Going insane in the membrane whilst leaving my heart in San Francisco

If you are reading this, chances are you are already aware of how special All-Hands is to Mozilla. This bi-annual event brings together staff, interns and a very lucky few contributors and is a key part of the work that we all do to support the mission and our manifesto. Some All-Hands look back to celebrate success, some are instrumental in meeting a key goal, whilst some are an opportunity for us to look forwards as was the case when I was fortunate enough to join Mozilla in June at the San Francisco 2018 All-Hands.

My key goals for the week were:

  1. To actively participate in SUMO meetings and discussions to build and support our contributor community.
  2. To meet with the Firefox for Mobile teams (in both developer and marketing functions) to provide feedback from recent work, to understand future releases and to investigate how SUMO can support and contribute to these work streams.
  3. To meet with members of the Open Innovation Strategy Project to understand how I can add insight and possible practical assistance to future reports.

Yet I was well aware that there was going to be developments that I was not going to be able to plan for, best summed up in this limerick I published a few days before I flew out:

Many Mozillians are traveling to San Francisco,
Maybe some are going by boat.
They bring with them feedback and ideas,
Hopefully many of them will float.

Quantum has been launched, GeckoView in progress,
But now is not the time to doubt.
Mozillians everywhere have achieved much, but the web is not fully open,
We have no time for effort to be in drought.

For at the end of the week, to the the outside world we will return,
With many words and lines of code wrote.
To “Demand better of the internet”,
The words of our Chief Lizard Wrangler, which we all can quote.

(When published to the internal Slack channel for the week, it gained one foxkehdance-1, eight heats, three heart eyes and one +1)

The week was going to be a great opportunity to learn more, understand things better and work to make sure that Mozilla Support would be well placed to continue to help users in the future. Having successfully launched Firefox Quantum, I was looking forward to seeing what our next big goal was going to be.

After the welcome reception on Monday evening and a well-received breakfast on Tuesday morning, the week kicked off with the plenary session (after the contributor briefing first thing), where everyone assembles to hear key messages from the senior leadership and understand the direction that we would be heading in. Normally, this is when there would be an amazing (and very uplifting) montage video, however, on this occasion, something different took its place. Before each speaker took to the stage, a member of staff stood at a microphone and said a few words. Whether it was awesome user feedback or a deeply moving personal statement, it served to bring everyone together and remind us how much we have all committed to our collective effort.

I think at this stage that it would be the right moment to mention that this All-Hands was possibly the most diverse and inclusive that I have experienced. Thanks to the efforts of Briana, Larissa George and Michael, people were able to be who they wanted to be and were respected for their contribution. To quote Bowie and Jagger, it did not matter what you wear, as long as you were there. Mozilla has been built on the contribution and efforts of many. How can we hope to build software that will open the web up if we do not represent the people we are building it for? Whilst the tech sector may have a problem, Mozilla is making great strides in trying to reverse that situation. Whilst I may not be from a demographic that may feel marginalised, I will continue to work to improve things for those that are.

From there I attended the Product plenary, and, after lunch, the Marketing (of which Mozilla Support is part) start of the week. Without going into great detail, the message was broadly the same, we have done much, but on laurels, we would not rest. Big things are being planned that will help support the continuation of the energy from the launch of Quantum. Later that afternoon, there was a series of demos and a “science fair” - an opportunity for various teams to host a stall and for others to find out more about their work. In an entertaining moment, I had the opportunity to meet members of the awesome Firefox for Fire TV team and find that you can download the IRL podcast directly as .mp3 without needing a subscription (I am now a fan of this excellent series).

In the week before All-Hands, the Support Sprint took place with many Mozillians from all over the world coming together in reality or online to help support users through the feedback mechanism in Google Play using a custom-designed tool. Coming just before we were due to head out to All Hands, it was a busy week and I hope that it has helped introduce many more people to the work that Mozilla Support does every day. We marked this with a meal in the evening and a chance to chat about the work that we had been doing. Having returned to the hotel, I took the opportunity to grab a jacket and go for a night walk down to DNA Pizza, owned by Jamie Zawinski (watch Code Rush) which is next door to the DNA Lounge, which is where Cypress Hill shot the video for Insane in the Membrane. An interesting mix of Mozilla and cultural history I grant you, but the slice of pizza tasted terrible and they did not have any of the stickers mentioned on the website.

Wednesday was a day of optional conference sessions covering a wide range of topics. I had planned this day with great care, looking at sessions that would give me a greater understanding of products I could use when helping users, but also those sessions that would help me to learn and develop. I am sure that this will come as little surprise to many reading this, but I had a very full day with my first session starting at 0900 and the last finishing a 1700 (with only one hour, forty-five minutes, left un-booked for breaks and lunch). I came away from the day with a better understanding of what UX does and how it is spread across different products but using a common language. I gained insight into the design decisions behind Firefox Rocket and got an early look at Lockbox. I learned about the in-depth user research that is done and looked to the future with our forthcoming Android products and the Web of Things work.

That evening, the Marketing team went to Spin, a combination of table tennis and food and drink. Whilst I took a step back during the early stages of the table tennis, the food and drink were really good after a busy day, as was the opportunity to socialise with people I would not normally meet. Unsurprisingly, the table tennis got a little (!) competitive which I kept well clear of, but I did venture onto a table to demonstrate my inadequacy in the sport later in the evening.

At this stage in the week, I was building up a number of things to do when I returned home - my infamous “to do” list. My approach is very simple:
Use a notepad document, a simple text file. Yes, there are tools available, but keep it simple.

  • Make the first section “to do” - a list of the tasks you need to start.
  • Make the second section “in progress” - these are the tasks you are working on.
  • Make the third section “complete” - where you can list what you have done. This is important for although you could just remove tasks from the list when they have been done, keeping them as completed work will remind you of the progress that you have made when morale is a little low.

After a breakfast meeting I had at 0800, Thursday brought with it the start of the team based meetings and a chance to discuss matters with staff and fellow contributors from Mozilla Support. Much of what we discussed has already been published in much more depth than I can cover here, but fascinating to be part of. Over the last year, it feels as though people are more aware of the role that we play and we have to make sure that we can meet these expectations both internally but also externally as we support users with new products by writing (and localising) high-quality support literature, and answering user question in the forums and on social media. There is also another dimension to Mozilla Support that often gets overlooked when looking purely at our functional output – community health and support. In a team that is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, often working to tight deadlines or dealing with challenging user situations, community health is paramount and the research that has been done into this within Mozilla Support was fascinating.

If I remember rightly, Thursday was the day that a very well respected member of staff asked for my help with something in a one-to-one in a corridor. Which was awesome. I know the Mozilla is a level playing field, where we are all appreciated for our abilities…but I never expected in a million years for staff to ask for my help with something.

(Thursday was also the day that Mozilla has a bit of a swag clear out. Yes, I attended, and yes, I did get a couple of things for myself. However, a) I am still no closer to the elusive Mozilla hoodie and b) the vast majority of what I brought back is for other Mozillians, sufficient that I had to use the expansion joint on the suitcase for the trip home for the first time ever. No…really!)

That evening, the Mozilla Support team headed out for a team meal at the Embarcardo. The food was nice (the beer I had was very tasty) and well received by all. I must admit that the evening did make me feel a little melancholic as I could see the end of the week fast approaching and with it would bring leaving the amazing, wonderful, crazy, hard-working team I am part of to go home. I took a little detour on the way back to the hotel to see the rebranded Mozilla monument and on the way had one of those chance meetings that occasionally come along that make you think, thoughts compounded by seeing so many names on the monument of people I had met and/or am working with. I am not on the monument myself (or its continuation, about:credits), but to think that I am treated as an equal by those that are is a bit mad.

I was still thinking about it on my way back to the hotel, and overnight, and in the morning before I left the hotel room, I sat down with a pen and a sheet of hotel notepaper, and wrote the draft of what would be published to Slack later that day:

“Hi. You may not who I am, but I am the contributor who wrote the poem published here just over a week ago (scroll up past exclusive sticker launches).

The thing is that I may be a little sad today, but please do not take it personally. I have just spent a week working with awesome, inspiring, clever people and have felt more productive when doing so than I have felt in my “day job” for a long time. Whilst the body might be a bit broken, my mind wants to stay here and do so much more.

Last night I went for a walk on my own after the SUMO team dinner to see the monument. On the way I met a great group of interns from the Toronto office. A finer group of Mozillians you could not hope to meet, who made me feel very positive about our future endeavours. We spoke a little of how awesome the people that they have been working with, and walking past in the hotel corridors, are. Although I think I saw some moist eyes, taking to them left me feeling incredibly proud to be here - even though I often cannot figure out how I am so fortunate (and yes, if they are reading this, when I had walked round the corner from you, I was a little bit of an emotional wreck myself).

To those that invited me - thank you. This week may be ending, but the work I have to do with, and for, the community has only just begun.

To those that have kept us fed, watered, safe, and organised (including the unsung heroes in the Finance and HR functions) - thank you. May your coffees be constantly refilled, your glasses never empty and the doughnuts plentiful.

We started the week with a number of space analogies, so it seems only right to end with one. We may be looking to go into orbit, but looking across the breakfast room today, I saw that I was amid a universe of stars, burning very bright.

Be excellent to each other.”

(This attracted 45 stars, 14 ‘80’s 8-bit hearts, one Firedoge and one “Otter Hugs”. Crikey.)

With that published I felt a sense of mental refreshment. From the sessions I had attended and the meetings in corridors I had stumbled into, I could see the various plans and work-streams spinning out of the All Hands, as like a benevolent spider at the centre of a web. For although not everyone can be at such meetings, the impact of them will be felt by all Mozillians in the weeks and months to come.

Friday morning was a continuation of Thursday with discussions around Mozilla Support. I gained a Twitter account as I hope to get involved in the Social Support side of things alongside my work on the Support Forum – something that I hope to be working on very soon.

After lunch, the Marketing function assembled for a “close the week” session that included a Q&A with Mr Mayo. Being absolutely terrified of him, I took the opportunity to enter a question in advance to be asked on my behalf. He duly answered it with a great explanation and answer which has led me to do the work that I am doing to promote Nightly builds of our Android products within the Mozilla community. If you are reading this and have an Android phone or tablet, please use Nightly for Android. If you are a contributor to Mozilla, please get in contact with me directly and I will see what I can do to get you access to pre-Release versions of some of our other software such as the awesome Nightly builds of GeckoView Focus/Klar.

Having spent daylight hours inside I had planned to spend Friday afternoon, sans laptop, outside on the streets of San Francisco. This was truncated to a walk round a nearby park and its monument to Dr King before returning inside to attend an update on the Mission Driven Mozillians workstream. As I am sure that I have mentioned in the past, it would be easy to disregard this work, so I instead ask you to do the challenging thing and embrace it. It is a key driver and framework for the contributor experience across Mozilla.

The end of that meeting heralded the end of the working week and time to get ready for the end of week party. Whilst I could have taken the coach, I was fortunate to join a multi-national group of contributors who walked up through China Town, climbed some staggering hills (the hills were not staggering, we were!) and saw amazing views across the city from the base of the Coit Tower before descending through colourful gardens and down some steep steps to the party venue in a pier in the bay where much jollity, food, drink and reflection was had by all.

Awakening the next morning and on saying good bye to my room-mate and having checked out (and having bought a new travel adaptor having lost mine on the Friday), I ventured forth to see some of the city. I took a bus to the “painted ladies”, a row of old houses with stunning views across the city before walking north to the famous twisty Lombard Street. The ultimate goal was to ride the famous cable car, and on riding it back to near the hotel I was reminded how lucky I had been.

Having had a bite to eat (avocado in a burger might seem strange, but it worked very well), I had the opportunity to say some good-byes before taking my allocated coach to the airport further to a night flight to Newark and (after a short layover) on to London Heathrow, which gave ample time for reflection on what I had achieved and what I would be doing next.

Did I meet my goals? I think so:

  • I participated in discussions pertaining to Mozilla Support and am focussed on building and support or community. As much as I enjoy answering user questions, I know that this is only sustainable with the support of others so am keen to help support the wider team
  • Although not quite as planned, I got the chance to meet people from the mobile teams and have followed up on work on my return. I hope I can continue to work with them going forward.
  • The Open Innovation Strategy Project was not a thing at this All Hands, but I did continue along this theme with the wider community work.

So what have I done on my return? Quite a bit:

  • Packaged user feedback from the Support Sprint.
  • Worked to broaden marketing of Mozilla.
  • Started listening to the awesome IRL podcast.
  • Worked with Marketing on ideas for a new project.
  • Wrote a post to make the community aware of the pre-Release GV builds of Focus.
  • Wrote to product managers to help support their projects.
  • Tried to get Vidyo working on Linux (no luck…)
  • Helped my room-mate to tweak GNOME.
  • Wrote a guide to supporting Mozilla Android apps.
  • Continued the discussions around Mozilla Support.
  • Worked to broaden support for Android products within Mozilla Support.
  • Updated a Moz Wiki article to help contributors and staff attending their first Mozilla event.
  • Helped a contributor to understand Firefox for Fire TV.
  • (Other tasks covered by NDA)
  • and more successes (and challenges) to come.

This has been done whilst continuing to support users on the Support Forum. It would be very easy to imagine that an invite to All Hands elevate oneself above ones fellow contributors, but I am keen to keep myself grounded in the issues that users raise. It is that same grounding that makes me aware that All Hands never stops, not really. Whilst I may have polished off a lists of tasks, the true value is in a) ongoing work and b) the impact of the relationships built over a much longer period of time.

Thank you to those that invited me and to those I met and have been/are/will be working with. It was an amazing, busy, exhilarating week. I came back a better and more engaged Mozillian for having gone.

Some All-Hands look back to celebrate success, some are instrumental in meeting a key goal, whilst some are an opportunity for us to look forward. In San Francisco, we looked to the horizon and we continued upon our journey towards it.