What I did on my not-a-holiday to SF.

My passport got back in time and off I went last Wednesday afternoon, to help Wikimedia hire their next Chief Communications Officer, in my capacity as press volunteer of nine years. It’s no longer just “press officer”, but a C-level job, so much more powerful and able to wreak more damage. So, days of interviews, we run them through the combine harvester both ways, they get grilled and tested and we demand they produce shrubberies. The reason to bring an experienced volunteer in is because it is literally impossible to do the job without leveraging volunteer efforts — you simply can’t scale. Apparently I asked highly suitable questions.

Let me reassure my American readers that United’s customer service is every bit as legendary in the UK as in the US. They were actually completely nice, but the trololol comes in (a) making “economy” into fourth class rather than third class (you want “economy plus”, for another $117, if you’re over five feet tall) and (b) having a total of two toilets for the two sections. The pilot’s announcements were mostly doggerel poems about flying.

Arrived at SFO and through border control in about two seconds — I knew wearing the Wikipedia shirt was a good idea. (Seriously, get a shirt — it opens doors. The world loves us!) At 5:40pm (or 1:40am the next day by my body clock), SFO is all but deserted. Called WMF, taxi to meet Sue and James at the office. James offered me one of the several hundred varieties of coffee on hand, I mimed cramming a coffee pod directly into my arm. I got the cup of caffeinated mud I desired. (Jet lag is a major theme of the next week and what I laughingly thought of as a circadian rhythm is still scrambled.) Off to hotel, checked in, discovered the room wifi sucked. #firstworldproblems

Every tech loft conversion in the world is identical. I realise they were modelled on the SF ideal, but I could not tell from the place if I was in Market Street or Old Street. Buy a tube of instant extruded tech loft product, squirt it over the walls and the big silver air conditioning pipes just slide into place! Sprinkle with MacBooks to taste. My visit was marked by a disconcerting lack of culture shock.

To Wikimedia Thursday morning! … for a meeting that was cancelled. So I spent the day hanging out on Facebook. (And discovered Deepak Chopra’s been busted sockpuppeting Wikipedia for the past five years.) Apparently no-one wanted to interrupt me in case I was working on something important, bah. Off with Danese to some coffee shop I forget the name of for an exquisitely nice iced coffee. Wander back (via another couple of tech lofts identical to every other tech loft … really) for the Wikimedia Christmas party, where I got to catch up with all manner of people I knew only online. There exist photos.

Courtesy jet lag, I could get away with caning it once (and delighted in doing jumping jacks at a severely hungover Oliver, who is half my age so should have done rather better), so off to Wikimedia Friday morning for some serious candidate grilling. We set up a particularly evil potential PR disaster (which I won’t detail until all this is over) to see how they handled it. I told them how usually I just post about six paragraphs of “this is the situation, this is what we’ve done before, this is how to get this one to die” to the mailing list, but this time they had to work out the answers. A test of their PR instincts and whether they could ask the right questions. Then a two-hour meeting to go over how they all did.

Then out to the bars with Jed to do what any two techies in a bar do, i.e. complain about work. He took me to Zeitgeist, a rock’n’roll bar filled with pretty young hipsters with script tattoos on their feet. Tell you what, if you’re in SF you can’t complain about American beer. Oliver notes that script tattoos are the direct 2010s equivalent of the 1990s tribal tattoo; so for the 2030s we’ll need tribal script tattoos, in fluorescent and glitter. (I’ve said it, now it’ll happen.)

Back in on Saturday morning for more candidate interviews. Then more dissection of the day’s many interviews … then down the upscale bar with Geoff and Jove for all manner of confidential on-topic (I assure you) discussions.

Sunday morning, I woke up and realised my plane was going at 7:30pm, not 2:30pm. I would have spent the day at SFMOMA, but it’s shut for renovations! Bored, I eventually just went to the airport to leech their wifi. SFMOMA has a lovely shop at SFO, including their catalog for a mere $20. YOU MUST GET THIS.

Got back Monday afternoon London time and went to work Tuesday. Still falling asleep and waking up at random times. Oh, there’s still credit on my BART card.

I am slightly amazed how brilliant just about everyone is at Wikimedia. They put out job specs that say “magical flying unicorn pony that farts rainbows, must have rocketed from Krypton as an infant” … and then they get them. I was amazed how good the CVs were. But the same goes for the people working there. They work like they’re at a hot startup, not a dot-org. Because they’re changing the world.