As a Mozillian I have been very fortunate. Whether that fortune is due to luck or skill depends on who you speak to, but regardless I believe that fortunate is the best way to describe receiving an invite to join Mozilla at the Austin Y’all Hands. On receipt of the confirmation that I have been invited, I started planning my week, wanting to make sure I made the most of my time with my team but also with other people and teams on site. Whilst I knew there was going to be some “down time”, I take very seriously the intent of the invite to fuel my participation in Mozilla in future months.
But that preparation almost came to naught at about 1900 on Sunday before I was due to fly to Austin on Monday when I received an email explaining what to do since my flight had been canceled. To receive this twelve hours before a taxi is due to pick you up for the trip to the airport and further confirmation that was my flight was not canceled, was unsettling. Further to multiple conformations sough first thing in the morning before leaving I made it to London Heathrow which was a very good moment. There was an hour delay when one of the de-icing trucks had a fault, but this was eclipsed by the plane taking off.
Any cheers on takeoff would have been drowned put by the sound of many laptops booting up – it was clear I was not the only Mozillian on the flight. However, the empty seats made it clear there should have been quite a few more. Due to the snow disruption in Europe, BA171 was missing quite a few people that have been instrumental in the release of Firefox Quantum and the week was poorer for their absence.
I must admit that I spent the flight resting and playing a couple of rounds of golf (it is a bit spooky when digital golf scores match the real thing…!). I also took the opportunity to catch up with a couple of Mozillians on the flight. The food was served at the same time the turbulence started which made eating pasta a little bit of a challenge.
But this challenge was nothing compared to the journeys that some had to Y’All Hands, something that I tried to capture in this little limerick I wrote before I left home:
Mozilla’s senior staff are traveling to Austin,
To have meetings and cross paths in.
Whilst setting plans for next year,
They will hopefully make clear,
This year Mozilla has been awesome.
About a hundred contributors are traveling to Austin,
A city I hope they do not get lost in.
To work with their teams,
Knowledge to share with their communities, they will glean.
This Year Mozilla Has Been Awesome.
Over a thousand Mozillians are traveling to Austin,
Hopefully, all using a version of Firefox with Rust in.
To work together,
To make the open web even better.
THIS YEAR MOZILLA HAS BEEN AWESOME.
Landing at the former strategic nuclear bomber base Austin has as an airport led to baggage reclaim and possibly the most jovial customs staff ever. Following the Mozilla herd, I looked for the signs of the ground teams the and the coach and before long I was on the US road network heading to the hotel. After the snow and stress of London Heathrow earlier that day, it was very nice to be somewhere warmer and that felt more relaxed.
Checking in was the next challenge where I was confronted by a simple question (as Mozillians are arriving from all over the world around me), would I like a room higher or lower in the building. Head said lower for fire safety, heart said higher for the view. The tie was decided by the hotel staff who mentioned that the room on the 19th floor was a generous size. They were not wrong for I found that on opening the hotel room door that I was not going to be sleeping in a room…it was more of a space station it was so large. Having stowed a few things and seen how close the other hotel was (thus defining the campus for the week), I ventured downstairs to register and collect the event swag bag. I am not going to dwell on this too much for I believe that we should not contribute for the swag, but it was very generous and gratefully received. On heading back to the room I met up with my roommate and we headed back down to the welcome reception.
I cannot remember too much about the welcome reception aside from being very tired and needing solid food, but I do remember meeting and thanking Gandalf. He was one of a number of key players in a little project last year that led to the last minute (it skipped Nightly) inclusion in Firefox Quantum.
Tuesday started nice and early over at the other hotel where contributors had their briefing for the week. We get a good outline of that is expected of us and a timely reminder of the Community Participation Guidelines. George Rotor led us in a great team exercise that made us realise that although we are many different people, we are more alike than initially appears. Towards the end of the session, @yousef arrived after a journey that might one day be turned into a film or a TV series featuring Michael Palin.
By this time all the attendees to All hands were gathering for the MoCo Plenary – the first key highlight of the week. There were speeches from senior members of Mozilla leadership, some not so subtle Star Wars references and some great video footage (I am trying to get more widely available) that reminded all present of how awesome 2017 was. And one other thing…SUMO got a mention!
For the first time since…ever…SUMO got a mention alongside the other teams for its contribution to Firefox Quantum. I am still terrified of Mark Mayo, but I am grateful to him for not forgetting us. It really does mean a lot. Something I noticed the rest of the week and since then was that SUMO is a team name that people recognise and understand what we do and the part we play. If you look at the All Hands photo a number of the SUMO team (including me!) can be seen.
From this, we broke for lunch and an afternoon of team meetings. This is when the real work of All Hands gets done. I many rooms large and small Mozillians are meeting, presenting, planning, agreeing, disagreeing and discussing. For me, this meant the Marketing All Hands, where I gained perspective on the projects that Marketing had achieved and their input and hard work into making the Quantum launch a success with bold ideas and innovative thinking.
This was followed by the first SUMO session of the week, a chance to sit down together and start sharing ideas and feedback. I am sure that the same can be said for all teams within Mozilla, whether meeting in person or online, it does not take much for people from different countries and backgrounds, some of whom have never met, to start working together to make the web and world even better. Our starting point for the week was the new community guidelines, the results of our discussions are being followed through in the open right now. With day one almost over, we joined the rest of the Marketing function at a bar on the outskirts of town for food, drink, socks and dancing. It was a fun evening although a little disconcerting watching a team of independent creative types doing identical dance moves(!).
The next day SUMO continued our discussions giving feedback from the SUMO contributors present on a range of issues. By the Wednesday of All Hands, you kind of slip into the unnatural and unusual kind of normal due to a) having a strange understanding of the layout of a hotel far from home and b) working with a common purpose with many friends you have never met. That day SUMO looked at the non-coding contributor work and how it could apply to the team. These have been discussed here and elsewhere at depth and I feel no need to repeat it here aside to say that they are important. The work that Open Innovation and members of the Mozilla community (both staff and contributors) are doing is going to bring about real change and should be engaged with.
In the afternoon a series of elective sessions were held. The electives are a number of open sessions on topics from technical to soft skills presented by Mozillians for Mozillians. If there was a manager wanting to learn more about appraising staff or someone wanting to better understand a Marketing project or a coding topic, there would be a session for people to listen, learn and share ideas. I attended the “Overcoming Impostor Syndrome” session hosted by @lmn, as I tend to do stuff then find myself stunned and a little overwhelmed that I am doing it given I am not as clever or as skilled as others. There was a sizable attendance, but despite the number of people in the room the session felt very personal and I away enlightened. It is very easy to dismiss the “soft” subjects, but I recommend that when @lmn and her colleagues, speak you do not ignore it for you may miss something you will later find useful.
Sadly the SUMO session was not as well attended, but I hope our new recruit will be back to help on the forum at the next big product launch. Joking aside it was sad we did not have more people show up from across Mozilla as we do so much to assist product, marketing, and users with front-line support. That said, we had a format that we could template and use at future events – if you see in on the schedule, please come along.
With the evening came a mid-week all company event at a nearby bar and grill. There is something special about sharing food and having a good time. The food was really good and I managed to catch up with a few people. The event tailed off towards the end as people headed back to the hotel to watch the Firefox advertising in Mr. Robot (which I missed) and the Jimmy Kimmel Show. Whilst the show itself is lost on me, there is a certain pride in knowing that many people outside of Mozilla are seeing the brand.
(Just prior to the show I was offered a particular potent alcoholic drink from Mexico. When offered a small measure of a clear liquid in a cup, do not underestimate it. Mexico is clearly working on a space program…)
Thursday is possibly the hardest day of All Hands as your body begins to struggle with the routine lack of a routine. In my case, I used the lack of any early meetings to not get breakfast and rest in a little. My body needed food, it was just not going to get there in time. You tend to eat a lot of savoury food at All Hands and my body was beginning to crave sugar. The mocha and warmed blueberry muffin from a well-known chain of coffee shops was very nice, as was the chocolate cake for lunch.
Aside from trying to give myself blood sugar issues, I used the slow time to schedule to catch up with a few people to say thank you. One slightly unexpected meeting was with the Rocket team. Whilst Firefox Focus gets much deserved praise, it can overshadow Firefox Rocket which is a great product. It was good to tell the team this in person and exchange some SUMO stickers for some Rocket ones.
Lightsabre in hand I attended, the Mission-Driven Mozillians Volunteer Leadership session I had been invited to as a continuation of the work done in Berlin. This was a very active session with many different views in the room. The session seemed to get better as it went on with more people actively contributing. There was no “right” or “wrong” answer to the questions we were asked and it was often those that presented a contrary view to the majority that moved the topic and conversation forward.
That afternoon we had a great Marketing session featuring a t-shirt cannon and followed by a Q&A with Chris Beard. No punches were pulled and the openness of the questions and the honesty of the answers would teach many organisations in the real world some valuable lessons. The insight into the thinking at the top of the organisation was great to see. This was followed by a Marketing “science fair”, a chance to learn more about marketing projects over the past year.
That evening SUMO has a very nice meal at a Mexican restaurant before joining many Mozillians for a late night outing to a local cinema for screenings of Star Wars The last Jedi. It was a highly enjoyable evening (and a great gift from Mozilla), neat least because I found myself sitting next to Dexter on the coach, someone I had been wanting to meet for some time.
The Friday of an All Hands is a bittersweet day. On one hand you are working hard in a crazy wonderful environment you find personally rewarding and the real world feels very distant. On the other hand the finality of the week brings with it a certain inevitability.
For me that inevitability was delayed by a couple of very interesting meetings. The first was a SUMO session looking at a series of staff tasks that could be picked up by members of the community. I volunteered for one or two and I recommend that people volunteer for others. We also took the time as a group of contributors to share knowledge and ideas. I learned about some of the community building work that has been done by the Brazilian SUMO community and something I hope to work on in the year to come. In return I showed and walked through the Looking Glass project . We had seen a few inquiries about this during the week from community members and although I have still not seen Mr Robot, I really like Looking Glass (so much so that I have installed on both the desktop and mobile copies of Nightly).
The second meeting of the day and the final meeting of the week was the Marketing round up, a nice counter to the Marketing All Hands at the start of the week, Much has been seen of the work involved in the launch of Quantum and I hope that the new, bolder, style continues to bring intransitives that capture peoples attention and broaden appeal of what we collective achieve.
After a team photo, I declined the opportunity to see a little of Austin for heading back to the other hotel for a last minutes catch up with a really rather important member of the community. As much as I felt sad for missing the down time, I would have felt worse for not resolving the issue given the people involved were on site.
Having taken the time to do a little packing, I got ready for the famed end of week All Hands party. Meetings and sessions across the two hotels were coming to a close with the Hotels reclaiming their rooms from the hackers that had made them their home for the past week and it was time to celebrate together. There was music, dancing, films, unhealthy (and very tasty) food, drink, cushions, fireworks, and for the competitive, a number of fairground attractions. A good time was had by all and I hope to see the first single from @caitmuenster and the Ducklings in the music charts soon.
Departure day on the Saturday is a mix of sadness at parting and hope that we will one day meet again. After seeing a few people off, I headed North on foot to see the Texas State Capitol, the University of Texas and the Long Horns stadium (Hook’em Horns!) and the LBJ presidential library, before making way back in the pouring rain. Having dried out, I had some food and before long it too was my time to head to the airport.
The journey home was pretty uneventful. There was a small incident at Boston, but luckily the State Trooper was very understanding (!). There were a few of us taking the same route back so my eight hour layover and the journey back was good fun. Soon I was back home.
Y’all Hands was an awesome experience. Mozilla looked back and celebrated and looked to the future using the new core strength we have. I set out to do more technical product stuff, but although not all those goals were met, I came away with new skills, new knowledge and the ability to use this to fuel my contribution to Mozilla well into the future. I also managed to tick off a few things from my Mozilla bucket list which was a nice bonus, but there is still plenty still to achieve.
Right then….what’s next?