Today is my last day at Wirecutter.
I started writing for the home-goods side of Wirecutter in early 2013. I joined the staff full-time in early 2015. We were bought by the New York Times in late 2016. It never felt like I truly settled in, and yet it is the longest-held job in my career. This is a compliment; it is not a site or publication that rests on its heels.
I’m heading to iFixit, which is a few different things: an online wiki-style repair guide, a shop for tools and parts for electronics and other gear, an advocate for the societal and ecological good of fixing things instead of throwing them away, and a partner in the Right to Repair movement. I’m going to write about people repairing things, people forcing companies to think beyond the next sales cycle, and people who are helping all of us rethink our relationship to our stuff.
Yes, I can also lend you a spudger, if you’re nearby. I start in early April.
Leaving Wirecutter was an extremely tough decision. I will miss so many of the people that are part of my daily life now. I almost wrote “despite only knowing them through Slack,” but I think I know these people better through an open all-day chat than I would if we worked in the same building. We’re obsessives, and the job demands that we burrow into our computers and spreadsheets and tests. But people play off one another when they need a break from rabbit holes, and it’s often a wonderful cacophony of knowledge and good humor and corny humor and trivia and deep links and encouragement.
But. After nearly six years of trying to answer the question “What’s the best one of these things to buy, so I don’t have to worry about it?”, I’m ready for something new. It might be the question: “Why are we getting rid of so many things?”
I write on this personal site for personal reasons, and don’t expect much feedback on it. But the most-visited page on my site, in the whole time I’ve had this site, is a post about turning a little-loved, underpowered HP “Stream” into a decent little Chromebook-ish laptop. It ranks highly in Google for its keywords, it gets more visits than any other page each week, and every month or two, I get an email from someone who hit a snag, or who suggests a fix or clarification. That one-off Saturday post constantly reminds me about the quiet power of helping someone fix their stuff.
I’ve been relying on that powerful knowledge my whole nerdy life, starting with the computer that wouldn’t run System Shock, through a 36-hour college bender trying to find an ethernet driver for my desktop PC’s cheap motherboard, and right up until 10 minutes ago. Eager for a distraction from writing about this big stressful life change, I searched online to see if anyone else who had retrofitted their Chromebook Pixel 2013 to run CloudReady was having the same problem with their headphone jack. It’s not just computers, either: I’ve had help from both friends and random internet people in home repair, bike mechanics, weightlifting, baking, all kinds of stuff.
Finding out that you can fix or upgrade or reuse something that previously left you feeling helpless or unlucky is an intensely good feeling. I’ve been happy to give back where I can, and I hope I’m able to do a whole lot of giving back at iFixit.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Wirecutter. Particularly to its founder, Brian Lam, who cold-emailed me in late 2012, as he started up a sister site to The Wirecutter (it was “The” back then). It was The Sweethome, and he needed someone to write about kitchen gear.
I have an email from Feb. 15, 2013, after Brian read my first draft of a Sweethome guide, to Dutch Ovens. I had run some overwrought tests involving the browning of meat, cooking of risotto, and a laser infrared thermometer. Brian asked me, through editor Joel Johnson, to focus on interviewing more experts and parsing reviews of experienced cooks.
Kevin has no chops as a cook or a tester of kitchen ware, so to be honest, his tests mean very little to me. (as a reader! as an editor, they mean a lot to me!) That make sense?
I can’t remember everything about being a 32-year-old freelancer, but I remember this light ego bruising. Still, I was impressed that Brian was so honest about what was actually needed, versus what I was working way too hard to show him. Maybe editors had been too nice to me over the years, but I felt weirdly good about being dressed down. Because this is what came after:
That’ll be the best way to make sure we’re hitting these things in such a way that someone who doesn’t know us or have any reason at all to believe us has no room to not believe us. they’ll have to believe us. … the piece is fine without this stuff, but I think it’ll be good to aim for best and most comprehensive piece on dutch ovens in the world …
I also owe Jacqui Cheng many thanks, for keeping after me to sign on full-time, and many other gracious things along our shared path.1 The same goes for everyone who helped me make overwrought pick decisions. To those who had to prune my verbiage and make me commit to declarative statements: I shall strive to torture fewer people in the future.
My biggest regret is that my dad never knew his son worked for the New York Times2. I think he would have liked the risk I’m taking now, though.