Aug 182020

By now, most folks have heard about Mozilla’s recent layoff of about 250 of its employees. It’s also fairly well known that the entire MDN Web Docs content team was let go, aside from our direct manager, the eminently-qualified and truly excellent Chris Mills. That, sadly, includes myself.

Yes, after nearly 14½ years writing web developer documentation for MDN, I am moving on to new things. I don’t know yet what those new things are, but the options are plentiful and I’m certain I’ll land somewhere great soon.

Winding down

But it’s weird. I’ve spent over half my career as a technical writer at Mozilla. When I started, we were near the end of documenting Firefox 1.5, whose feature features (sorry) were the exciting new <canvas> element and CSS improvements including CSS columns. A couple of weeks ago, I finished writing my portions of the documentation for Firefox 80, for which I wrote about changes to WebRTC and Web Audio, as well as the Media Source API.

Indeed, in my winding-down days, when I’m no longer assigned specific work to do, I find myself furiously writing as much new material as I can for the WebRTC documentation, because I think it’s important, and there are just enough holes in the docs as it stands to make life frustrating for newcomers to the technology. I won’t be able to fix them all before I’m gone, but I’ll do what I can.

Because that’s how I roll. I love writing developer documentation, especially for technologies for which no documentation yet exists. It’s what I do. Digging into a technology and coding and debugging and re-coding (and cursing and swearing a bit, perhaps) until I have working code that ensures that I understand what I’m going to write about is a blast! Using that code, and what I learned while creating it, to create documentation to help developers avoid at least some of the debugging (and cursing and swearing a bit, perhaps) that I had to go through.

The thrill of creation is only outweighed by the deep-down satisfaction that comes from knowing that what you’ve produced will help others do what they need to do faster, more efficiently, and—possibly most importantly—better.

That’s the dream.

Wrapping up

Anyway, I will miss Mozilla terribly; it was a truly wonderful place to work. I’ll miss working on MDN content every day; it was my life from the day I joined as the sole full-time writer, through the hiring and departure of several other writers, until the end.

First, let me thank the volunteer community of writers, editors, and translators who’ve worked on MDN in the past—and who I hope will continue to do so going forward. We need you more than ever now!

Jean-Luc Picard demonstrates the facepalm

Me, if I’ve forgotten to mention anyone.

Then there are our staff writers, both past and present. Jean-Yves Perrier left the team a long while ago, but he was a fantastic colleague and a great guy. Jérémie Pattonier was a blast to work with and a great asset to our team. Paul Rouget, too, was a great contributor and a great person to work with (until he moved on to engineering roles; then he became a great person to get key information from, because he was so easy to engage with).

Chris Mills, our amazing documentation team manager and fabulous writer in his own right, will be remaining at Mozilla, and hopefully will find ways to make MDN stay on top of the heap. I’m rooting for you, Chris!

Florian Scholz, our content lead and the youngest member of our team (a combination that tells you how amazing he is) was a fantastic contributor from his school days onward, and I was thrilled to have him join our staff. I’m exceptionally proud of his success at MDN.

Janet Swisher, who managed our community as well as writing documentation, may have been the rock of our team. She’s been a steadfast and reliable colleague and a fantastic source of advice and ideas. She kept us on track a lot of times when we could have veered sharply off the rails and over a cliff.

Will Bamberg has never been afraid to take on a big project. From developer tools to browser extensions to designing our new documentation platform, I’ve always been amazed by his focus and his ability to do big things well.

Thank you all for the hard work, the brilliant ideas, and the devotion to making the web better by teaching developers to create better sites. We made the world a little better for everyone in it, and I’m very, very proud of all of us.

Farewell, my friends.

 Posted by at 1:10 PM
Apr 142020

First, let’s get the most important part out of the way: I hope you and yours are faring as well as possible during these difficult times. Though much of what’s happening was inescapable, enough mistakes were made that we find ourselves in an essentially generation-defining crisis. This is the time my daughter will point at and tell her kids, “You think you have it rough? Back in my day…”

Please do everything you can to contain the spread of COVID-19. Stay home to the greatest possible extent.Don’t have visitors, or go out visiting others, and if you must interact with other people, stay as far apart as can be managed—at least six feet—and don’t allow your hands or face to come into contact with anything that others have touched. And, of course, wash those hands. A lot.

Surprisingly okay

Generally speaking, I’ve been getting along surprisingly well during all this. I’ve been working primarily from home for over 20 years, and due to my previously-mentioned medical issues, I’ve not been driving for a couple of years now, so I’m mostly at home now, too. So the direct changes to my personal existence are pretty minimal. It mostly comes down to increasing challenges in getting things I want or need, with the much more complicated shopping for my wife (who has always been a total rock star when it comes to compensating for the drop in my contributions to keeping our family running) and the difficulties in getting deliveries of even basic grocery items.

But generally, I keep on keeping on.

My wife is obviously stressed a bit, between having my daughter home all the time and the much-increased demand on her for errands and so forth. She took a couple days to go chill out at a home my in-laws have up in the mountains, because she needed a well-deserved break, but she’s back at it now.

Sophie, my daughter, is stir crazy as all get out. Given that her favorite pastime is lying flopped across her bed texting with her friends, you’d think that she’d be happy as can be, but apparently it’s different when you have basically no choice. She’s got remote learning to do through the school, which is great, but she’s not keeping on top of it well, and her grades are not as good as they should be. She’s at an age where it’s difficult for us to manage her schoolwork, especially since we don’t always know what she needs to be doing.

On top of all that, she misses her friends. Yeah, mostly they interact virtually these days, but the times when they do get together in real life apparently were still key to her well-being.

Life these days would be a fascinating social experiment if not for the horrible human toll it takes…

We’re all fine down here. How are you?

So, my family is okay, for the most part. And my work is going along largely the same as always, other than the understandable slowdown due to just… processing what’s going on in the wider world around me. You can’t go along unaffected by the dreadfulness of it all.

If, like me, you’re soldiering on at home… but, unlike me, doing it for the first time or for the first extended stretch of time, welcome to the family of home working! I hope you’ve adapted well to it. It does take getting used to, especially if you’re someone who either enjoys lots of direct human interaction or finds it necessary for business reasons. There’s not much I can do about the “direct” part there.

But working at home isn’t so bad. Ideally, you already have a home office or den you can work in. If not, do what you can to find a good spot away from the main flow of your household action in which you can sequester yourself to work. Working while family things go on around you is not easy to do, even when you have years of home working experience. Fortunately, it shouldn’t be too hard to adjust to with a little effort.

I could sit here and type out a long post with all the suggestions in the world for how to properly work from home, but here’s the thing: I can’t tell you that. Everyone has their own needs and preferences. Some people need to feel like they’re in the middle of some action to slip into the zone. Other people need silence, with no distractions. Do you need music? Office noises? Standing or sitting? Desk or sofa?

These are decisions that, really, only you can make. I guess I’m left with only three pieces of advice I’m comfortable offering.

First, find what works for you. Experiment. Don’t let anyone dictate how you should work at home, when they aren’t you. If setting up your work space at home to be as close as possible to your desk at work makes you the most comfortable and productive you can be, then that’s your answer. On the other hand, if you find that enveloping yourself in whatever chaos might be going on around you at home is somehow comforting and helps you get things done, then by all means, go with it.

Second, if you feel like the way your household operates conflicts with your typical daily work hours, try talking to your manager or supervisor about amending your work schedule. If you need to take shifts supervising your kids’ remote learning each day, try to work with your employer to arrange to swap out those hours for some other hours during the week. Start work early or work late in order to have that time in the afternoon or morning for your kids. Or put in a few hours on Saturday. Find ways to alter your work schedule to fit in better with working at home.

Third, set up a back channel for chatting with your coworkers. This can be a chat room on your service of choice, or a video channel people can just drop into and out of to chitchat in the kind of way people in an office do over the cubicle walls or when bumping into each other at the coffee machine. This is especially useful if your company already has remote workers you can talk to and get insights and support from. Indeed, odds are good they already have a place for talking about the remote experience at your company.

Flexibility is key when working from home. Ideally, both your home and your work are willing to make adjustments to let you do your best possible work while keeping your home life intact.

Stay home and stay safe

These days, the best thing you can do to slow the spread of COVID-19 until a vaccine can be found is to stay at home. Hopefully with a little effort, patience, and flexibility, you’ll find a comfortable way to do so.

Take care, and stay away from me. I don’t know where you’ve been. ?

 Posted by at 12:19 PM