“Bears, stairs and people who care” or “I was just checking my email”


It has been a while, about six months, since I have written an update on what I have been up to as a Mozillian and it has been a very busy, sometimes stressful, very hard-working six months not just for me but for the SUMO community. If you have read any of my previous entries (thank you!) you will be aware that they can be a bit long, but I hope that this one is like the others in being what I hope is an honest update as to why being a Mozillian is so awesome.

When I last wrote, I had returned/defrosted/dried out (in both senses of the word) from FOSDEM in Belgium. My name was visible on web pages I had never heard of from the work I had done from helping launch the Reference Browser, I was trying to help keep the SUMO community together as well and continue to help users. Busy – yes, but although I appreciate that many contributors are happy and productive focussing on one subject, I think there there is value in gaining a wider appreciate for what Mozilla is involved as it may help you with that core thing that you enjoy. On top of that you still have to focus on school, family and (in my case) a day job. Life can be very busy…and then you find that it goes a bit mad.

It was a Friday in May that it started. I had come home from work, had some fish and chips, washed the dishes and was checking email on my laptop what I had a sense that something was not quite right, little knowing that I would not be turning off the laptop until midnight. There was a significant amount of traffic on SUMO telegram channels that suggested that something was happening, something big. The more I read, the more I could see that there was a problem with Firefox that impacted many people, and that SUMO was on the front line with many very angry users very upset and venting their frustrations at the contributors in the SUMO team, the team I am part of. What I was seeing was the opening salvo in what became know as “add-onmageddon” or the “add-pocalypse”.

In hindsight, these descriptions make the event seem light hearted, even “fun”, but I can assure you that weekend, there were volunteers that made a truly heroic effort to defend the browser we love from what at times was a fire-hose of abuse while also reassuring users that we were working on a solution. But despite that, and the toll it took on us, we kept going back, kept answering forum questions and tweets, kept making sure that we were giving a consistent message as a team. Friday became Saturday and then Sunday and we were still there, supporting users, but also each other. By Monday, fixes were inbound and we were starting to see users on various fora actually telling other users to give us a chance. Although there was still more to be done to make sure there everything was landed, we began to stand down and take the chance to get away from keyboards a little (I struggled to open my laptop for much for the following week).

Once the dust had settled, there was a statement included in the Mozilla weekly meeting:

“To all the contributors to the SUMO Knowledge Base, L10n, Social Support and Support Forum teams for their truly awesome, non-stop, efforts over A Very Busy Weekend. All over the world, the SUMO contributors put their own lives on hold to work as a team to support users under very challenging circumstances. If Mozilla should exist for a million years, their heroic efforts shall not be forgotten.”

After an event like that, it took a little while to get back to using my laptop again. As with biig events in the past, I found that the support forum had gone quiet. Sure, there were still questions coming through and users to help, but at much lower volumes…which was nice.

This gave me the opportunity to indulge in doing something a little bit different - making themes. I had seen this excellent blog entry that demonstrated a new tool and I found myself taking some the backgrounds that I had made using the dev tools in Nightly and turning them into themes.

Progress was initially slow, but with a bit of practise, I soon found myself producing themes I would actually use. I then decided to make a more complete theme, opening up the manifest.json file and adding lines to customise various elements. Sure, there are some true artists in AMO that make amazing themes but I know that I am not in their league. As always with anything “digital” that I make, I tend to make for myself and then share with the web. Sure, this may be a slightly selfish view, but this way brings some focus to what I am making.

If you want to try my themes, you will find them here. If you want to rate them on AMO it would be appreciated. If you do want to leave a rating of three stars or below, please can you leave some feedback? I do not mind if people do not like a theme, but at least give me some feedback so I can possibly improve the theme and please also try the theme again after I have changed it (and hopefully leave an improved ranking).

Making themes is just a little side trip and I was soon back answering questions on the SUMO support forum. There is something really relaxing about working through a list of user support questions, trying to find the most appropriate and best answer for each one. It is an opportunity to stretch yourself as a Mozillian, and to appreciate the wider Mozilla world and how it impacts users. We have so many people all over the world that look to use to make their web more awesome (however they may define it) and it is the SUMO team that they turn to to make that happen once thy have downloaded and installed Mozilla software

My Mozilla world suddenly got even bigger with an invite to attend All Hands Whistler 2019. Followers of Mozilla’s history will know that Whistler is one of those hallowed Mozilla locations, a place that Mozilla has been to in the past (several times) and from which several mythical stories exist. To have the opportunity to go there was Mozilla was and is very special.

Readers of my blog entries will notice that I have been fortunate to go to several All Hands. I do not know what the criteria are for an invite, I do not know why I have been so lucky. On this occasion I was one of two contributors that were invited by two teams, SUMO and Mobile - the team behind the awesome Firefox Preview.

(Before we get into All Hands, just a quick ask from me. If you are reading this and have an Android device, please download and use Firefox Preview as your main browser. Make sure that telemetry is switched on and make sure that you have connected your Firefox Account. Sure, it is a work in progress, but I have been using it for some time now and I have been really impressed. The team behind are a group of hardworking, clever, awesome and amazing people and they have created an amazing product that will only get better.)

Being invited to any Mozilla event is a privilege, to be invited by two teams is very special. But it was not without its challenges. In between getting ready to go and getting there, I had to establish the schedule for each of the two teams and try to get to as many relevant sessions as I could. Sadly, there were a few clashes, but I was still determined to make the most of the invites - if people are going to invite you, you should be focussed on their work.

I flew out to Vancouver on a BA flight that was badly delayed and on which the food was … interesting… but that did not dampen my enthusiasm to be among lots of Mozillians. There is something very special about Mozillians assembling in one place that is difficult to describe, but for those of us that may struggle to describe our contribution to people in the “real world”, it is a mix of comfort and being able to feel normal. Whilst at home or in the day job people think that ./mach build is some hidden code that will destroy the Interweb, being among people that know that if anything it is the very opposite is very nice. Hopefully thisnpoeam that I wrote gives some idea of what it was like for me before I went:

A poem for Whistler All Hands 2019

I have packed some clothes, had someone cut my hair,
Even read up on what to do if I see a bear.
Some Mozillians may be travelling by Tesla,
But it is not long till I board a flight that will get me to Whistler.

Although it might be quiet out in the sticks,
We are making plenty of noise with Fenix.
Work on DoH is moving forward at pace,
The SUMO team is really ace.

With our time together getting increasingly near,
Let us not forget the awesome Mozillians that enable us to be here.
Finance, People and IT teams all play an important part,
Brianna’s organisational talents transcend skill and are closer to art.

If we make it to the top of Whistler Mountain, the horizon may seem far from near,
But we will look back on a successful week with our friends and a drink (possibly a beer).
We have done so much, but there is more to do as a team,
Another chapter is going to be written at Whistler All Hands, Twenty Nineteen.

Having arrived at a sensible time on the Monday (after a delayed flight the day before), I made my way up Blackcomb mountain by gondola, which was really relaxing. There is no noise and it is really peaceful just hanging there moving (at some speed) up a mountain. I had a great view of the mountain (and the mountain bikers), but two dark spots caught my attention. Could they be…maybe they are…yup, they are moving – I could see two bears! Not infants, but not full grown, they were out in the open exploring the mountain. Following their example, I took the opportunity to “paws” at the top of the mountain before taking the Peak-to-Peak across to Whistler mountain. After exploring a bit and taking lots of pictures, I made my way down the mountain to meet up with the Mozillian’s that had arrived.

Whilst the location was amazing, I had a busy week with meetings for both of the teams that had invited me. Being able to be present in the mobile meetings was very special and has given me much insight as to how the product teams work. (I should also mention that the Mobile team are really, really nice amazing and wonderful people). Due to the changes in SUMO, the week was a little different, but what was really special was being able to sit down and talk and share information with fellow contributors. No matter the gender, background, nationality, or experience, there is something very special about lots of SUMO contributors being in the same space at the same time.

It is also very busy, with meetings to get to and people to speak to. Getting to meetings (on time!), contributing to the meeting and then heading out to the next thing takes some timing…which I got a bit wrong on the Wednesday afternoon. I was leaving a meeting on the second floor of one hotel, heading down the stairs to get out of the building to walk down the road to the next meeting in a nearby venue when I lost my footing on the marble stairs and slipped. Legs went forward, I descended vertically and bounced down a couple of steps. I wiggled fingers and toes to make sure that nothing really scary had happened, then carefully got up and headed off possibly powered by an adrenaline release when I fell, plus some All Hands magic. That magic is possibly best explained by a post I wrote towards the end of the week:

It’s been one week since we arrived in BC,
Looked at the state of the web and got angry.
Wrote some code, missed absent friends
Looked at the trail ahead and planned a route round the bends.

It’s been one week since we arrived in BC,
Looked to the horizon, as far as the eye can see.
With the spirits of the First Nations looking over us,
We tried to figure out how we can get between meetings quickly (perhaps by bus).

It’s been one week since we arrived in BC,
And sadly we will leaving to travel home over the seas.
Leaving such awesome people can make you feel a sense of sorrow,
But let us look forward to helping build the web of tomorrow.

I (somehow!) survived to the end of the week and was faced with a truly epic trip home. I left on the coach from Whistler to the airport at 1700 on Saturday, arrived in Dallas early Sunday morning before leaving to land in London on Monday morning. I could barely think straight, but I was already thinking about the list of jobs that I was bringing back with me from All Hands:

  • Gave a member of the Mixed Reality team a few pointers if they wished to write a session submission for MozFest.
  • Learned more about the efforts to better understand the contributor communities in Mozilla.
  • Filed bugs for Firefox Preview and have been supporting it in SUMO.
  • Made more desktop wallpapers and themes, with increasing emphasis on making the code available on GitHub and have sent details to AMO staff.
  • Discovered scrcpy and made a shortcut for it on Linux.
  • Sent details of the Pal open maps project to a contributor.
  • Vouched an amazing and hard working member of the SUMO community.
  • Updated a Wiki article.
  • Closed SUMO 684 bugs (645 SUMO backlog and 39 SUMO Lithium bugs) .
  • Made some scenes in the new version of Spoke.
  • Helped users through the Respond tool.
  • Suggested a new product idea as well as a feature for a new product.
  • Helped on-board new SUMO contributor.

This is a list that I have just about finished in three months, as well as continuing to contribute to the SUMO support forum. It has been, continues to be and (arguably) should be hard work, but it would not have been possible without the support of the three caretakers that have been looking after SUMO @kelimuttu, @nukeador and @couci. It has been a tough few months, but would have been even tougher without their support.

What is next…? Last I had heard the web has not stopped working, so neither shall I. There are still lost of users to help, new products to support and an amazing SUMO community to help.

There is also the small matter of the Mozilla Festival:wink: