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15, 14, 13, 8, 7, 2 years ago, and the future? My Web Story

It all started on March 31, 1998. Just a few days off from 15 years ago.

Netscape open-sourced the code to its "Communicator" Internet suite, using its own long-standing internal code name as a label for that project: Mozilla.

I always liked the sub-line of a lot of the marketing material for this time - under the Mozilla star/lizard logo and a huge-font "hack", the material said "This technology could fall into the right hands". And so it did, even if that took time. You can learn a lot about that time by watching the Code Rush movie, which is available under a Creative Commons license nowadays. And our "Chief Lizard Wrangler" and project leader Mitchell Baker also summarized a lot of the following history of Mozilla in a talk that was recorded a couple of years ago.

Just about a year later, in May 1999, so 14 years ago, I filed my first bug after I had downloaded one of the early experimental builds of the Mozilla suite, building on the brand-new Gecko rendering engine. This one and most I filed back then were rendering issues with that new engine, mostly with my pretty new and primitive first personal homepage I had set up on my university account. After some experiments with CSS-based theming of the Mozilla suite, I did some playing around with exchanging strings in the UI and translating them to German, just to see how this new "XUL" stuff worked. This ended up in my first contribution contact and me providing a first completely German-language build on January 1, 2000.

A few months after that, in May, I submitted my first patch to the Mozilla project, which was a website change, actually. But only weeks later, I created a bug and patch against the actual Mozilla code - in June of 2000, 13 years ago. And it would by far not be the last one, even though my contributions the that code were small for years, a fix for a UI file here, a build fix for L10n stuff there. My main contributions stayed in doing the German localization for the suite and in general L10n-related issues. Even when Firefox came along in 2004, I helped that 1.0 release with some localization-related issues, esp. around localized snippets for its Google-based and -hosted start page - and stayed with L10n for the full suite otherwise (while Kadir would do the German Firefox L10n). I wrote a post in 2007 about how I stumbled into my Mozilla career.

As Firefox became rapidly successful and took an increasingly large standing in the project and community, I stuck with the suite as I liked a more integrated experience of email and browser - and I liked the richer feature set that the suite had to offer (Firefox did cut out a lot of functionality in the beginning to be able to found its new, leaner and more consumer-friendly UI). When in March of 2005, it became clear that the suite was going into strict maintenance mode and be abandoned by the "official" Mozilla project, I joined the team that took over maintenance and development of that suite - once again using a long-standing internal code name for that: SeaMonkey. In all that project-forming process 8 years ago, I took over a lot of the organizational roles, so that the coders in our group could focus at the actual code, and eventually was credited as "project coordinator" within the project management group we call the "SeaMonkey Council".

When I founded my own business 7 years ago, in January of 2006, I was earning money in surprising ways, and trying to lead the SeaMonkey project into the future. We were just about to release SeaMonkey 1.0 and convince the first round of naysayers that we actually could have the suite running as a community project. In the next years, we did quite some interesting and good work on that software, and a lot of people were finally realizing that "we made it" when we could release a 2.0 version that was based on the same "new" toolkit that Firefox and Thunderbird were built upon, removing a lot of old, cruft code and replacing it with newer stuff, including the now common-place add-ons system and automated updates among a ton of other things. I would end up doing a number of the major porting jobs from Firefox to SeaMonkey, including the places-based history and bookmarks systems, the download manager (including a UI that was similar to the earlier suite style), and the OpenSearch system. With the Data Manager, I even contributed a completely new and (IMHO) pretty innovative component into SeaMonkey. In those times, I think I did more coding work (in JS, mostly) than ever before, perhaps with the exception of the PHP-based CBSM community and content management platform I had done before that.

The longer I was in the SeaMonkey project, the more I realized, though, that the innovation I would like to have seen around the suite wasn't really happening - all the innovation to the suite came from porting Firefox and Thunderbird features and/or code, and that often with significant delay. Not sure if anything other than the Data Manager actually was a genuine SeaMonkey innovation, and I only came up with that when trying to finally get some innovation going, back in 2010. I was more and more unsatisfied with the lack of progress and innovation and the incredible push-back we got on the mailing list on every try to actually do something new. In October of 2010, I took a flight to Mountain View, California, to meet up with Mitchell Baker and talk about the future of SeaMonkey - and I also mentioned how I wanted to be more on the front of innovation even though I seem to not manage to get the SeaMonkey community there. Not sure if it came out of this or was in the back of her head before, in one of those conversations I had with her, she asked me if I would like to work for Mozilla and Firefox. I said that this caught me by surprise but we should definitely keep that conversation going. Just after that I met then-Mozilla-CEO John Lilly, and he asked if Mitchell had offered me a job - just to make sure. As you can imagine, that got me thinking a lot more about that, and gave me the freedom to think outside SeaMonkey for my future. I was at the liberty to think about my personal priorities in more depth, and it became clear that the winds of change were clearly blowing through my life.

After some conversations with people at Mozilla, I decided I wanted to try a job there, and Chris Hofmann proposed my working on tracking crashes and stability, so I started contracting for Mozilla on the CrashKill team in February 2011, first half-time, finally full-time. So, 2 years ago, I opened a completely new chapter in my personal web story. Tracking crash statistics for our products - Firefox desktop, Firefox from Android, and now Firefox OS - and working with our employees and community to improve stability has turned out to be a more interesting job than I expected when I started. Knowing that my work actually helps thousands or even millions of people, who have a more stable Firefox because of what I do, is a quite high award. And I'm growing into a more managerial role, which is something I really appreciate. And I'm connected to all kinds of innovation going on at Mozilla: A lot of the new features landing (like new JIT compilers for JavaScript, WebRTC, etc.) need stability testing and we're tracking the crash reports from those, Firefox for Android needed a lot of stability work to become the best mobile browser out there - and with Firefox OS, I was even involved in how the crash reporting features and user experience flow were implemented. I'm also involved in a lot of strategic meetings on what we release and when - an interesting experience by itself.

Where this all will lead me in the future? No idea. I'm interested in moving to the USA and working there at least for some time - not just because it would make my day cycle sane and having most or all my meetings within the confines of the actual work days in the region I'm living in, but also because I learned to like a lot that country has to offer, from Country Music to Football and many other things (not to mention Louisiana-style Cajun cuisine). I'm also interested in working from an office with other Mozillians for a change, and in possibly becoming even more of a manager. Of course, I'd like to help moving the Mozilla mission forward where I can, openness, innovation and opportunities on the web are something I stand behind nowadays more than ever - and Firefox OS as well as associated technologies promise to really make a huge impact on the web of the future. I'm looking forward to quite exciting times! :)

Entry written by KaiRo and posted on April 4th, 2013 00:13 | Tags: CrashKill, Firefox, future, history, L10n, Mozilla, SeaMonkey | 6 comments | TrackBack

Comments

AuthorEntry

Gervase Markham

quote
OMoving to the USA
It would be sad if Europeans felt that they had to move to the USA in order to interact properly with their teams. I presume you have tried encouraging your team to use asynchronous methods of communication more often?

Gerv
2013-04-04 12:57

KaiRo

Webmaster

quote
OGerv, the situation is not that straight-forward for me:
I'm not in a team in terms of my actual role. What I'm doing is heavily cross-functional and I have to take part in a lot of meetings, in most of which it's all or almost all other participants being in the US. I have no free evening left due to that, and a heavily screwed-up day cycle. Async communication works only for a part of my role, and the data I need to work with is not available before the European afternoon in any case.
That said, as I mentioned, I fell in love with a lot of different aspects of the US - even if I could work on a normal schedule here, I'd probably look for options to move across the Atlantic, at least for some time.

Last edited by KaiRo at 2013-04-04 13:10

2013-04-04 13:08

John Drinkwater

from UK

quote
OMaybe the UK would be a shorter distance with a better timezone to do the work in?
2013-04-10 16:54

KaiRo

Webmaster

quote
OJohn, the UK isn't the land of Country Music or (American) Football, and an hour doesn't move 8pm meetings out of the evening or an 11pm one out of the night, so I'd not be able to go to evening meetings or otherwise get a much better day cycle. That said, as a temporary measure and a stepping stone on the way to the US, I'd take it, and that hour would be a slight relief - just not a long-term solution.
2013-04-11 12:57

David Goldfield

quote
OWhat Does This Mean for the Future of Seamonkey
Hi. I guess that my subject line summarizes my question. I'm happy for your new opportunity and I wish you the best working for Mozilla. However, I'm a loyal Seamonkey user and I'm wondering if development of the suite will continue with this change.
2013-05-11 03:24

KaiRo

Webmaster

quote
OThere is no change for SeaMonkey, I have been moving away from the project more than 2 years ago. For anything else about it, you need to ask the current team.
2013-05-11 12:47

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