Onboard Mozilla Turbulence
This morning I found out that the part of Mozilla that I’ve be working within for the past year had collapsed. A meeting was scheduled with HR for them to tell me my job is ‘at risk’. In other words I have a few weeks to find a something new. Here’s my perspective on what happened.
In November 2013 I joined Mozilla to be part of Firefox OS. At the time it was the most ambitious web project I’d ever seen. I felt closure after shipping a big project at the Financial Times and jumped on the opportunity at Mozilla.
After countless interviews I got the news that I’d been offered the job. I was ecstatic. As a young developer (26) I’d just landed my dream job.
Veering off course
In 2014 following the media storm that hit his promotion, Brendan Eich left Mozilla. Looking back, it felt like he took some of the magic with him; I think at this point Mozilla began to drift off course.
The Firefox OS project was no longer a baby. We couldn’t play that card when people asked: “how many users have you got?”. The product was a valiant engineering accomplishment, but the user-value proposition was fuzzy. We still couldn’t answer the question: “why should I buy a Firefox OS phone?”, which was a clear red flag.
In late 2015 it was announced that Firefox OS would be ‘passed over to the community’ and that the team would be reborn as ‘Connected Devices’. Our new task was product innovation in the IoT space. We admitted Firefox OS was too late for the mobile market but we were told we could be ahead of the curve for IoT.
At this point the team downsized; a lot of inspirational colleagues moved on to new things. I felt deflated and uninspired, but I used the opportunity to expand my knowledge, learning more about lower level systems.
Within my role in Firefox OS I was a professional at the top of my game. I attended W3C standards meetings, spoke at conferences and on podcasts. Now I found myself fumbling around in unfamiliar territory. It felt like going back to school.
Something didn’t feel right. My manager assured me that the team needed me and kept me onboard. I embraced the situation and took on new roles. I read up on new product development techniques and made use of my design skills to communicate product ideas.
Eventually myself and some colleagues in London saw hope in a app concept we called ‘Magnet’. It aimed to enhance real-life experiences by surfacing timely relevant content.
I buried myself into Project Magnet, trying to ignore the low morale and uninspiring projects in the rest of the organisation. I developed new engineering skills in iOS and Android, and learnt a lot about product development. Ignoring the temptation to build everything upfront and wrapping constraints around ideas to make them feasible.
Back in the day Firefox OS had to hire fast. As a result we may have pulled people aboard too hastily. We clearly weren’t all on the same wave length. Mozilla is comfortable; sometimes people stay for the wrong reasons.
On top of this, we were burnt out. There’s only so many times you can throw people onto a new project and tell them to give it 110%. We endured failure, we were being crushed by giant competitors, and that eventually ground down even the strongest members.
Today Connected Devices is no more. I feel a strange feeling, like learning a close relative that has been sick for a long time has passed away. There’s both sadness and relief.
I’m a different person than I was the first day I walked into that shiny orange office in London, giddy with excitement. I’ve travelled to parts of the world I never thought I’d see and worked alongside some of the best.
I gave Mozilla everything I had. I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone several times, which forces growth, but takes its toll on relationships.
I’m about to turn thirty. It’s a good time for me to take a step back and decide what I want to achieve in the next few years.