Book review: The Year Without Pants

By Aimee Whitcroft 02/09/2013 1


If sometimes you wonder whether everything possible hasn’t already been written about startups, business, software startups, software businesses and so on (ad nauseum), you wouldn’t be alone.

Certainly, the industry which examines this seems pretty healthily active. Books, lectures, blawgs, twits, you name it, the space is pretty full.

And so it might seem strange that I’m about to recommend a book on this very subject.

But I am, wholeheartedly. I’m endorsing this, yo 🙂

[Review after the image]

Synopsis: What is it like to work at WordPress.com, the 15th most trafficked website in the world, where everyone works from home, no one uses email and dozens of improvements launch to customers every day?

Scott Berkun’s fifth and latest book, The Year Without Pants, is fantastic. In it, he chronicles the year-plus he spent as a team leader at Automattic, the company behind WordPress and WordPress.com. He was something of an experiment when was brought on by founder Matt Mullenweg: up until he arrived, the approximately fifty-strong team organised themselves loosely around whatever lines seemed best. However,  it seemed like it might be the time to try an experiment and set up smaller, more discrete teams within the organisation as it began a phase of rapid expansion.

Berkun’s role was to lead one of these, and also to lend his expertise, experience and observational skills to what would happen next.

Which he did, and the results are all there in this wonderfully readable little book.

Well, little in page count – it still took me a while to get through it (in one sitting, mind you!), as I wanted to be sure to take in all of the rather large amount of information it nevertheless contains.

And I took a bunch of notes, of course, which I now have to figure out how to give to people in the most constructive way possible. Heh.

The book brims with anecdotes – because, as business are wont to forget, it really is all about the people – as well as advice and learnings. Some of these came from Berkun’s time at Automattic, others he had already learned, or was testing.

All are extremely useful – although he points out, wisely, that none of it should be taken for gospel (something too many other people forget) – both for larger and smaller organisations. No, we can’t all be an Automattic, or work at one. Many of us don’t want to. But we can learn some great lessons not only about software, but about how to manage teams, how to manage businesses, and how to manage ourselves. And, of course, how maybe, just maybe, ‘work’ doesn’t have to be soul-crushing 🙂

I found the Automattic creed particularly inspiring (it mirrors almost exactly many of my personal goals, ethics and beliefs). Other great advice includes ‘build the user interface first’ and, well…bah. I’m not going to say anything more, actually.

Go out, get the book, and read it. It’s too delightful not to. And then leave it on the desks and dining room tables of your bosses, juniors, friends, families and enemies.

And while you’re at it, read ‘The Myths of Innovation‘, another Berkun book. Simply brilliant stuff 🙂

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Sidenote: how I initially described this? ‘Simultaneously inspiring and depressing’. Inspiring to see what can be done, and depressing because of how seldom it is. Sigh.


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