Christian Heilmann

For Fox’s sake!

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 at 5:04 pm

summit fox
Photo by Marcia Knous

I work at Mozilla. The non-profit organisation to keep the open web, well, open and alive. I work here because of a few reasons:

  • We have a manifesto. Not a “company guideline” or “our vision” or “about us”. We mean business, but not in the sense of “what brings us the most money”.
  • We have people, not employment figures. Amazing people, creative people, misfits and average people. From all over the globe, with all kind of ideas and beliefs and backgrounds. And they work together. They clash, they disagree, they flood my inbox with CCs as I should know the answer to how they can work on this. They all have different setups and ways to work.
  • We empower people. We work with a lot of people who we don’t pay. We help them learn, we help them become speakers for a good cause, we help them communicate and we let them be our communicators in regions and languages and manners we have no idea about. We trust them. And it shows. Going to a Mozilla summit is like going to a concert or festival. You have a lot of fun, you have a lot of noise and boy do you get a lot of demands. People are hungry to do good, and are ravenous to learn all about it.
  • We are a stepping stone. Quite a few people who I trained on public speaking and tech evangelism got better jobs immediately after that. I write more recommendation letters than ever before. And I see people getting a chance to move to another country and get a job they beforehand only dreamed about.
  • We are more than a company in the Silicon Valley. We are world-wide, everybody has the right to work from home and most people do. We trust you to use your time wisely and only ask you to show up for video meetings where we need to sync. This means we release much more than I have ever seen in any other company. Your output speaks for you, not how on time you arrive in the office, how you look or where you are from.
  • We value passion and personality – I can be a total pain in the lower backside. Other people drive me crazy. We don’t have to have the same ideas, instead we find a common ground and analyse what is good for the project as a whole. Then we do that together. There is no problem disagreeing with a director, a manager, or even a CEO. If you have a good point, it will be taken in and – after peer review – taken on. You can get away with a lot more than you could in other companies. And this isn’t about “yeah, let them rant – it makes them happy” – if you are professional and have a good point, you find an ear to listen to you.
  • We disagree and discuss. The old saying “Arguing with an engineer is like wrestling with a pig in mud – you realise far too late it is enjoying it” is very much alive here. All discussions and disagreements are public. Personal disagreements are normally taken on head-on and in direct messaging. Nobody is asked to agree with anything without having had their say. This delays things, this makes things much more complex, but it also makes us who we are. A free, open product can not be created behind closed walls. Open Source does not mean “code is on GitHub”. It is pure transparency and a messy process. But it makes for strong products that can not be killed if one person leaves or gets bored. Open Source means the big red bus has no power. What is shared can not get taken away, neither by organisational changes, nor by outside powers, nor by silly things like hardware failure.
  • We work with the competition. – I have no problem speaking to Google, Microsoft, Opera, Twitter, Facebook and whoever else I please. I speak at their events, I share upcoming work on our part with them. I applaud and publicly promote the great things they do. We work on standards and best practices. These can not be done in one place. They have to have peer review.
  • We allow you to speak freely. – there is no censorship, there is no “you have to use this channel to communicate”. The latter drives me crazy, as I have many a time to react to things people say about our products on their personal blogs or find amazing examples and code randomly on the web. People prefer to write on their own channels about products they built on company time rather than using an official channel. In other companies, that is an HR issue. Hell, I had contracts that said that whatever code written on company hardware belongs to it. Not here. You can talk and you should also be aware of the effects your communication has. Many times this means we have to help you out when you miscommunicated. That is tough, but it also means we learn.

many voices - one mozilla

All of this is the messy craziness that is Mozilla. And that’s why I am here. It is not a 9-5 job, it is not an easy job. But damn is it rewarding and interesting.

When I started, I took a paycut. I continuously get better offers from the outside. I had a six hour interview with six people. These were the best brainstorming I had done for years. When I met volunteers on my way out and saw them giving their time for Mozilla with a smile that was contagious, I knew I am up to something good.

When I interviewed, nobody asked me about my personal or religious beliefs. This would be illegal – at least where I am from. I don’t have to agree with everyone I work with on a personal level. All I have to do is to allow you your freedom to be who you are and flag up when your personal views inconvenience or hurt others and are just not appropriate in a work situation.

So when you tell me because I work for Mozilla I share ideas of other people “above me” in the hierarchy, you don’t know me and you have no idea how Mozilla works. We are different, and we work differently. You make something that thrives on communication and helping another and having thousands of personal voices something you understand: a hierarchical company with one person who is the embodiment of everything the company does. A figure like that exists – it is a one-man startup or a movie superhero. It doesn’t work for a loosely connected and open construct like Mozilla.

I’ve had moments where I was ready to give up. I had some very painful months lately where all my work of the last years was questioned and I felt I ran out of things to excite me. Then I concentrated on the people who give their free time on us and talked to them. And I found the spark again.

I am here for all the people who spend time to keep the web open, to teach web literacy, to give people a voice where it would be hard for them to get heard. They may be my colleagues, they may be volunteers, they may be people in other companies with similar goals. This is bigger than me and bigger than you. I hope it stays, I hope it thrives and I hope people understand that what Mozilla did and does is incredibly important. Information wants to be out and free. The internet allows for this. We made it our passion to protect this internet and give you software that is yours to use – for free, without backdoors or asking you for your information upfront. If that’s not your thing, fine. But don’t give it up because you disagree with one person’s personal actions and beliefs. I don’t.

Want some of this? Contribute to Mozilla or start working here (the former can also easily lead to the latter).

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