Having come back from an All-Hands meeting with Mozilla, it seems only right to feedback on the experience I had, but sadly I have been delayed. The combination of political and terrorist incidents meant that every time I wanted to start typing I got distracted by the stupidity and evil that seems to have flared up all over the world. I sincerely hope that all Mozillians (as well as their family and friends) everywhere are okay and have not been directly impacted. With an Olympics and Paralympics having started and with Mozilla doing so much, there are many more positive things to believe in.
I also found that I had to “decompress” from the week. As I was travelling back on the train (delayed an hour due to a derailment), I found myself feeling sympathetic with Major Tom Peake who had (that same day) suddenly found himself falling back to Earth having spent some time isolated from the world on the International Space Station. Having found myself opening my front door not long after leaving “Mozilla-land” meant that I did not have the staggered effect and the benefit of spending some time in suspension in a plane, time in which you can get through thoughts in order, partway between all-hands and home.
But before we get to how I got to that point, I guess it would be good to start be explaining how I got there…
Past work weeks and All-Hands events have faced some criticism that the invite policy is a little one sided. The same could not be said for the approach taken for London where people that had attended one of a number of previous events were asked to nominate someone else, knowing that this had no bearing on whether they were going to be invited themselves. Not only was this approach very open (and very Mozilla) but it made you think carefully about who you thought would benefit most from the experience and could get the most out of it. I will not embarrasses them here, but I spent about a fraction of a second deciding who I would like to nominate, and several days writing and rewriting my reasons for putting them forwards. Sadly, there were more nominations than spaces and as a result, my recommendation was not taken forwards, but I still believe they (and Mozilla) would benefit from them attending a Mozilla corporation event.
Having nominated someone else, I was greatly surprised to get an email inviting me to attend and soon set to work writing up what I would plan to achieve during the event. I had a mix of goals all tied to my activities as a SUMO contributor and a Mozillian and whilst it was a small list, it was certainly going to be challenge. When I heard back that I had been selected I was stunned, but was also fully aware that I would have to earn my place at the event knowing that so many others had not been able to make it. (On that note I sincerely hope to one day meet and work some with some of the people not able to make it due to visa problems and other issues.)
I guess I also felt a certain level of additional pressure as a Brit in that due to the lack of a good excuse for travel fatigue, I would be able to “hit the ground running”. But this also brought with it a couple of additional pressures. Whilst it would not be my “job” to be a tour guide, chances are I knew I would be showing some people some of the famous sights. The problem there is that I am a rubbish tour guide, being so used to some of the locations that I kind of forget how iconic they are to people not from this small rain swept island.
I was also worried how Mozilla would view London. Early sneak peeks of the official imagery showed Mary Poppins heading skywards, umbrella in hand, but this is very much the Disney view of London. These fears were allayed instantly the Plenary session started on the Tuesday morning when “London Calling” by The Clash started ringing out across the auditorium. At that moment I realised that Mozilla “got” London. They understood that this is a city where people have been brought together by common purpose over hundreds of years and have set forth great plans and achieved many things. Some of the great things that Mozilla has achieved over the first half of 2016 were shown in this video. Whilst there is canned applause in the video, there was real applause for the rendering speeds of Servo and the delivery of e10s. Sadly, SUMO does not feature (again) in such presentations, but fingers crossed, one day, we too will be counted among those teams and projects.
And there is no reason why we should not be. In London was a small number of people from SUMO, some of whom I had only met and talked to over IRC. It was great being able to put names to faces and get to know each other, but it was also great to better understand the activities that we are involved in. At a session on the Thursday, we had a “show and tell”, where a number of us spoke of five minutes
on some of the Mozilla related activities that we are involved in. What was really magical was that although we identify ourselves as being part of SUMO, we are all independently involved in other activities, (whether they be supporting marketing efforts, building communities or contributing to the core product) that contribute to our ability to support users. Nobody had taken us, divided us into groups and set these activities up, we are doing them organically. Some of the presentations have already been repeated on the SUMO blog for all to see and there are more to come. I strongly recommend people read them to appreciate a) how special SUMO is and b) how these activities help fuel our SUMO contribution.
As some people may be aware, SUMO falls under Marketing in the MoCo corporate structure, something that some people may find to be an odd fit given that we are product focused. I too was initially confused and a little concerned that SUMO was being pushed further to the sidelines and being disregarded. But as the week went on, I better understood the connection as SUMO is a “front facing” team that interacts directly with users. Not only do we get a feel for what users are experiencing, but also the features they are using. Given that SUMO deals mainly with people that are having a perceived support issue with a Mozilla product, we are also in a position to make them feel better.
Outside of the SUMO/Marketing sessions, I had a fairly packed schedule. I felt very lucky to have been invited and wanted to get the most out of the week not only for myself, but also to make sure that I have enough to support my participation in Mozilla over the next few months. I spent a large amount of time before the week arranging meetings and reading up on background material so that I was prepared for a) what I planned and b) opportunities that may arise. These are some of the sessions I attended/meetings I arranged:
WoSUMOz – Looking into the gender balance on the SUMO Support Forum, madalina, guigs and myself met with larissas to discuss how we can look to better support new starters into SUMO. Sadly many of the people we invited were not able to make it, and we were unable to get this meeting on the main event schedule, but in a strange way, just having a small group talk through the issues really helped. Actions from this are next on the radar.
Meeting with markh – Not really arranged, but a chance meeting in a corridor led to a good half hour chat with one of the Sync team in the bowels of the hotel where the dev team had their home for the week. I already had a fair understanding of how Sync works, but I now better understand support for more than two devices. We also looked into a small change to Firefox that would make inbound bookmarks from mobile to desktop more visible. This was one of the real highlights of the week for me and a reminder of the close and positive relationship SUMO has with Sync.
Telemetry session – My hope was to look into how Telemetry data could support
SUMO when there is a “big issue”. Sadly I do not think this will work, but a useful session none the less that helped me to understand what happens to the data we contribute to Mozilla from Firefox installs. Regardless of you interest in the output, please help Mozilla by turning on Telemetry.
Met the developer of WhimsyPro – This add-on is largely a work of fun and whimsyness, but it has a serious purpose in demonstrating the creativity and what can be done with add-ons. It has also helped me to stop trying to keep Firefox so plain vanilla and make it more my own with add-ons and themes. Use add-ons, become more whimsical.
Breakfast meeting about Nightly – The Nightly variant of Firefox has a unfair reputation for instability but having come out of this meeting, I have now moved to Nightly as my browser (on both desktop and phone). It is stable, its telemetry helps Mozilla and users get to see new features very early. Use Nightly.
Mozfest – Did not have the chance to stay for the entire session, but this years event looks good.
MDN – Spoke to a couple of the team about support for linking MDN docs to
the SUMO Knowledge Base (where appropriate).
Met the person responsible for the cool Mozilla videos – He helps produce those videos that explain and demonstrate Mozilla projects and teams. The work that him and his colleagues produce is brilliant and unites Mozillians all over the world. Genius.
Firefox for Android – Gained useful background info about the future of this more mobile little fox.
Met a senior executive – Had the opportunity at the end of a meeting to ask a question about MoCo. Get an answer, felt very positive and enlightened.
Dino Tank – Whilst my idea was not taken forwards at the session, it was interesting listening and understanding the depth of innovation in Mozilla. It was also a very open session, with contributions from staff and Mozillans not present at All-Hands.
Was present to witness SUMO staff sing “Hey Jude” and “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” – Still trying to track down video footage…
So how did I do against my stated aims for the week:
- Meet with people from across Mozilla to discuss how the gender bias in the SUMO Support Forum could be addressed. Along the way I hope to evolve an approach to share with other Mozilla teams.
Certainly got a way forward with this further to some analysis and some planning. This was not going to be a quick fix, but I think I better understand the issues and the next steps.
- Speak to key people in the contributor community about how to make the initial contribution phase of being a Mozillian a little less challenging.
Did not go quite as planned. I did not get any responses to request for help I posted on Discourse and did not get any other feedback. That said, the actions from the WoSUMOz work will help with this and I have an item on my Moz task list to help new contributors better understand Mozilla (drop me a line if you want to help with this).
- Consider how to improve the SUMO reaction to “spot” issues.
Hope to pick this up with SUMO staff in coming months.
- Build on work to improve SUMO support of Sync.
Done. I still need to do some more work on this, but I feel a bit more confident and hope to try my hand at some of the more complex Sync questions we get asked on the Support Forum.
- Lastly, I want to better understand BMO for my own development as a SUMO contributor.
Did not manage to do anything directly in respect of this one, however, moving to Nightly has meant I am filing one or two “unresolved issues” and have a better appreciation of BMO. It is a leviathan ecosystem of its own, and I am quite enjoying dipping my toes in it and learning more about this important process.
When I look at this, the first thought is that I did not achieve what I planned, however I did set very high standards that were possibly unachievable. I also recognise that my aims were written without sight of the SUMO schedule and without knowing about some of the SUMO sessions that were very useful and interesting. If there had been time, it would have been good to have got some direct feedback on my work as a forum contributor from SUMO staff and learn what I could do better or even to have a mini SUMO day for the Forum (there was one for the Social Support people), but given how this event is for the staff to do work together and how full the days were, to include these would have involved a longer week. I have however got a psychological profile to read and I am sure it will provide some insights that will help me.
At the end of the week, the Marketing team (including SUMO) talked about the key success for them from the week and what problems they foresee. For me personally, I came away with a much better appreciation for the work that MoCo people do. There is often so much cheering for contributors that it sometimes drowns out the people that work really hard every day to bring projects forward. Us contributors are great, but the real superstars are the staff. They treat as equals, fit us into staff focused schedules and have to deal with the many problems, issues and questions we pose. I also have a renewed sense of confidence in what is planned for Firefox - exciting times ahead.
The biggest problem I personally have is waiting for responses. People from across Mozilla ask me to write to them, I carefully write a concise email, send it to them and often do not get a response. The total waiting time across six key projects is currently over 330 working days, one of them has been outstanding for over six months. It does not dent my enthusiasm for Mozilla, nor my desire to do things and want to contribute, but it is a little upsetting, not helped by the fact that some of these things are in relation to “live” issues.
But this is a trifling matter compared to what was achieved that week and what will be done going forwards. Whilst at times it did feel like I playing host to 1000 close friends I had never met, a lot of very positive work got done and frameworks were laid for work that will be done over coming months.
I sincerely hope that the people who went came away with a positive experience from London and enjoyed the few opportunities we had to see a bit of the city. More importantly thought I hope that people have come away from the week with ideas and thoughts and plans for the future.
If we can achieve what we did in the first six months, imagine what we can do in the future.
(…and in case you were wondering, the title of this post came from a t-shirt slogan a few of us come up with on the Monday. There have been rumours of a suggestions for more smaller meet ups so that more contributors can attend (just think how cool a SUMO meetup would be), but until then, maybe once a year, for those that are able, all Mozillians should sit on the floor with a computer and do something to contribute to a Mozilla project.)
Thank you for reading this long post, I hope you have found it interesting.