Category Archives: software

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.

The mobile web is broken — and Firefox OS will fix it

Ten years ago the web was broken, but Mozilla fixed it with Firefox. Today, the mobile web is just as broken — and Mozilla will fix it again with Firefox OS. Read on to learn how.

Monopolies are bad for customers

A common sight in 2003.

Not everyone has been around long enough to remember it, but the web used to be dominated by a single company that dictated most of its terms. Ten years ago, most dynamic websites were built using ActiveX, a technology developed by Microsoft that only worked in Internet Explorer on Windows due to its close ties with the underlying APIs of the operating system. For customers, this meant that in order to use the (then) modern web, you had to use Internet Explorer 6 — and you had to use Windows. Over time, other technologies like Flash and Shockwave eventually replaced the role of ActiveX, and this opened up interoperability across platforms a little bit since those technologies worked on Mac OS as well, but minority OSes like Linux were still in the dark with either non-existent or obsolete versions of these proprietary technologies.

At Mozilla, we saw these problems and understood the importance of cross-platform interoperability and standards on the web. Standards are good for customers, developers, and the whole industry because they promote freedom, choice, and innovation. In Mozilla’s eyes, having one for-profit company continuing to dictate the terms of the web would lead to a very dark future. So we created Firefox.

Mozilla fixed the desktop web with Firefox

Few people believed back in 2003 that an open source web browser built by a tiny non-profit would stand a chance to beat a giant like Microsoft at its own game. The odds were certainly against us — Microsoft’s combined market share exceeded 95% the year before Firefox 1.0 shipped. But we all know the history that followed: Firefox quickly disrupted the monopoly and introduced a kick-ass web browser that focused on users’ needs by creating a truly delightful browsing experience — and more importantly, one that actually followed web standards. This had enormous effects on the web: suddenly developers started to innovate again and created new experiences that no one had seen before (pre-Firefox, innovation on the web was basically limited to figuring out new ways to annoy users with pop-ups and scrolling marquees).

As a result of our success with Firefox, Microsoft woke up from its self-declared hibernation of IE6 and decided to pick up the development of their browser again to catch up on some of the new web standards that developers were now using extensively thanks to Firefox. This pushed the innovation forward even faster because the lowest common denominator on the web (IE) slowly became a browser largely following the latest web standards. It also made it possible for other players to enter the web browsing market. And this is what makes the web as cross-platform compatible as it is today. It’s still not perfect, but the difference since 2003 is dramatic.

coffeeLet’s be clear about this: the reason why you can buy just about any desktop computer or mobile device today and expect websites to work without hick-ups is because Mozilla created Firefox! We take this interoperable web mostly for granted today, but it’s important to remember that just ten years ago, this was a utopia.

Web sites → Apps

Fast forward to today and the landscape and definition of the web has changed. The web is turning mobile and people increasingly use phones, tablets and other mobile devices to get online. But it’s not just the usage of the web that has changed — the web itself is different too. The most notable change is that the majority of the time spent online using mobile devices is happening in native web apps developed specifically for the platform of that particular handset — not on actual web sites viewed through a traditional web browser. For example, instead of going directly to http://www.twitter.com, people download the Twitter app for their phone. In other words, native apps are increasingly becoming the lens through which the web is viewed these days. Why is this? The short answer is historical reasons.

The slightly longer answer: Native apps were faster and more capable than web technologies when smart phones started to become mainstream a few years ago. The web itself didn’t have capabilities like offline storage or technologies optimized to create snappy and app-like user interfaces. Web standards also lacked direct hooks to crucial hardware like the camera and other important parts of the device. (It’s relevant to point out that today’s web technologies do have all of these app-like capabilities; more on that later.)

Duopolies are just as bad

If you consider the issues ten years ago with web sites that only worked on certain platforms, you begin to see the connection with today’s mobile web apps that only work on certain mobile platforms. Today’s situation isn’t any better than the monopoly we were facing on the desktop before Firefox came along.

For customers, these isolated vertical silos mean limited choice and freedom, because you can’t easily switch from one platform to the other without a lot of headache and changed workflows. For example, if you’re used to the iPhone and have purchased a bunch of apps for it, you will basically have to start from scratch if you decide to switch to an Android-powered phone. There might be some overlap, but there will no doubt be a handful of apps that you simply won’t be able to use anymore. And you’ll most likely have to pay for many apps again. This sucks. It’s a bit like not being able to access certain websites just because you switched to a different operating system. Déjà vu anyone?

Example of how the apps world is scattered and incompatible today.

Example of how the apps world is scattered and incompatible today.

For developers, the situation is a nightmare, since you have to almost double the development resources to reach most of your customers. And with Tizen and Windows Phone and other mobile OSes lined up and eager to get their own share of this old vertical silo landscape, it’s easy to see how this way of doing business on the mobile web isn’t financially viable for anyone but the largest app development houses. Who wants to develop an app five times?

And customers will of course continue to suffer just as much in this scattered model (“when is Spotify coming to Windows Phone?” and “Why doesn’t Instagram have the same art filters on Android and iOS?”).

Mozilla will fix the mobile web with Firefox OS

Enter Firefox OS. The whole idea with Firefox OS is to make the web itself the platform not just for traditional web sites, but for apps as well.  Apps are the new lens through which the web is mostly used on mobile devices today — and the new, modern html5-based web is more than ready to power it.

Crucially, Mozilla isn’t trying to create its own new silo — the goal is to demonstrate that the web itself is capable of powering apps on all platforms, and to bring web platform interoperability to the mobile apps world. This will disrupt the whole industry for the benefit of both customers and developers, and it will bring the same benefits to the mobile web that Firefox brought to the desktop web: freedom, choice, and innovation. Case in point: today you can choose between many modern browsers on the desktop: Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and IE — and you don’t have to worry about whether your favorite web sites will work or not. Firefox made that possible. And that’s exactly the future we are building for the mobile web with Firefox OS!

What does this mean for developers? Imagine writing an app once and immediately having it running on all major and minor mobile platforms. If you write your app using web standards like html5, that’s a possibility. The cost savings will be enormous.

What does it mean for customers? Imagine a world where you truly own the apps you’ve purchased and where you have the freedom to choose any mobile platform and even switch between them over time — and take all your apps with you wherever you go. You might start with an Android device in 2012, then switch to a Firefox OS device in 2013, and perhaps you want to try iPhone 7 in 2015 (only to dump it in favor of Firefox OS again in 2016). Regardless of your choice, your apps will follow along with you and work just as well on all of these devices. Sounds like utopia? Déjà vu anyone?

fxosphone

This is why I’m so excited about what Mozilla is doing right now to disrupt the web and open it up once more. We did the impossible ten years ago, and we’re ready to do it again.

And the best part of it all is that if Mozilla wins, everybody wins!