to create that other place, that could be something that people go to feel that creativity, kind of like Instagram did in its early days.

Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook suggested that if people move to lower-cost areas, they may see their compensation adjusted downward. When you’re hiring across such a wide variety of countries which have different costs of living, how do you deal with compensation?

I have a lot of empathy for companies that do cost of living adjustments, because we used to as well. But over time, when I started to think really critically about that policy, I realized that there’s so much more than location that determines your cost of living. You can spend millions of dollars in Houston, or you could spend very little in San Francisco. There’s a lot of personal choice that goes into it. So it felt a little almost paternalistic for the company to say that you should make more or less in one place or another and have sort of weird incentives for moving someplace. The other thing that began to feel fundamentally unfair to me was that two people on the same team doing the same job, say one in California and one in Alabama, should make different money.

So what we’ve done over the past few years is actually offer the same compensation bands globally. So wherever you’re doing the work, you can have the opportunity to make the same amount. It’s not perfect, because we pay people in the local currency and sometimes currencies can move quite a bit and we have to adjust for that.

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