Apr 032015

It was nine years ago today that I joined Mozilla as a senior technical writer. I was hired by Mike Shaver and Deb Richardson to help try to keep up with the pace of progress and to work on organizing and cleaning up older content as well. I actually started working the last few days of March, but my first official day (that is to say, the first day I was paid for) was April 3, 2006.

My daughter wasn’t even a year old yet then. Now she’s almost finished with the fourth grade.

We were deep into the documentation process for Firefox 2.0 back then (not to mention trying to finish bits and pieces of critical documentation for Firefox 1.5, which shipped months earlier). It shipped a few months after my joining the company, and was the first release we generally felt was completely documented (for a slightly flexible definition of “completely”).

A lot has changed over those nine years. Back then, Deb and I were the entire writing staff; we had some contributors but not nearly enough. Then Deb moved onward and upward into other awesome things and it was just me for a while. But eventually we started hiring more writers, thankfully, and we wound up with the kick-ass staff we have today. And as we built up our staff, we learned more about community building, and our community of volunteer writers and contributors has grown at an ever-increasing rate.

This is far and away the longest I’ve spent at any job. It’s a great deal of fun, even when I’m stressing out over all the stuff I wish I had time to write about but don’t. Making the world a better place to be a Web developer is a rewarding career path, and I’m glad Dave Miller steered me into the Mozilla community.

 Posted by at 11:00 AM
Nov 042014

I love working at Mozilla.

I love the rapid progress we’re making in building a better Web for the future. I love that the documentation I help to produce makes it possible not only for current experts to use technology to create new things, but for kids to turn into the experts of the future. I love that, as I describe what I do to children, I teach programmers how to program new things.

I love the amazing amount of stuff there is to work on. I love the variety and the fun assortment of things to choose from as I look for the next thing to write about.

I love working in an organization where individual achievement can be had while at the same time being a team player, striving not to rake in dollars for the company, but to make the world a better place through technology and knowledge exchange.

It’s frustrating how fast things are changing. It’s frustrating to finish documentation for a technology only to almost immediately discover that this technology is about to be deprecated. It’s frustrating to know that the software and APIs we create can be used by bad people to do bad things if we make mistakes. It’s frustrating that my job keeps me from having as much free time as I’d like to have to work on my own projects.

It’s frustrating that I’m constantly on the brink of being totally overwhelmed by the frighteningly long list of things that need to be done. It’s frustrating knowing that my priorities will change before the end of each day. It’s frustrating how often something newly urgent comes up that needs to be dealt with right away.

It’s frustrating that no matter how hard I try, there are always people I’m never quite able to reach, or whom I simply can’t interface with for some reason.

There’s a lot to be frustrated about as a Mozillian. But being part of this wild, crazy adventure in software engineering (or, in my case, developer documentation) is (so far, at least!) worth the frustration.

I love being a Mozillian.

 Posted by at 12:50 AM
Apr 062014

First, let’s start with this: if you want to know what’s really been happening at Mozilla, you should read this blog post, written by a fellow Mozilla Corporation employee. It’s got details from staff meetings, internal discussions, public meetings, and more, and it’s the most accurate representation of the truth of the past two weeks you’ll find anywhere.

Next, let’s recall my previous post, and I will re-iterate that I strongly favor the nationwide legalization of gay marriage, and that I disagree with Brendan on this issue (while also strongly defending his right to hold his opinion as long as he keeps it out of Mozilla business, which he always did).

Now, let’s get into what I personally want to say about the last few days.

In March of 2006, I was the father of a baby girl less than a year old, and had just been let go by my employer—a game development company in Southern California, for whom I was doing Mac programming. Despite a previous arrangement, they decided they wanted me to relocate, which I wasn’t interested in doing. So we parted ways. My old friend David Miller had been working at Mozilla on the Bugzilla project (and doing IT work) for a while, and he suggested I apply for a job as a Mac programmer at Mozilla Corporation.

When Mozilla got wind that I had spent years as a technical writer, I found myself instead interviewing for a job on the developer relations team as a writer for the Mozilla Developer Center site. On April 3, 2006, I started working for Mike Shaver, alongside Deb Richardson, as a technical writer.

I joined Mozilla as someone that didn’t use Firefox. Heck, I didn’t even like Firefox. I also didn’t give a rat’s ass about open source software; indeed, I generally looked down on it across the board as inherently inferior.

I would never have dreamed that someday I would consider myself part of a “community” of Mozilla users. I was not someone that would be a Mozillian. I walked the walk and acted the part, generally, but if you read through my early blog posts, you’ll find clues that I was just in it for the paycheck.

Fast forward to March of 2014. I’m days shy of my eighth anniversary as a Mozilla employee, and I find myself a changed person. I’m an ardent fan of Mozilla and its mission. It’s important to me. It means something to me. It’s part of who I am. I feel every sting when something goes wrong, and exalt in every win Firefox and Mozilla achieves.

I’m not blindly faithful, no. I have my doubts now and again, about specific initiatives or projects, and goodness knows I’m not afraid to say so. I have a well-earned reputation as a bit of a complainer. When I’m troubled, I tend to say so (usually at length). But Mozilla’s mission is my mission: to bring the open Web to everyone, to do it well, and to be sure that everyone knows how to build upon its potential.

I’ll admit: when Brendan was selected as CEO, I was surprised. I had been quite certain that Jay Sullivan would become our permanent CEO, after a long and successful “interim CEO” run. When Brendan was announced, I was somewhat puzzled. Not because of his political beliefs, but because Jay was already in place, doing a good job, and had long experience in more “business management” roles, rather than just “project management” roles.

But I quickly got behind Brendan. As a technical wizard and cofounder of Mozilla (having saved the Mozilla project form the dying embers of what was left of Netscape within the AOL behemoth), Brendan knew and loved the project more than anyone else. Who better than to lead us into the technical challenges that lie ahead? With Li Gong as our new COO to help him, we were in great hands.

Then everything went straight to hell in the media. Taking bits of reality (yes, Brendan donated in favor of Prop. 8, and yes, he didn’t apologize for doing so, and yes, a scant handful of employees tweeted that they wanted him to resign), the press and social media turned reality into some kind of hyper-reality, in which a few basic facts were tossed into a blender with a healthy dose of bullshit and a little wishful thinking on their part.

Soon, we were in the midst of a crisis, with the voices of reason so overwhelmed by outright nonsense that they couldn’t be heard. Several of us tried. We failed. Brendan, overwhelmed by the waves of negative press and outright hate mail he was getting, gave up and resigned. The mob won, and Mozilla lost its founding father.

The press (including the Wall Street Journal) is reporting that Brendan was pushed out by the board. This is not true. Mozilla’s board of directors begged and pleaded for him to stay with us in some capacity. He declined.

Let’s be clear: Brendan Eich left Mozilla because a virtual mob got whipped up into a frenzy and harassed him and Mozilla until he felt the best way to serve Mozilla was to leave. Brendan quit his job because he felt that leaving the organization he loved was better than watching it be dragged down into a cesspool of bullshit.

This situation arose because one man—a key member of Mozilla’s technology team and its community as a whole—exercised his legal civil right to donate money to an unpopular cause (and one that is now, thankfully, a lost cause). That’s the real tragedy here.

But we’ll figure out how to move on. We will mourn for a time. We will do some soul-searching. And then we will get our hands firmly planted back onto the tiller, tack into the wind, and continue our journey. Because we are Mozilla.

Updated at 3:53 PM EDT on April 6, 2014: I got a couple of corrections recommended to me by email, so I applied them above. My apologies for overstating a couple of points in my 3 AM drama mode.

 Posted by at 1:35 AM
Mar 292014

There’s been something of an uproar over Brendan Eich’s promotion to the role of CEO of Mozilla Corporation due to the fact that many years ago, he donated money to support Proposition 8 in California. I’m not going to link to any of the blog posts, tweets, or news stories about this, since I don’t really want to give more traffic to rumormongers, especially since a lot of the stories are mostly speculation.

Since I work for Mozilla, I obviously have opinions on this. I’m going to share them, but first I’m going to be sure to point out what I’m not:

  • I’ve never reported to Brendan either directly or indirectly.
  • I’m not gay, so his opinions in the area don’t directly affect me.

With that out of the way, let me say this: in the more than eight years I’ve worked at Mozilla, I’ve never known Brendan to treat anyone differently based on their gender, sexual orientation, color, religion, eye color, height, weight, or anything else (sorry for being slightly flippant there; it’s how I handle this stuff).

I felt then, and feel now, that Prop 8 is a mistake, is unconstitutional, and is a moral catastrophe. Freedom to marry the consenting adult of your dreams is a core human right and should be protected as such. Now with my feelings on the matter exposed, let’s press on.

While I, too, would like him to make a statement clarifying things further, I also don’t think it’s any of my business. As long as Brendan’s feelings don’t impact his work functions, I honestly don’t care what he thinks. As far as I can tell, all he cares about is whether or not you can deliver the goods when you’re working on the project. That’s all that matters to me.

He can be cranky and dismissive at times when he thinks you’re wrong (or less right than he is), but everyone can be that way (I know I can). Whatever his personal feelings are on gay marriage (or homosexuality in general, or anything else), Brendan is a brilliant developer and manager, a great leader, and an avid supporter of open source software and of the free and open Web. In those respects, he’s the best possible person for the job of CEO of Mozilla.

Mozillians are a diverse community. Brendan knows that; he’s known that since he first helped create Mozilla a decade and a half ago. He’s never once been involved in controversy related to that diversity; becoming CEO doesn’t, I think, make him any more likely to be so.

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and get back to rockin’ the open Web.

 Posted by at 4:04 AM
Feb 212014

The most important rule of contributing to the developer documentation on MDN is this:

Don’t be afraid to contribute, even if you can’t write well and can’t make it beautiful. It’s easier for the writing team to clean up information written by true experts than it is to become experts ourselves.

Seriously. There aren’t that many of us on the writing team, even including our awesome non-staff contributors. We sadly don’t have enough time to become experts at all the things that need to be documented on MDN.

Even if all you do is copy your notes onto a page on MDN and click “Save,” that’s a huge help for us. Even pasting raw text into the wiki is better than not helping at all. Honest!

We’ll review your contribution and fix everything, including:

  • Grammar; you don’t have to have perfect (or even good) writing skills—that’s what the writing team is here for!
  • Style; we’ll make sure the content matches the MDN style guide.
  • Organization; we’ll move your content, if appropriate, so that it’s in the right place on the site.
  • Cross-linking; we’ll add links to other related content.
  • Structure and frills; we’ll ensure that the layout and structure of your article is consistent, and that it uses any advanced wiki features that can help get the point across (such as live samples and macros).

It’s not your job to make awesome documentation. That’s our job. So don’t let fear of prevent you from sharing what you know.

 Posted by at 10:15 AM
Jan 062014

Getting back to work after a long break is always odd. It’s especially strange this time, since all of Mozilla was closed for two weeks. Takes a while to get a big ship moving again after being in dry dock for a while.

Looking forward to a very crazy busy and productive month: a couple weeks of catch-up work and work on the MDN user guide materials, then on-site writer staff meetup for 2014 planning (I expect to do some video meetings too, for community involvement). Then a couple days visiting family before returning to the SF office to hang with a multi-team dev work week for a couple days, to give insights on the writing process and ways devs can help make docs processes go better.

My personal goals for MDN, content-wise, for the coming year revolve largely around ease-of-use: improving documentation about how to use MDN, guiding the development team toward making MDN easier to use, fixing site organization problems, and encouraging more developers and development teams to be more actively engaged with the documentation process.

I also hope to do more blogging about working in documentation as a field, how to be a technical writer, and the like. I feel that I have insights there that might be useful, and that I should try to share them.

It’s going to be a great year for MDN — I fully expect that people are going to be really impressed with, and excited by, all the improvements we’ll continue to make over the coming months.

On a personal note, my ability to get back up to speed is being seriously impacted by my being at a high point in my pain cycle. It also doesn’t help that my pain goes up faster the more I type. Next week, I will be seeing an orthopedic surgeon to investigate the possibility of a structural problem of some kind in my shoulder. That would be lovely, to have that on top of the existing nervous system problems, but it would at least be something that can probably be fixed!


 Posted by at 1:25 PM
Dec 132013

We’ve pushed a number of updates to Kuma (the software that powers the MDN web site) lately. Here are a few of the more interesting changes:

  • Our redesigned user experience has launched! Key features include a new, more attractive look and feel, sidebar navigation in several areas of the site to help you get around specific APIs and technology areas, and more.
  • A new search engine is in place, which not only searches better, but provides filters to let you narrow down your search more easily.
  • Pages’ tables of contents no longer have numbers next to each item, and items are indented by heading level. This will make the TOCs much more readable.
  • A bug causing menus to be cut off on mobile devices has been fixed.
  • A bug causing horizontal scrolling on mobile devices has been fixed.
  • The initialization of “Tabzilla” (the unified Mozilla tab at the top of the page) is now done in a different place, which will improve page load performance.
  • We’ve removed some unused CSS and JavaScript, which hopefully will help load times a little bit.
  • The “Interested in reading this offline” link that took you to a page suggesting you download some apps that just provide a different way to read MDN has been removed. This was an experiment that somehow never ended.
  • When editing profiles, the correct email address is now displayed.
  • Several legacy files have been removed.

There’s a ton of nice improvements! The team will be focusing on fixing performance issues for the next few weeks. Other stuff will be happening too, but we’re going to make a big push to try to improve our load times.

 Posted by at 5:15 PM