Jonathan Sumner Evans
Sumner Evans
Software Engineer at Automattic working on Beeper

Montreal - Work Trip!

Written by Human, Not by AI

As I mentioned in my previous post, the main reason for my travel was a work retreat with Beeper in Montreal. The purpose of the retreat was for all of us to get to work together in person. For most of us (myself included), it was the first time meeting anyone else on the team in person. In fact, the closest person to me in the company lives in Provo, Utah.

Instead of relating to you what we did chronologically, I’m going to give you some highlights and overall thoughts on the week.

Working With My Coworkers

Meeting my coworkers in person was the best part of the trip. We are an all-remote company, so these retreats are the only times we have to work in-person. I really enjoyed getting to meet everyone and interact with them in both work and non-work situations. We had somewhat normal work days every day, but we took advantage of our physical proximity to have more vision, planning, and retrospective meetings. We went out to eat in the evenings and on a few days, we had extra evening activities.

The Beeper team in Montreal

Left to right: Alex, Scott, Tulir, Caroline, Nick, me, Brad, Annie, Kilian, Ian, Eric, and Eric R.

I think one of the best parts of the whole experience was that I was able to get to know people who are not on my direct team. For example, one evening, I sat at a table with Caroline, the Chief of Staff; Scott, who is on my bridge team; Alex, an Android developer; Ian, an iOS developer; and Annie, a React desktop app developer. I really enjoyed all of my interactions with my coworkers, and I gained a great deal of confidence in their competence and our ability to collectively get the necessary work done.

The “scheduled programming” of company-wide meetings were really great as well. On Monday, Brad (CTO) led a company retrospective, and Eric (CEO) led a discussion about our overall company strategy and our goals for the next few months. Between these two meetings, it was a great opportunity to reflect on how the team has come together so far to deliver a product with lots of potential. It was also an opportunity for us to refocus and recognize that there are a lot of things that we still have to improve. Despite all of the work we have to do, I have extreme confidence in my team and our ability to bring Matrix to the masses.

Brad looks on as Tulir discusses topics during our team retro.

Brad (right) looks on as Tulir discusses topics during our team retro.

I would characterize our team as motivated, smart, and scrappy. Many of the people in the company were hired out of the Matrix and reverse-engineering communities. For example, Tulir had already built a number of Matrix bridges to various networks, Annie was already building a Matrix client, and Eric was already working on reverse engineering before they joined. Because of this, many of us have external motivation for the work we are doing. In addition to motivation, the team has a lot of talent. Everyone is really good at their jobs. I often felt like the dumbest person in the room, which is great because that means that there’s tons of things that I can learn from each of my teammates. But maybe the most impressive qualities of our team is our passion for delivering product to customers quickly and not allowing the perfect be the enemy of the good. That is one of the best things about Eric’s leadership: he encourages us figure out the easiest solution that could work and ship it to customers and see if they like it. Our team has the motivation to ship a great product, we are willing to take quick wins where we can, and we have the talent to accomplish whatever ambitious goals we set before ourselves.

We Are on the Brink of Greatness

At one point on the last day, Annie asked everyone if we wanted to go to a shop down the street. I off-handedly mentioned that I was “on the brink of greatness”. I wasn’t, I was just about to commit my code, but the phrase stuck and became our de-facto motto for the retreat. It fits pretty well, too, because as a company, we are aiming for a lofty goal of fundamentally changing the chat landscape to an open, federated system where walled garden chat networks are the exception, not the norm. And while we aren’t there yet, that goal seems within reach.

The entire experience of the retreat has given me confidence in the team’s ability to work together towards that goal and go from being on the brink of greatness into actually accomplishing our goals. I’m excited to see what the next few years have in store for us!

Walking Tour

On Tuesday, all of us went on a walking tour around Old Town Montreal. I’ll relate just a few of the interesting things that our guide told us about on the tour.

The team on our walking tour of Old Montreal.

The team on our walking tour of Old Montreal.

Montreal was founded in 1642 by French colonists led by a French military officer Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve and a nun named Jeanne Mance. Despite being integral to the founding of the city, Mance was only granted the status of co-founder of Montreal in 2012.

On one part of the tour, we passed some large stone warehouses that are now used as residences and shops. The warehouses were constructed over the spot of the original hospital in Montreal founded by Jeanne Mance. The original hospital was close to the port, and because of the commerce going through that area, it was not ideal for recovering patients. The Catholic nuns decided to move the hospital to Mount Royal (after which the city is named) and erect the warehouses in place of the old hospital. Then they rented out the warehouses to merchants to fund the hospital operations. Quite an inspiring entrepreneurial story, and quite apt given that we all work at a startup.

Montreal is a historically divided city. There are English and French influences all throughout the city. In the past, the divide was much greater with many people not daring to cross over to the other side of the city from where they grew up. In recent decades, the city has become more integrated, but some of the divide still exists. It is most visible in the architecture and establishments of the city. For example, in the plaza where we started the tour, the Cathedral of Notre Dame (which embodies the French/Catholic influences on the city) is juxtaposed with the Bank of Montreal’s head office (which exemplifies the British influence on the city).

I really enjoyed getting to go on the walking tour and hang out with my teammates while learning about and sight-seeing in Montreal.


Every evening after work, we went to dinner. On some evenings, we went as a whole team, but other times we split up and went in smaller groups to dinner. On Monday, the whole team went to Terrase William Gray which was a restaurant on a rooftop terrace overlooking Montreal’s Old Port area.

Scott and myself at Terrase William Gray

Scott and myself at Terrase William Gray

On Tuesday, a group of us biked over to a poutine restaurant. We joked as we were riding that doing the bike ride offset the fact that we were eating one of the least healthy foods on the planet.

The team eating poutine

Left to right: Kilian, Tulir, me, Alex, Eric, Nick, and Ian at a poutine restaurant.

On Wednesday, a number of us went to a really good ramen restaurant and then after we were done, we went to an ice cream place.

On Thursday, the entire team went to a really fancy restaurant where they served a four-course fixed-menu meal (which I don’t have a good picture of). Then, on Friday, a few of us went to a Chinese noodle soup restaurant.

Eating Chinese noodle soup

Eric, Tulir, Ian, Annie, Nathan (Annie’s husband), and myself eating Chinese noodle soup.

All of the food we had was great, and it was nice to be able to get to know my teammates outside of work.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Montreal getting to meet and work with my coworkers and enjoy great food together, all while being in the beautiful history-rich city of Montreal.