From Ravensbourne to Hogwarts, second app to the right, straight on to Delirium


It has been a while, too long a while, since I last wrote to share my experiences as a Mozillian. So much has been happening and the tempo of activity has been such that every time I have come close to putting fingers to keyboard, another instance worthy of inclusion has occurred. Before anything else happens, I think I should start.

This tale begins with a small, low key, tech event that Mozilla hosts at the Ravensbourne College. For someone who is mainly focused on activities relating to the Mozilla Corporation, to be surrounded by the Foundation side of things gives a greatly renewed sense of purpose. But to suggest that the Mozilla Festival (“MozFest”) is a shop window into Mozilla misses the very essence of the event. MozFest is the bringing together of many different groups and organisations, all committed to making the web, the internet and, to a greater extent, modern connected society a better place. So many people are trapped in regular silos online, concerned with threats advised to them by mass media through (and often about!) those same silos that they are unable to break out and gain any appreciation for the wider, more open web. At MozFest you realise that the world does not have to be this way, that everyone can experience what the web was originally designed for.

This is quite apt for at MozFest 2018, Sir Tim Berners Lee was in attendance (I am guessing that to most people reading this he needs no introduction). But please do not imagine that him being at the festival was the main event (although his talk was full to overflowing), MozFest is so much more. People talking about online safety, how to build webpages, how to build computers and how to better understand cultural change and history through open source mapping - all this and more. To be in this place is almost overwhelming, but my role in this crucible of open knowledge was as a volunteer, part of the team who role it was to maintain the fabric of the event to enable all the interactions to take place.

And what a team it was! Even in the briefings that took place in the London office in the months leading up to MozFest, it was clear this was a special group of people. A significant number were returning for their second or third event but even among those that were new were people that "got" what Mozilla does and is trying to achieve. When it came to the weekend itself (and off the back of another successful MozFest House week before) the team came together and delivered a near perfect event. Multi-day indoor events are hard as with so many people all caring about an event in an enclosed space it is not unusual for there to be a little "cabin fever" but I witnessed none of it. In fact, there was a period of time on the Sunday when I felt a profound sense of contentment - everything was fine and going so well. We even set a near record for packing away the many monitors scattered over the nine floors – 1930!

It truly was a very special and amazing weekend, as if all genre of films had been brought together in one movie and had received all the awards. But what is really special is the continuation of that work and it’s propagation from small seeds to flowering into the change that will improve the lives of billions in the future. Unusually for me volunteering at MozFest, I came back with several little projects to work on (and still am):

To learn about a group called LinuxChix - the sticker I saw on someone’s laptop made me smile, what the group does should be championed

  • Think about getting myself a Raspberry Pi – to stretch me technically
  • Sign up for a Solid – because it seems like a good idea
  • Learn about Project Lantern – to better understand how this technology can help people
  • Contribute to Common Voice – because there are people that may struggle to speak who would like a voice
  • Make myself a website – for some virtual tinkering

But there was little time to make much headway on these before I found myself fortunate to be invited to attend Mozilla’s All Hands week in Orlando. With Mozilla staff (and contributors) working all over the world, rare and special are the times when people can be in the same place and work together. All Hands is one of these times, a week where success can be celebrated, messages can be shared, connections made and plans sketched out. My plans for the week (abbreviated version) were:

  1. Learn about new products that Mozilla is working on
  2. To work with staff and contributors on the plans for the SUMO team for 2019
  3. To look to see how we can widen participation in SUMO.

These are the short versions, but please do not think that they are simple. All Hands is a busy week and between your initial invite to arrival at the conference, new issues appear and some go away. You suddenly find yourself trying to cram extra meetings into the week, even trying to track down one or two people that you would really like to say “thank you” to. There is some “down time” during the week, but please do not think that trips to the Kennedy Space Centre and the Wizard World of Harry Potter were the main reason I was up at very silly o’clock in the morning to get a flight. I was there to work, to speak to people, to learn, to discuss and to share ideas. The web we want is being built for the people of the world, but it is for the people of the world to help shape that and everyone’s contribution is vital.

Much of what is discussed is subject to non-disclosure agreements and some of it involves discussing things that may never happen, but I came back with a substantial list of tasks to work on when I returned:

  • Learned about SUMO goals for 2019
  • Help launch new products to the community
  • Test a survey for ReMo
  • Provide feedback on new products to Mozilla staff
  • Send a golf partner some desktop wallpapers
  • Learn more about Android
  • Read about the Orkney Cloud
  • Made lots of files open and available to all through GitHub
  • Provided feedback to our Marketing team on the truly excellent IRL Podcast
  • Learned about new Marketing projects
  • Said “thank you” to awesome and amazing Mozilla staff
  • Built a copy of Firefox
  • Met members of the Mixed Reality team to chat about Firefox Reality and Spoke (Spoke is awesome!).
  • Learn how I can fix some Hub scenes that I made in Spoke
  • Provided feedback on Mission Driven Mozillians
  • Edited a KB article (with help from the ScreenshotGo team)
  • Experimented with video to support SUMO articles
  • Was privileged to be invited to a couple of meetings with the Mobile team.

The end of week party was at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Closed to the public, we took it over and it was a surreal experience. To find oneself in what felt like a UK town, drinking a can of Stella, before walking into a very good representation of a London railway station, to board a train and see a white transit and gasholders as we "left" Kings Cross was amazing. I knew I was in the US, but it genuinely felt like I was in the UK.

But for all that I did, there is still more to do. All Hands are (if you want to make best use of the opportunity) very hard work, and for me at least the commitment to be more engaged in Mozilla projects for the following six months is a serious one. If we want to do what we plan and that which the manifesto suggests, it will be achieved at those intersections where people come together, not just virtually, but in reality.

When it comes to being involved, one subject that is worthy of discussion, interest and possibly some laughter is the Reference Browser. The story starts in Orlando, where a conversation in a corridor (where else!) led to this article on Discourse:

Calling all Test Pilots - Reference Browser ready for testing!

I saw this as a great way, with staff support and approval, to get the wider community involved in testing a new app, a technology preview rather than a finished product. Whilst RB is a little Spartan, it is a great test-bed that demonstrates (both visually and under the hood) what Mozilla is working on. It was great to be able to get this in front of contributors but what I was not quite ready for was the reception that it had.

It all came as a bit of a surprise I had never done anything quite this big before, I am just a contributor. It was great to see the reaction of the tech press (even allowing for some articles being cloned), but I think I should clarify the descriptions of my role. “a leading Firefox contributor” - I just try to help users in SUMO. “developer” - With my coding skills, not really. " a leading Firefox employee" - No. I am not paid by Mozilla, I am just a contributor. “designer” - I really do not have that level of artistic talent. “a number one Firefox contributor” - I am just one among many.

These articles appeared just as I was heading to Belgium to be part of the Mozilla team at the Free and Open Source Developers European Meeting (FOSDEM). This is an event that I had heard if, but never really imagined attending. It has a kind if mythical feel, a kind of magic being a bastion of almost cultist devotion to the purity of open-source code. But the scale of the event I was going to was brought into sharp focus as the London Eurostar terminal where it was immediately obvious that there were three groups of travelers.

  • A few normal people
  • A large number of Welsh rugby supporters traveling to Paris, singing. The singing worked, Wales won. \o/
  • Hackers, lots of hackers. Even without sight of t-shirts and laptop bags, you could spot the hackers, all waiting for a screen to go BSOD so they could “upgrade” the underlying computer.

The train was very fast, and very soon I was meeting up with the Mozilla team and getting ready for a busy weekend. Whilst FOSDEM does not have the the pastoral feel of MozFest, it does have its own unique charm. There is little or no corporate branding, virtually everyone dresses the same and you can start a conversation with almost anyone and still be talking half an hour later even though you may work on unrelated projects. FOSDEM is a mass of different open source projects all coming together for a weekend of discussion and learning in a university. People come from all over the world to make software better, to catch up with teams they have not seen in a long time and to learn about new projects, techniques, languages, routes to contribution and ways to support open-source communities.

For our part, the Mozilla stand was very busy with people wanting to talk to us all weekend. They had the opportunity to learn about Reference Browser, about Firefox Reality and about Hubs (and Spoke!). For those of us within the Mozilla community, we tend not to be aware if what others truly think about our software, but I can assure you that free and open source software developers in Europe like what we are doing. They like who we are, what we do and are excited by what is coming next. It was a great weekend and should I have the opportunity I would very much like to return if only to hope that the community dev room is given the respect it deserves and is not so far away. (I should mention that the “Delirium” mentioned in the title is the name of a bar in Brussels that was frequented by our group on a couple of evenings.)

But before I can look to the future, I like to look back at the past. At the start of each year, I like to set myself targets, some goals that will keep me on track for the year to come. At the start of 2018 these were:

  1. Be a top 25 contributor on the SUMO support forum - done, with brief spell in the top ten. Being a top ten contributor is hard, but even though it was for a short period, my time in that hallowed group renewed my respect for the work that others in my team do.
  2. To volunteer at MozFest - done, and it was amazing. I have volunteered at many events, but should I never be fortunate to volunteer at any more (and I hope that I do!), MozFest 2018 was special.
  3. To make something - done. I made and published openly several desktop backgrounds and a couple of useful scripts (all available on GitHub).

But what is coming next…? So much exciting stuff! There is so much going on right now in Mozilla. We are working on new projects and new initiatives, fully embracing the diversity of the web and the people that are using it. But with so much going on, it is important to prioritise. For 2019, my plans are to:

  • Continue to be a top 25 contributor to SUMO.
  • Support the SUMO community and it’s ability to help users.
  • Assist SUMO and the wider Mozilla community in being able to support new products and services.
  • Be a volunteer at MozFest.
  • Make something else.

This all looks like quite a challenge, but such efforts are asked from all of us as we help build the web that the world needs. I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed reading my catch up on what I have been working on, but I ask you not to focus on it too much. The past is very much the prologue for what comes next…

And it will be awesome.