“'Twas the day before All Hands, and all through the house
nothing was stirring, not even a mouse.
But from across the globe, Mozillians were travelling with care,
for soon in San Francisco they would be there.
They come from near and travelled from far,
they came by train, most by air, maybe one or two by car.
Planning to work and collaborate and meet,
(I hope everyone manages to get some sleep).
They will have no time to stand and stare,
for when they return home to continue their work on the open web
(having got some rest in the tucked up in their own comfy beds),
they will be able to say to all that care:
San Francisco All Hands 2017 - I was there.”
It has been a while since that amazing week in San Francisco, but it is only now that I have decided to put fingers to keyboard and tell the tale of All Hands. Partly this has been because of the work that I have been doing off the back of All Hands and partly because it has taken a long (and slightly emotional) while to get my head round what we did. I guess the best place to start is vaguely near the beginning…
The thing is that I try to live a simple life whilst at the same time trying to do things that make the world a better place. When it comes to Mozilla, I feel very fortunate to have done what I have and to work on an amazing team with awesome people, as well as get to use great software. And I have been fortunate to attend two (hopefully three) Mozilla Festivals and All Hands in Orlando and in London.
The Orlando All Hands was a bit nuts. I had never done anything like that before and I was exposed to a world that was so much bigger and more vibrant than I could have imagined. I spent a week working with people that are just like I had seen on Air Mozilla on subjects that I could never have imagined discussing with anyone…ever. Further to this I was invited to London at which I replaced the travel with working hard…almost too hard. Frustrated at hearing that some fellow contributors regarded an invite to All Hands as a tourist thing, I worked hard to prove that we are there to work…and returned home to a nightmare world of stress and burnout. It was a great week, but I worked too hard and damaged myself.
So the email that arrived on “Good Friday” 2017 was a genuine shock. Mozilla was inviting me to attend All Hands in San Francisco. I had never travelled so far, been in a plane for so long, to work for a cause and team that I care so much about at such a key point in Mozilla’s ongoing history. I would not be going as a new contributor, or as a local, but as someone that kind of knows their way around Mozilla a little. A big and amazing opportunity not to be wasted.
With there being a number of us contributors having been invited by the SUMO team, the awesome staff that we have opened a document for us to start pencilling in the things we would want to try and cover over the course of the week…which is a really short space of time when you put Monday to one side for “arrival day” and give space for mandatory and staff only sessions with the wider Marketing function. That said, we not only managed to fill the schedule, but also had two lunch meetings booked.
At the same as this was coming together, there was rumours of a ban on laptops in the cabin of flights from the UK, which led me to be a news junkie - trying to follow the story and the developments and meetings that were taking place. Having bought a laptop that is a bit more travel friendly and loaded it with TeaLinuxOS (a GNU/Linux distro built by group that includes a few Mozillians), I was very keen to take it with me for the work that I planned to do…but had no intention of it going in the hold. No padding would protect it from the greatest ever threat to mobile computing – baggage handling! (Luckily the ban did not come to pass.)
Meanwhile, things were building up to All Hands. The focus of the week was clear in the moving of the Monday/Friday plenary sessions to a series of Town Halls broadcast on Air Mozilla. Some of them are really good and they set the tone for the week if not by their content than by their existence. This was reinforced by the removal of the optional “drop in” style sessions from the planning for the week – everything was going to be done to maximise the together time in San Francisco in the build up to Firefox 57.
The months turned into weeks and finally into days. The bags were packed, the limerick that opened this post was put on Telegram, my laptop was loaded with everything I would need. As the taxi drove me to London Heathrow I knew I was on my way to an adventure. I had done everything I could to make sure I was prepared to get the most out of the week and now I was off to the home of Mozilla and a city that I had heard so much about.
On getting to Heathrow (and checking in) I had a pint of very nice beer (Fuller’s Summer Ale) at 0800 in the morning before boarding my direct flight to San Francisco. 11 hours is a long time to spend at 35000 feet and the in-flight entertainment was not up to much, but they did show the film Invisible Figures…which I recommend that everyone reading this watches (I am not going to spoil the film but there is a moment in that film where Kevin Costner’s character does something really cool). Given that Mozillians do some our best work out of hours, the cabin crews intention that the lights go out and people sleep failed given it was the perfect opportunity to catch up for long conversations with a couple of fellow contributors on the flight. I was also able to give the Linux using passenger next to me some help in loading his Amazon Kindle with Fennec. Yup, even at 35000 feet, I was helping users.
On landing (having flown over “Silicon Valley”), passing through security and getting my bag (did anyone else notice the screen at reclaim that had gone BSOD?) I joined a number of Mozillians for the coach to the hotel. Putting aside that we were travelling on an elevated freeway (earthquake zone anyone…?) it was very cool to think that we were following so many others that had come this same route over the years.
On checking in, and dropping my case in my room, I headed out on the mean streets of San Franciso to get a coffee and a small bite to eat with a fellow Brit before taking in the “meet and greet” at the hotel and welcome reception. There really is not much like it, Mozillians who have travelled for so long and far meeting up. It is like a massive family gathering with over a thousand people that you do not really know but are so glad to see again. A few of us decided to go for a tour outside…but by about 2200 I “hit the wall” and was exhausted. I headed by to my room and collapsed.
I would like to say that I slept well but as comfy and quiet as the room was, my mind was already focussed on the next day. I was awake early and as soon as was sensible, I was up and out heading down to breakfast before the contributor briefing session at 0815. Breakfasts at All Hands (or any Mozilla event) are special. Even if you are not talking to people and just prefer a little quiet time, you will see plenty of faces that you will recognise from across the organisation. There is something special about sharing a meal with people, even if it is a quick “grab and go” before the first meeting of the day.
For us contributors, that first meeting was the briefing session. With contributors having come from so many teams it was good to get us together briefly to have a few reminders posted, to have a group photo and to have a recap of the Community Participation Guidelines. I am sure that some people may find the CPG boring and a bit silly, but it is vital to us all being able to work together. I am sure that if you looked over what I normally do, you would not think I am too interested in that kind of HR-fluffy-people-stuff but diversity but I think that the CPG is important and is so easy to understand. If you are unsure, here are two reminders:
- Be diverse.
- Be awesome to one another.
And so, with the initial formalities out of the way, we headed out into conference and meeting rooms across the two hotels to make the web great again. The first SUMO meeting was not a dull one, with the news that the migration from Kitsune was not going ahead (read the full story here). Not much I can add to the news apart from to say there was a profound sense of a burden having been lifted from the shoulders of the staff present (and who dialled in). There are no “winners” or “losers” in such a big decision, but as someone that had been very conscious of the impact it was having on the health and well-being of staff on the team, it was a happy moment.
Having expected to be spending the week dealing partly with migration related work, the shackles were removed and we could focus on our core goal of helping users. Over the course of the week we looked into how we can support the SUMO community, what we need to do to support Kitsune and some planning around the 57 release. We discussed the Internet awareness work stream and how we might be able to use video to help users. On top of this we gained a better understanding of Mitchell’s Worldview and the goals for Marketing.
During some “staff only time”, I led a small raiding party over to the other hotel to meet Sebastian on the mobile team. Although I have been a Firefox user for many years, it was as user of Fennec that led to me being a contributor and I have a fondness for the product. Having felt a little disconnected from the team further to some headcount changes it good to use the opportunity to discuss a few issues and user requested features.
(True story – After having returned from a night out after that meeting, I came back to my room and was checking my email and found an email from Sebastian advising that bookmark management had been turned on in Nightly. That was a very cool it-happened-at-All-Hands moment.)
Whilst we are all different people with different backgrounds, the SUMO volunteers made good use of staff time to chat about our own SUMO worlds. The Sun never sets on the work that we do, but working as we do in semi-isolation, we all have similar and different experiences shaped by the work that we are involved in and the countries in which we are based. It was great to share and laugh and help and consider the different ways in which we work and help people.
An example of this is the side session that (a fellow SUMO contributor) philipp ran on crash interpretation. A useful skill that will help us to help users. Understanding crash reports is not always quick or easy, but when you get it right, you look like a magical wizard genius. (Even if you have not met philipp, you have probably used or seen some of his work.)
Another example is the presentation given by @Jhonatas and @cynthiapereira on the amazing work they have been doing in the Brasil community to increase user and community engagement in Mozilla and Firefox through social media. The work that they are doing is really good and I believe could be adapted to be used in other locales.
I also had the opportunity to meet some great staff. You may not know or have heard of willkg, but he was one of the people that built Standups and also the soloist IRC channel, both of which can connect those that feel a bit isolated with a crowd of like-minded Mozillians. These services helped me greatly to avoid burnout and isolation last and I cannot commend his work enough. My soloist sticker will be displayed with pride.
I also met kbrosnan, a staff member, but also a key contributor to the Firefox for Android support forum. There is no competition between us and I hope that we will have the opportunity to trade more war stories in the future.
Even before I made it to the welcome session, I had a stand up chat with Asa, a man whose enthusiasm and love for the work that the organisation does has no end. I extremely fortunate to catch up with Asa a couple of time during the week on a number of matters and it was a privilege every time.
Whilst I am in a people thanking mode I guess I should mention my room-mate Andre. Whilst I had hoped that I would share a room with a fellow SUMO contributor, having a room-mate from a different team was actually very cool. We came from different countries and work on different parts of Mozilla, but we got on well. Possibly helped by the fact that we are Linux users of a Ubuntu persuasion, we were able to find a middle ground and talk as Mozillians do about a range of subjects. I learnt a little about the SpiderMonkey team and I hope he learnt about SUMO.
As a team, SUMO met with the entire Sync/FXA team for lunch and a casual opportunity to share thoughts and ask questions as Sync is complicated product and possibility one of the most challenging things we support. We also met with Emma, Mozilla’s resident “Bugmaster” to learn more about how to file good bugs. Having felt a little down that I had had a few bugs marked as duplicates, I learned that this is a good thing and that a duplicate actually highlights that an issue effects more people.
I also took the opportunity to catch up with bwinton further to conversation on IRC as part of the work SUMO has been doing in readiness for Firefox 57. He showed me some of the mock-ups for the photon interface and the on-boarding process (both of which are more or less complete in Nightly).
On the subject of Nightly, Activate Nightly went live during All Hands. This was the culmination of many months work from a cross jurisdiction team of people including SUMO (me!), Reps and staff and it was great to see it made available for people to use. Whilst it was overtaken a little by a couple of branding changes, I hope that it can serve as a template for Activate campaigns in the future.
Further to what I mentioned earlier about it not being a holiday, I will admit that we did have a number of enjoyable evenings out. The first of which was at the Walt Disney Family museum that had been booked by the Marketing function. Which I decided to walk to. On paper the route was not that far, and it would allow me to see some of the real San Francisco in person instead of being in a car or a bus. But part of the “real San Francisco” is the hills which were just like the film “Bullitt”. You turn a corner and you see the road rise up at a steep angle in front of you and when you are the top, you look down baffled at how anyone could think that this is good place to put a road. It is like the city planners sough as their inspiration a sine wave. (I also managed to see the Yoda fountain outside the Lucasfilm building, which as a Star Wars fan was pretty awesome to find.)
The team kind of forgot about me and left me behind the next night when we went to a rooftop bar. But some quick research gave me a route through the “Tenderloin” area to the “Mission District” that I was able to walk. Whilst it was not necessarily going to feature on any tourist routes and despite what others may have said/warned to the contrary, I felt perfectly safe walking there (far more interesting neighbourhoods in London…). It was great to go to a local bar full of local people and see a bit more of the real San Francisco.
After some of these trips out, I also managed to have an ice cream sundae at the Ghirardelli ice cream parlour and see SF Office and the Mozilla Monument after hours, visit the bar on the 40th floor of the hotel and dip a foot in the Pacific Ocean. (I should clarify that all these trips took place after the working day was finished and were a great source of team bonding.)
Friday at All Hands is an odd day. By this point in the week you have got into a great working routine, but at the same time you know that all good things will come to an end. Not long after lunch the final meetings are taking place which for SUMO was a stand up meeting with the Pocket support team. They are great people and I hope we can share ideas and thoughts about how do to things in the future. I must admit that further to the Town Hall prior to All Hands and meeting some Pocketeers during, I have become a fan of the service. Yes I know that some people may have felt slightly aggrieved by its mandatory inclusion in Firefox, but it really is very clever and useful and I recommend that people give it a second chance.
Part of the reason for the earlier finish on the Friday is to give people an opportunity to get ready for the Friday night party which was being held at the California Academy of Sciences. Looking a little like the main building from “Jurassic Park” (there was even a T-Rex skeleton in the main entrance!) in had enough room for an aquarium, swamp, projection theatre and room for the full complement of All Hands attendees. I really enjoyed the rainforest section, walking up and into the different layers that make up the habitat. I have never seen butterflies so big that they glided between trees before. For the more code related of you, there was also a Gecko and I managed to point out a “bug” to Marcia (hence the title of this blog entry).
The next day, having breakfasted and checked out of my room, I joined a small band of SUMO contributors, who (led by our fearless leader guigs) were taken on a tour of the north coast of the city. Having spent so much time in a largely grey part of the city, to see so much vibrant colour was quite something, both at the Saturday market at the Ferry Building and at Pier 39. We saw Alcatraz from the shore and (after a nice walk in the sun) we got a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge before heading back to the city proper for an early evening meal.
I was genuinely very sad to be leaving San Francisco (slightly sunburnt) for home. After an internal flight to Newark (next to someone that did not really appreciate delimited personal space), I boarded a flight to Heathrow where I finally got some seat back entertainment. I would like to apologise to the person who had to sit next to me watching the second Jack Reacher movie, Deadpool and xXx, but they were a vital part of my decompression from All Hands. I had been somewhere that was so Mozilla and was about to be somewhere that was so “home”, I kind of needed something that was neither.
Arriving home after such a trip does bring with it a certain amount of misery, not only at the amount of laundry work you have to do to get your wardrobe back in order, but also in awareness that you have been and done stuff that the people walking past you in the street will struggle to grasp. At this time it was great to be able to focus on the tasks that I had brought back with me to do. All Hands may seem like a week, but it is really a trigger to make use of what you have learned to be able to do more on your return. After MozLondon I had some very valid feedback that I could have been more open with what I had been working on, and I hope this has not been the case this time. A more or less complete list of what I have done has been included as an update to my profile on mozillians.org and is included below:
- Write and publish a SUMO KB article on Screenshot
- Update Fennec mobile bookmarks common response
- Write article for Discourse to encourage Mozillian to test bookmark management in Fennec Nightly
- Write to the guy I sat next to on the plane with the updated Fennec Kindle article
- Help a Pocketeer to use Mozilla IRC
- Follow up with a Mozilla staff member about submitting a session for MozFest
- Write to the NHSbuntu team about MozFest.
- Write to fellow SUMO contributor to help them get back into coding.
- Update Discourse town hall posts.
- Write to a member of staff to explain what SUMO and what we do.
- Write to the Sync team to better understand how the mobile bookmarks folder will work under Fx 57
- Send pictures to SUMO people of SUMO people.
- Catch up with Asa about a few different things
- Write to a SUMO contributor about about volunteering at MozFest
- Further to Activate Nightly, draft an idea for a new Activate campaign
- Think about setting up a UK Community on Standups
- Send a photo of a Tb sticker sheetlet for bwinton’s awesome Moz sticker image account.
- Forward round to a few people a great tech diversity article.
- Write some feedback for a Pocketeer about Pocket Beta.
- Try to get some of the All Hands videos declassfied for the wider community.
….as well as continuing to test three Mozilla apps (recently increased to four…), working on helping SUMO get ready for Firefox 57 and continuing to help users on the SUMO Support Forum.
I am sure that some of those things could be seen as a little frivolous, but I consider them the whimsical aspect of being a Mozillian. I do not write any of this to brag or show off. Compared to many of the people reading this article I feel that I play a very small part in the wider community. I am not one of the amazing contributors who write code and fix bugs in Mozilla software. I am not a Rep and do not run sessions to help users all over the world make good use of the abilities that the web has given us. I cannot speak a second language and am not able to use that skill to help people all over the world embrace the open web. I truly am (to paraphrase a quote from Star Wars) a simple Mozillian just trying to make his way in the world.
I guess that this could be the formal end of my work from San Francisco, but I sincerely hope that is not really ever going to be the case. Sure, I have just about finished my “to do” list and am now hoping to focus on Firefox 57, MozFest, and maybe one or two smaller things, but I also know that I am not the person (or Mozillian!) who went. My view of Mozilla and its place in the world is bigger as I have seen what we have done, but also what we can all do together and I want to be involved in making this happen. Even if you were not in San Francisco, I hope that you will be able to get involved in some of the projects that will be able to trace their lineage back to All Hands as I am sure that your contribution (as it is already, whoever you are and whatever you do) is currently valued.
Before I close off with a limerick composed and published at All Hands, I would like to ask you to do two things. Firstly, if you have read what I have been involved in and would like to get involved in some of it, drop me a note (please include a link to your profile on mozillians.org). No guarantees I will be able to help, but I would like the opportunity to try.
Secondly, it really would be the greatest privilege to help another Mozillian who is invited to such an event (or any other big Mozilla event that may take place) get the most from their time. To travel so far and be among so many great people is mind blowing and I would like the opportunity to help someone make as good use of it as I have tried. It was hard work but I was very fortunate to have such a humbling experience.
“And now, the end is near,
And so we face our final meetings.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.
We’ve lived a week that’s full,
(and we all have installed Mozilla Nightly).
But more, much more than this,
We did it the Mozillian way.”