As a Mozillian I like to set myself goals and targets. It helps me to plan what I would like to do and to ensure that I am constantly focusing on activities that help Mozilla as well as maintain a level of contribution. But under these “public” goals are a number of things that are more long term, that are possible and have been done by many Mozillians, but for me just seem a little out of reach. If you were to see the list, it may seem a little odd and possibly a little egotistical, even laughable, but however impossible some of them are, they serve as a reminder of what I may be able to achieve.
This blog entry is about me achieving one of them…
In the time leading up to the London All-Hands, I had been invited by a fellow SUMO contributor to attend a breakfast meeting to learn more about the plans around Nightly. This clashed with another breakfast meeting between SUMO and Sync to continue to work to improve our support for this great and useful feature of Firefox. Not wanting to upset anyone, I went with the first invite, but hoped to catch up with members of the Sync team during the week.
Having spent the morning better understanding how SUMO fits into the larger corporate structure, I made use of the open time in the schedule to visit the Firefox Homeroom which was based in a basement meeting room, home for the week to all the alchemists and magicians that bring Mozilla software to life. It was on the way back up the stairs that I bumped into Mark from the Firefox Desktop team. Expecting to arrange some time for later in the week, Mark was free to have a chat there and then.
Sync is straightforward when used to connect desktop and mobile versions of Firefox but I wanted to better understand how it would work if a third device was included. It was at the end of the conversation that one of us mentioned about how the bookmarks coming to desktop Firefox could be seen in the Mobile Bookmarks folder in the bookmark drop down menus. But it is not there, which can make it look like your bookmarks have disappeared. Sure, you can open the bookmark library, but this is extra mouse clicks to open a separate tool. Mark suggested that this could be easy to fix and that I should file a bug, a task that duly went in the list of things to do on returning from the week.
A key goal for contributors at an All-Hands is to come back with a number of ways to build upon your ability to contribute in the future and I came back with a long list that took time to work through. The bug was also delayed in filing due to natural pessimism about its chances of success. But I realised…what if we all thought like that? All things that we have done started with someone having an idea that was put forward knowing that other ideas had failed, but they still went ahead regardless.
So I wrote a bug and submitted it and nothing much happened. But after a while there was a spark of activity. Thom from the Sync team had decided to resolve it and seemed to fully understand how this could work. The bug was assigned various flags and it soon became clear to me that work was being done on it. Not having any coding ability, I was not able to provide any real help to Thom aside from positive feedback to an early mock up of how the user experience would look. But to be honest, I was too nervous to say much more. A number of projects I had come back from MozLondon with had fallen through and I did not say anything much that could “jinx it” and it not proceed.
A few months passed after which I started getting copied in on bugmail about code needing review with links to systems I barely knew existed. And there, partway down a page were two words:
I know that these words are not unusual for many people at Mozilla, indeed their very existence is one of the reasons that many staff turn on their computers (the other is probably cat gifs), but for me it was the culmination of something that I never thought would happen. The sobriety of this moment increased with the release of Nightly 54 - I could actually see and use what Thom and Mark had spent time and effort crafting. If you use version 54 (which is currently Firefox Developer Edition) and use Firefox Sync, you should now see a “Mobile Bookmarks” folder in the drop down from the menu bar and from the toolbar. This folder is an easier way for you to access the bookmarks that you have saved on the bus, in the pub, on the train or during that really boring meeting you thought would never end.
I never thought that I would be able to influence the Firefox end product, and I had in a very small way. Whilst full credit should go to Thom and Mark and the Sync team for building this and those who herded and QA’d the bug (never forget these people, their work is vital), credit should also go to the SUMO team for enabling me to be a position to understand the user perspective to help make Sync work for more users. Sync is a great feature of Firefox and one that I hope can be improved and enhanced further.
I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed reading this little story, but I hope that you have learned from it and that those learnings will help you as a contributor. In particular:
- Have goals, however impossible.
- Contribute your ideas. Nobody else in the world has the same idea as you and imagines it in the same way.
- Work outside of your own team, build bridges to other areas.
- Use Nightly and (if you also use a mobile version of Firefox) use it with Firefox Sync.
- Be respectful of Mozilla staff as they are at work and they are busy people, but also be prepared to be in awe of their awesomeness.
Whilst this was (I have been told) a simple piece of code, the result for me was to see a feature in Firefox that I helped make happen. Along the way, I have broadened my understanding of the effort that goes into Firefox but I can also see that some of the bigger goals I have are achievable.
There is still so much I want to do.