Author Archives: David Tenser

User Success – We’re hiring!

Just a quick +1 to Roland’s plug for the Senior Firefox Community Support Lead:

  • Ever loved a piece of software so much that you learned everything you
    could about it and helped others with it?
  • Ever coordinated an online community? Especially one around supporting users?
  • Ever measured and tweaked a website’s content so that more folks could find it and learn from it?

Got 2 out of 3 of the above?

Then work with me (since Firefox works closely with my area: Firefox for Android and in the future iOS via cloud services like Sync) and the rest of my colleagues on the fab Mozilla User Success team (especially my fantastic Firefox savvy colleagues over at User Advocacy).

And super extra bonus: you’ll also work with our fantastic community like all Mozilla employees AND Firefox product management, marketing and engineering.

Take a brief detour and head over to Roland’s blog to get a sense of one of the awesome people you’d get to work closely with in this exciting role (trust me, you’ll want to work with Roland!). After that, I hope you know what to do! :)

User Success in 2015 – Part 1: More than SUMO

Once again, happy belated 2015 – this time wearing a slightly different but equally awesome hat! In this series of blog posts, I’m going to set the stage for User Success in 2015 and beyond. Let’s start with a couple of quick clarifications:

  • SUMO = support.mozilla.org
  • SUMO != User Success

SUMO has come to mean a number of things over the years: a team, a support website, an underlying web platform, and/or a vibrant community. Within the team, we think of SUMO as the online support website itself, support.mozilla.org, including its contents. And then the amazing community of both volunteers and paid staff helping our users is simply called the SUMO community. But we don’t refer to SUMO as the name of a team, because what we do together goes beyond SUMO.

Crucially, SUMO is a subset of User Success, which consists of a number of teams and initiatives with a shared mission to make our users more successful with our products.  User Success is not just our fabulous website which millions of users and many, many volunteers help out with. User Success is both proactive and reactive, as illustrated in this hilariously exciting collection of circles in circles:

SUMO Support Model

Our job starts as soon as somebody starts using one of our products (Firefox, Firefox for Android, Firefox OS and more). Sometimes a user has an issue and goes to our website to look for a solution. Our job is then to make sure that user leaves our website with an answer to their question. But our job doesn’t stop there – we also need to make sure that engineers and product leads are aware of the top issues so they can solve the root cause of the issue in the product itself, leading to many more satisfied users.

Other times a user might just want to leave some feedback about their experience on input.mozilla.org. Our job is then to make sure that this feedback is delivered to our product and engineering teams in an aggregated and actionable way that enables them to make the right priorities about what goes into the future versions of the product.

The proactive side of User Success consists of:

  • User Advocacy – A team looking at all our user interaction points, from support, social media, telemetry and other data to better understand what our users need so we can then help engineering with getting bugs fixed, eliminating the need for reactive support for these issues in the future.
  • Education – This includes things like our in-product information, tutorials, how-to’s, and other Engagement content we collaborate with other teams to create).
  • Self Service – This includes our vast knowledge base of solutions to common problems users experience when using our products.

The reactive side of User Success consists of:

  • Community Support – Our forums, the Army of Awesome on Twitter.
  • Helpdesk – Paid staff looking at issues that others aren’t able to answer.

When you add up our reactive and proactive initiatives, you get the complete equation for User Success, and that’s what I’ve been calling my team at Mozilla since 2014.

Next up: User Success in 2015 – Part 2: What are we doing this year? (Will update this post with a link once that post is published.)

Brace for impact (in a good way!)

Happy belated new year! And what a year this will be for Mozilla. I’ll talk about 2015 in a bit, but I want to start with some context to make it clearer why this will be the year where we brace for impact, and how a new team I’m helping get off the ground will be at the center of the action.

Let’s be frank here: over the last few years, Mozilla has gradually shifted its culture into becoming an organization where it’s harder to contribute as a volunteer. There are many reasons why this is the case, such as the fact that we 10x the number of paid staff over the course of just seven years. Rapid growth like that tends to shift the culture of an org like that and Mozilla is no different. And as volunteer participation becomes harder, so does the perception of working with volunteers change among paid staff. It becomes a vicious circle that can be hard to stop.

To put things in context, by any objective standard Mozilla is still one of the (if not the most) open, transparent and collaborative organizations in the world — but it’s no longer as obvious to an “outsider” trying to identify opportunities to have an impact where to start. And that’s what makes me so excited about 2015, because we’re going to do some pretty radical things to shift that culture around and put a clear focus around Participation to turn the vicious circle into a virtuous circle instead.

Mozilla used to have two separate community teams: one focusing internally on working with business units within MoCo to open up opportunities for volunteer participation to happen — “designing for participation”. And then another team that focused on growing healthy local volunteer communities and ensuring that there was a robust governance structure to hold these volunteer communities together. Focusing on these two aspects of participation is crucial because it definitely takes two to tango. However, in order to maximize impact, the two aspects need to get really close to each other:

  • You can spend a lot of time and effort into teaching business units how to design for participation, but if you don’t have a connection with the volunteer communities around the world, it’s mostly just theory.
  • Similarly, you can spend a lot of time and effort into building a perfect community leadership and governance structure, but if you don’t guide that community towards the projects that are in most need of help, you’re not maximizing impact.

That’s where 2015 comes in. I’m devoting part of my time to lead a newly formed team called the Community Development Team, sitting in the new Participation org at Mozilla and consisting of truly amazing people who will focus on two things at the same time: maximizing impact for our volunteer leadership on the ground (Reps, regional communities) and connecting that with our product teams within the org. It’s worth noting that there are lots of people and teams across the org where community is already a core part of what they do. This includes teams like QA, SUMO, MDN, QA, l10n, Webmaker, Community Marketing, etc. That’s a key reason why Mozilla has been so successful over the years. The Community Development team will focus on broadening this success across the org by helping more projects and teams reach the level of success that these prime examples already demonstrate. And that may also mean working directly with these already very participatory teams to amplify their efforts even more.

Our team goal is pretty simple: we will help key initiatives achieve more, move faster and better meet Mozilla’s core goals by helping them integrate new participatory approaches and by investing in volunteer skills and know how. We’ve set a 2015 goal to get at least 15 projects that meet this criteria of the virtuous circle.

How is it different from how we’ve done things in the past? The key change is a new center of gravity: acting as a liaison between product teams and volunteer leadership on the ground. In a nutshell, we’ll be holding business units and product teams with one hand, and our amazing volunteer leadership in the other hand, and we’ll make sure these two connect in a meaningful way that benefits both.

Our basic strategy is built around certain theories and hypotheses of what constitutes successful participation that we intend to test out. The formula looks like this:

  1. Define a set of theories of what constitutes successful participation.
  2. Work with business units within the org to identify opportunities where we can put these theories to the test on projects that serve our mission.
  3. Connect the people behind these projects with our volunteer leadership in ways that provide benefits both to our products and to our community.
  4. Evaluate and learn from the results of these experiences to further refine our theories.
  5. True success happens when both volunteers and business units benefit from the collaboration to ensure lasting connections. Volunteer benefit might be to grow new business skills or the satisfaction of making a real difference to products touching hundreds of millions of users globally. Business unit benefit might simply be more reach and the ability to punch above their weight. This virtuous circle of benefit on both sides is what we really mean with “impact”.

The theory part is crucial here: we’re taking a scientific approach to participation, where everything we do to enable impact in the organization is also seen as an opportunity to validate our theories. Some of the great people on the Community Development team will get into more specifics around what those theories are in upcoming blog posts, and I will update this blog post when their posts are up. For now, I wanted to just present everyone on the team:

  • William Quiviger – strategic lead
  • Rosana Ardila – Reps program manager
  • Brian King – Regional community manager, EMEA
  • Gen Kanai – Regional community manager, South East Asia
  • Guillermo Movia – Regional community manager, South America
  • Pierros Papadeas – Participation infrastructure lead
  • Emma Irwin – Education project manager
  • Rubén Martín (aka Nukeador) – Reps community manager
  • Konstantina Papadea – Reps program coordinator
  • Anastasios (Tasos) Katsulas – Participation Infrastructure Dev
  • John (Nemo) Giannelos – Participation Infrastructure Dev
  • Nikos Roussos – Participation Infrastructure Dev

Mitchell Baker and Mark Surman are also heavily involved in our efforts around Participation. In fact, they are the instigators and I consider them my part-time bosses. Mark recently wrote about his thoughts on the Participation plan, which provides more depth to the concept of the virtuous circle of impact both in our volunteer communities and in our business units.

On a more personal note, in addition to the exciting work around Participation, I continue to lead the User Success team (SUMO + User Advocacy + more) as well and I will blog more about the exciting stuff we’re doing there in a future blog post. Reflecting on my own journey at Mozilla, starting as a volunteer back in 2001, seeing a leadership opportunity in 2002 to develop the first support site for Firefox (then Phoenix), building up a new community support initiative called SUMO in 2007, and today seeing how it has become a movement of hundreds of contributors in any given month, it feels like I’m going full circle by joining the new Participation initiatives. The focus is once more on volunteer leadership, meaningful connections with our organizational goals and key initiatives, and a goal to maximize impact by working together.

What’s next?

If you’re a manager of a product or functional team, expect to hear from us as we being the discovery phase in the next couple of weeks to better understand the participation opportunities we have in front of us. If you’re impatiently waiting for us and have ideas already of where you need help with expanding your reach through our amazing community, please beat us to it and reach out!

If you’re a volunteer participant to the Mozilla project, there are two things I’d like to see happen. First off, I expect that our efforts in the Community Development team to meet with various business units at Mozilla to lead to new and meaningful ways where you could have a direct impact on the products that we build to serve our mission, either locally or globally. And second, I would be thrilled to hear from you about your personal journey so far and what you have learned and what things you’d like to see change around Participation at Mozilla. Ping me (djst on IRC, djst on Mozilla’s email, djst on Twitter) and let’s talk. I hope to be having lots of conversations with people across the world in the next month to learn more about the opportunities we have in front of us.

Leadership: striking a balance between runway and horizon

Inspired by the LEAD leadership training last year with Mozilla, I’m writing this blog post to share a snapshot of where I am in my leadership journey today. I believe that true learning doesn’t begin until you share, since that’s how you get to validate your observations and see if your reflections hold any value.

One thing I got familiar with last year is the concept of the runway and the horizon — and more importantly, I learned that you can’t have both as your team grows bigger. First, let me explain the concept.

Things like looking after your team, ensuring that everyone is on a growth path and that they’re happy, stimulated, motivated, and that you’re delivering on all of your team’s objectives and projects — that’s the runway. In contrast, meetings with stakeholders, forming healthy alliances with key players in and outside of the org, getting yourself some solid mentors and using all you learn from them to influence your team’s strategy and success — that’s the horizon. Everyone in every part of an organization typically does a bit of both, and generally speaking, the bigger your individual responsibility, the more you need to focus on the horizon.

Here’s the catch: the more you look up at the horizon, the less you get to look down at the runway. You can’t do both well unless you have a really small team. If your team is large, you have to choose what you want to focus on, and you need help with the parts that you choose to step away from.

Finding the right leadership balance is rarely as simple as the classic rule of third!

I used to be a manager of a handful of extremely creative and hard-working individuals. With a team of that size, things were fairly straightforward and it was relatively easy to keep an eye on both the runway and the horizon. It also helped that Mozilla only had one product at the time. Some people say that there’s a breaking point in terms of the size a team can have before you begin to fail to manage it reasonably well on your own. This breaking point is often said to be around 7-8 direct reports; after that point, you begin to compromise on your important responsibilities as a manager and you have to essentially choose between the runway or the horizon — or do a half-assed job with both like I did when I had ten direct reports in 2012. Luckily, all ten were as creative and hard-working as the first handful of people I hired, but it was still too much to manage for one person while at the same time trying to work on strategy.

By the time I had ten direct reports, I found myself unable to do my job well, and this impacted my team, created some conflicts, and probably also led to my team missing opportunities in the org. This was a big cause of stress for me, because I felt like I wasn’t in control of my life. There were things I knew I should be doing that I simply didn’t have time for anymore. I began to realize that I couldn’t handle both the runway and the horizon anymore, so I had to get help to continue to grow the influence and success of my team. The solution was to form another management level in my team to get help with some of the load.

The art of letting go of the runway

This change of structure of my team also changed my own role, because it allowed me to gradually focus more on the horizon and less on the runway. This gradual change is still going on today: as my new managers grow into their new roles, so am I growing into my new role; and vice versa. At first it felt strange — actually a bit empty and saddening — to not have frequent 1:1s with everyone on my team. All of a sudden, I only managed three people directly instead of ten (today that number is up at four again).

It was hard for me to let go of the idea that I need to stay on top of everything that is going on in my team, but I realized that if I tried to do that, I would fail even more to stay on top of what was going on outside of my team. Also, letting go is the only way the people on my teams will be able to continue to grow their own autonomy and influence by being allowed to step up, make mistakes and learn from them.

If I focus less on the runway and more on the horizon, new opportunities arise that would otherwise not happen to the team. And this new focus of mine has the great side-effect that it spills over to the entire team: I’m noticing that everyone in all of my teams is wearing bigger and bigger strategic hats. In short, every single person is increasing their impact in the organization today — the crucial strategic thinking seems to spread like ripples in a pond.

But there is still a balance between the runway and the horizon that I have to strike. I’m still exploring and learning what the right balance is for me. On the one hand, if I focus too much on the horizon, I run the risk of being useless to my team because I’m simply not in the loop on the things that are happening in the teams I’m responsible for. And on the other hand, if I get myself too involved in the projects and people on the teams, I run the risk of missing critical strategic opportunities for my team — and being perceived as a micro-manager! I believe that the right balance for me is to try to do two things well. I’ll share them here because they may be helpful to others, too:

  1. Runway: Grow the leadership of your direct reports by helping them increase their autonomy, accountability, and ability to communicate and coordinate their work with others. Support them when they make mistakes, cheer for them when they succeed. Don’t micro-manage, but try hard to understand most of what they do so you can be supportive and offer support when needed. Be there for them, but stay out of their way. And help them be the same kind of influence to their direct reports so the ripples continue to spread.
  2. Horizon: Devote all of your remaining time on the things that influence your teams indirectly: strategic alliances with other teams, coordinating efforts with stakeholders in the organization, ensuring your teams are where they need to be, looking for opportunities for your teams to increase their impact, staying on top of news and activities related to your area of responsibility. Do everything you can to ensure that your teams make a big difference in the organization.

If you do both of these things well, your teams and the entire organization will benefit. Sounds easy? I’m afraid it’s anything but. This should really be seen as the instruction manual for myself, not me trying to preach to anyone else how to be a great leader. I keep making mistakes almost every day, but I try hard to learn from them — that’s my key, I think, to become a better leader in the future.

Firefox is freedom

Love this quote:

I honestly believe Mozilla is committed to freedom and privacy on the web. Google is committed to making money and knowing everything I do. Firefox greets me with a page explaining my rights as a user of open source software. Chrome greets me with… sigh… Chrome greets me with a fucking advertisement for a Chromebook.

Cameron Paul on Why I’m Switching (Back) to Firefox

If you’re running Windows, Mac, Linux and haven’t used Firefox for a while, it’s time to switch back. And if you have an Android-powered phone, you definitely should check out the best mobile browser, bar none: Firefox for Android.

Bose SoundLink II review – gadget purchases are rarely 100% rational

Bose Soundlink Mobile Speaker II

I’ve went through a somewhat irrational journey last month that started with me completely dismissing the sound quality of the Bose Soundlink Mobile Speaker II — and ended with me shelling out $349 for the premium/leather edition and even starting a Spotify Premium subscription. While my cognitive dissonance is still fading, I thought I’d share the journey in case there are others out there looking for similar audio solutions.

It all started when a friend demoed his Bose SoundDock Portable in his appartment. That’s a relatively small sound dock for the iPhone, but it produced impressively rich sound quality. I already have a pretty sophisticated home cinema system in our living room that I’ve proudly owned for the last ten years, so I consider myself spoiled with very high fidelity audio at home. The only problem is that this system is limited to the living room. I don’t have any reasonable way of playing music anywhere else like the bedroom or in my office — other than cranking up the volume of the home cinema downstairs to insane levels. Seeing and hearing this SoundDock Portable system made me compelled by the basic idea of having a secondary sound system that I could use to enjoy music and radio when I wasn’t in the living room.

Inspired by the SoundDock Portable, I started to look for an equivalent sound system that wasn’t tied to Apple’s proprietary standards but used Bluetooth instead. The two Bluetooth speakers that kept coming up everywhere in online reviews described as the “best” portable speakers were the Bose Soundlink II and the Jawbone BIG Jambox. I read countless of reviews and I really didn’t like that both of these systems seemed to be optimized for size and weight, rather than sound quality. These speakers are actually quite expensive when you consider the limited fidelity they output, but what you’re paying for is the portability factor — including built-in battery, microscopic footprint, and rugged durability. Well, I wasn’t really looking for that at all — I wouldn’t mind a slightly larger system that wasn’t as portable, but was still “carryable” so I could move it across different rooms in our house.

The Samsung DA-E670. Better sound, less portable.

The Samsung DA-E670. Better sound, but less portable.

I then found systems like the Samsung DA-E670, which is in the same price range as the comparatively tiny Bluetooth speakers, but less portable and supposedly higher fidelity. However, the more I looked at those options, the more I started to actually like the idea of ultimate portability. My wife (who is surprisingly supportive when I have an urge to buy new gadgets — maybe because she knows that makes me more forgiving about her own shopping habits?) started to talk about how nice it would be to be able to bring a speaker like this with us on vacations. Also, there was something with the look of the Bose speaker that clicked with me on an emotional level already the first time I saw it — it reminds me of those old radios that people had in their garage or kitchen back in the days.

This isn't a particularly old radio, but it sure is beautiful. (Sony IFC-J40)

This radio isn’t old, but its beauty reminds me of one. (Sony IFC-J40)

So I decided to go to a store and test both the Soundlink II and the BIG Jambox — and I was immediately disappointed with both of them. Just like I had feared, they sounded great for their size, but ultimately nowhere near hifi quality. The salesman was quick to demo a larger machine that only supported Airplay (the Bose SoundLink Air) and it definitely sounded better but was out of question for me since I specifically wanted a Bluetooth speaker (Bluetooth is far more universal than Apple’s proprietary wifi solution and I have no plans to ever buy an iPhone). I got so upset about the fact that it was so hard to find something relatively portable that didn’t sound like crap and wasn’t coupled with Apple’s proprietary solutions that I had to post that rant about bluetooth speakers a month ago.

But even after being disappointed with the Bose Soundlink II in the store, there was still this emotional urge left in me that made me want to give it another try at home. After all, the speaker probably would sound better at home than in the large store where I tried it. And besides, Bose offers you to try their products out at home for 30 days, so I figured I had nothing to lose. So I brought one home and tested it without all the noise in a busy store — and yes, the difference was definitely noticeable, it sounded better. What’s more, when placing it close to a wall in the bedroom and putting on some music at a moderate volume level, the sound quality was what I’d call good enough. I enjoyed discovering new and old music via a trial of Spotify Premium, and after over two hours of listening, the best testament of the sound quality is that I sometimes forgot that I was playing it from a TINY battery-powered bluetooth speaker!

So let’s talk about sound quality. The soundstage is definitely limited/narrow, and just like many other reviews point out, it lacks a bit of clarity in the mids and treble. As I was experimenting with a trial of Spotify Premium for Android, I found that just increasing Spotify’s built-in 5-band equalizer to (0, 0, +1, +1, +1) made the sound just perfect for my taste. That said, I also noticed that the sound quality depends on the device you’re playing from too — if I stream audio from my MacBook Pro, the mids and treble sound clearer than when streaming from my Galaxy Note. Another thing I noticed is that the speaker sounds better if you step back a few meters and let it fill the whole room. If you stand too close to it (e.g. a meter or less), the stereo sound is rather narrow and directed — the sound feels more natural and wide/rich if you take a couple of steps back.

The bass? It’s incredible considering the size of the speaker. If you place it up against a wall, it’s boomy all the way down to around (I’m guessing) 50 Hz, but below that there’s nothing — definitely no subwoofer magic hiding in this book-sized speaker here, but still impressively deep bass. For certain genres like classical music, this speaker can sound almost as good as my home cinema system (though with a much narrower stereo sound). As I was enjoying some scores by Hans Zimmer (Inception movie soundtrack), I even forgot that I was playing it from the same speaker that I completely dismissed when testing it in the store. If you listen to house or pop, it’s easier to tell that compromises had to be made in order to make the speaker this small — but it still sounds good.

Waking up American style: radio and unhealthy but delicious food.

Let’s get real though: although I was never able to actually test the Samsung DA-E670 and similar systems, I’m pretty sure that those sound better than the tiny portable speaker I ended up buying. It’s just that as I went through this research journey, I started to actually like the idea of being able to bring the speaker with me to more places than just between the bedroom and home office. Case in point: I wrote the bulk of this blog post from a hotel room in San Francisco while listening to Swedish podcasts, thousands of miles from home!

As a side note, this speaker is also what made me decide to get Spotify Premium. As I was listening to music when testing this speaker, I started to really see the benefits of having access to almost all the music in the world. It even works while offline since you can use its download feature to store songs and play them when in flight mode. The combination of this Bose speaker and Spotify has changed the way both my wife and I listen to music and podcasts in very real ways. (The only problem is that I now have to come up with a solution for when at the gym, because using an mp3 player with actual mp3s suddenly feels very old and fiddly — does anyone know of a good Android-based music player that is tiny and lightweight?)

Btw, for those interested in the differences between the BIG Jambox and the Bose Soundlink II, my impression in the store was that the Jambox had a more even/flat EQ curve, while the Bose had slightly weaker treble but richer bass. With richer, I don’t just mean louder — the Bose seems capable of reproducing lower frequencies than the Jambox (i.e. like the Bose gets down to 40 Hz and the Jambox only to something like 60 Hz). The Bose sounded slightly better in my ears. The thing to keep in mind is that the slight loss in treble/clarity of the Bose can be fixed with a small tweak of the EQ of your phone/tablet/computer, but you can never get the same deep bass back in the Jambox since the frequency range just isn’t there. So for me, the choice was very simple, especially since the Bose is also about ten times more attractive (in my very subjective opinion).

The bottom line is that there are two ways of describing the Bose Soundlink II: it’s either OUT OF THIS WORLD, if you consider the small size and design of the speaker — or it’s simply “good enough” as a secondary sound system in your house if you close your eyes and judge it based on sound quality alone. Given the added benefit of portability that this form factor enables and the remarkably sleek design, the Bose Soundlink II really deserves the highest marks.

If you’re still not sure why you need this speaker, check out this awesome video that I found as I was downloading the internet to go through all reviews of it (yes, I’m still 100% a nerd in that sense).