Review: The year without pants

I recently read Scott Berkun’s, “The year without pants”. For some reason I got the idea that the book was about how to work remotely, kind of a tips and tricks collection, which seemed on topic in the current pandemic situation. Nothing further from truth.

The book was published in 2013 and talks about the experience of the author working at Automattic, the company behind Wordpress.com. The only relation to working remote is that Automattic has been 100% remote since its inception in 2005, which is a pretty impressive feat on its own. The author worked there for about a year, around 2010, and the book goes over his experience and the challenges of working with a distributed team in that setup.

At the time he joined the company, Automattic was transitioning from a soup structure (no hierarchy) to independent development teams, and the author was chosen to lead one of these new teams. There is a lot of detail on the reasoning for this move as well as the downsides of adopting it late, and the disruption of changing the structure of a company in the book.

The outcomes of the book are interesting but not directly applicable. It also shows its age now that the situations told are about 10 years old. Many “surprising” things are now commonplace or considered to be good/desirable practices. The book is outdated in the practices, but will be of interest for historical relevance soon.

Despite its age there’s still some interesting advice. One example is the onboarding practice at Automattic where every new employee, no matter their position, has to work in user support for a set amount of time. This has the very enviable outcome of making workers familiar with the product, the problems users face and what they expect from the product, and the people that usually face those issues. It is a good way to develop empathy for those who will bear the fallout of any decisions you’ll make later on.

Overall, I think this book is still worth reading but I wouldn’t rate it as something to read soon. If you are interested in the period or in the company it will be a good read for you. Otherwise, leave it for that time you don’t know what to read next.


Have a comment on this article? Start a discussion in my public inbox by sending an email to ~miguelbernadi/public-inbox@lists.sr.ht [mailing list etiquette] , or see existing discussions.