My journey to Mozilla
Last November I left my role at the Financial Times and began a new chapter at Mozilla. I’m now over six months into the experience, and only now does it feel like the dust is finally beginning to settle.
I was in a point in my career where I was looking for my next challenge, and being part of building an operating system purely out of web technologies sounded enormously exciting! I managed to get in contact with a Mozilla recruiter, and this lead to my first interview.
The process was drawn out. I had five remote interviews with managers and developers from across the Firefox OS project. I’m petrified of technical interviews, I’m rubbish at them. I’m fine having a conversation and discussing approaches, but when it comes to actual coding, I seize up. I feel like I’m being told to defuse a bomb with a gun to my head. Fortunately for me, Mozilla was different.
Interviewers seemed more interested in whether I was the right ‘cultural fit’ for the company. Sure, I got asked plenty of technical questions, but it never felt like an exam or a test. Several interviewers had already seen my GitHub profile and could see that I could code, so perhaps that helped.
Sometimes several weeks went past between interviews and I was sure that I’d screwed up, but after some chasing, I found out this was normal. I eventually got word that I’d made it through to the final ‘on site’. This was in the rather swanky Mozilla Paris HQ, and consisted of three face-to-face interviews with engineers working on Firefox OS.
I was scared, but again I remember the experience being laid-back and friendly. All the questions were practical (not made up puzzles) and I felt comfortably experienced to answer most things confidently. There was the occasional technical question that I didn’t quite understand, for those I was just honest and said “I don’t know”.
It was another few weeks of silence before I heard the news that I had been accepted.
It was a fantastic start to my new employment, I’d never been to San-Francisco before, and quite frankly didn’t know all that much about Mozilla. I had three weeks to absorb as much as I could before I flew back to UK to go it alone.
Something was different at Mozilla. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it; it felt like we were a group of excitable children with no parents to tell us ‘no’. There was an overarching sense of humor, but also kindness and responsibility that seemed to find its way into everything. It was in this first week that I realised why ‘culture fit’ was such an important part of the interview process.
From day one there is an overwhelming stream of information that hits you from all angles, at all hours of the day; people call this ‘The Mozilla Firehose’. It comes in the form email, IRC, video conferencing, wikis, blog posts, Yammer posts, presentations, conferences. You can’t turn it off, and you can’t digest it all.
Everyone seems to have there own way of managing the ‘firehose’. My strategy was to block out as much as I could, stay focused, and then gradually over time, take on more and more when I felt comfortable.
I was/am the only member of my team working out of Europe, all my other team members were eight hours behind me on Pacific time. My manager was initially concerned about this, but I assured her it wouldn’t be a problem. This remained in the back of my mind for the first few months, and lead to me working ludicrously late, just to stay in sync with the US.
This proved unsustainable. The pressure of a new job is bad enough, but lack of sleep and long hours made things worse. I had only myself to blame, but I still felt I had something to prove. I was on a mission to re-assure my manager and colleagues that they had made the right decision hiring me.
I was approaching burnout and needed to do something about it. My colleague Anthony, was fantastic; he recognised and stepped in to advise me on how best to manage my time to avoid this happening again. But in all honesty, I only truly relaxed once I received enough indications from my manager that she was happy with my progress.
At Mozilla travel is trivial. Employees are constantly flying between offices for work weeks, conferences and meetings. On my return from the Christmas break I opened my email to find that I would be flying to Taipei in just over a week to meet with a company that would partner with us on the new camera app.
This was then shortly followed-up with a another trip to Korea for an intense camera work week. It was really exciting to be able to visit countries that I’d never seen before as part of my work.
Although, like I’ve heard from many others, travel isn’t always as glamorous as it appears. I personally found all three trips very lonely at times, exotic places aren’t half as much fun when you don’t have anyone to share them with. Asia especially, is so different it’s easy to feel alien. I’m not saying I regret any of the travel, it’s just something that suprised me at times.
Mozilla employees are remote by default. If you happen to live near an office you are welcome to a desk. I have a desk in the Mozilla London office, but the rest of the Media team are scattered around the world.
Like most, I have a combination of working from home and from the office. Working from home avoids the commute, giving me a couple of extra hours in my day, but can get claustrophobic; a few days a week in the office helps to balance this.
The most exciting thing is that my job now doesn’t tie my to a location. I could pack my bags and go live anywhere in the world and it wouldn’t change my working life. As it happens I kinda like London, but the feeling of choice and freedom is special.
What I’ve learnt
The journey so far has been fantastic; everyday I’m meeting new people and learning new things. It’s scary to dive into something new, but it’s very rare that you’ll regret it. I saw this opportunity, and chased it with everything I had.
I constantly fear I’m punching above my weight; not good enough to work here. Even if that is true, ability is contagious. Surround yourself with talented people and learn from the best!