Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Getting Back To Work

... is what we need now. So let me give a brief summary of what's happening with me work-wise.

Last year I fully divested my direct reports. No more management work to do, yay! I think they probably all ended up with a better manager than they had.

I've been involved in a lot of different projects and a lot of helping other people get their work done. In between I managed to carve out a few things of my own:

  • I built reftests for async panning to try to stem the tide of regressions we were encountering there. Unfortunately that's not quite done because most of those tests aren't running on TBPL yet.
  • I worked on CSS scroll snapping with an intern. Unfortunately the spec situation got bogged down; there's an impasse between us and Microsoft over the design of the CSS feature, and Google has decided not to do a CSS feature at all for now and try to do it with JS instead. I'm skeptical that will work will, and looking forward to their proposal, but it's taking a while.
  • I landed an implementation of the CSS OM GeometryUtils interface, described in blog posts here and here. This fixes a functionality gap in the Web platform and was needed by our devtools team. Almost everything you would need to know about the CSS box geometry of your page is now easy to get.
  • Lately I've been doing work on rr. People are trying to use it, and they've been uncovering bugs and inconveniences that Chris Jones and I have been fixing as fast as we can. Terrence Cole used it successfully to help fix a JS engine bug! I'm using it a lot myself for general-purpose debugging, and enjoying it. I want to spend a few more days getting some of the obvious rough edges we've found filed off and then make a new release.

Looking forward, I expect to be working on making our async scrolling fully generic (right now there are some edge cases where we can't do it), and working on some improvements to our MediaStreamGraph code for lower latency video and audio.

Fighting Media Narratives

... is perhaps futile. A lot of what I have to say has already been said. Yet, in case it makes a difference:

  • Almost all Mozilla staff supported keeping Brendan Eich as CEO, including many prominent LGBT staff, and many made public statements to that effect. A small number of Tweeters calling for him to step down got all the media attention. The narrative that Mozilla staff as a group "turned against Brendan" is false. It should go without saying, but most Mozilla staff, especially me, are very upset that he's gone. I've known him, worked with him and fought alongside him (and sometimes against him :-) ) for fourteen years and having him ripped away like this is agonizing.
  • The external pressure for Brendan to step down was the primary factor driving the entire situation. The same issue exploded in 2012 but there was less pressure and he got through it. No doubt Mozilla could have handled it better but the narrative that blames Mozilla for Brendan's departure misses the big picture. Boycotting Mozilla (or anyone for that matter) for cracking under intense pressure is like shooting a shell-shocked soldier.
  • As a Christian, Mozilla is as friendly a workplace as any tech organization I've known --- which is to say, not super friendly, but unproblematic. Because of our geographic spread --- not just of headcount, but of actual power --- and our broad volunteer base I think we have more real diversity than many of our competitors. The narrative that Mozilla as a group has landed on one side of the culture war is false, or at least no more true than for other tech organizations. In fact one thing I've really enjoyed over the last couple of weeks is seeing a diverse set of Mozilla people pull together in adversity and form even closer bonds.

I'll also echo something else a lot of people are saying: we have to fix Internet discourse somehow. It's toxic. I wrote about this a while back, and this episode has made me experience the problem at a whole new level. I'll throw one idea out there: let's communicate using only recorded voice+video messages, no tweets, no text. If you want to listen to what I have to say, you have to watch me say it, and hopefully that will trigger some flickers of empathy. If you want me to listen to you, you have to show me your face. Want to be anonymous, do it the old-fashioned way and wear a mask. Yeah I know we'd have to figure out searchability, skimmability, editing, etc etc. Someone get to work on it.

Mozilla Matters

How much does the world need Mozilla? A useful, if uncomfortable, thought experiment is to consider what the world would be like without Mozilla.

Consider the world of Web standards. Microsoft doesn't contribute much to developing new Web features, and neither does Apple these days. Mozilla and Google do. Google, per Blink's own policy (mirroring our own), relies on feedback and implementation by other browser vendors, i.e. usually us. If you take Mozilla out of the equation, it's going to be awfully hard to apply the "two independent implementations" test for new Web features. (Especially since Webkit and Blink still have so much shared heritage.) For example it's hard to see how important stuff like Web Audio, WebGL and WebRTC would have become true multi-vendor standards without us. Without us, most progress would depend on unilateral extensions by individual vendors. That has all the downsides of a single-implementation ecosystem --- a single implementation's bugs become the de-facto standard; the standards process, if there even is one, becomes irrelevant; and even more power accrues to the dominant vendor.

In the bigger picture, it would be dangerous to leave the Web --- and the entire application platform space --- in the hands of three very large US corporations who have few scruples and who each have substantial non-Web interests to protect, including proprietary desktop and mobile platforms. It has always been very important that there be a compelling vendor-neutral platform for people to deploy content and apps on, a platform without gatekeepers and without taxes. The Web is that platform ---- for now. Mozilla is dedicated to preserving and enhancing that, but the other vendors are not.

Mozilla has plenty of faults, and lots of challenges, but our mission is as important as ever ... probably more important, given how computing devices and the Internet penetrate more and more of our lives. More than ever, pursuing our mission is the greatest good I can do with the talents God has given me.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Responsible Self-Censorship

People may be wondering why I, as one of the most notorious Christians at Mozilla, have been silent during the turmoil of recent days. It is simply because I haven't been able to think of anything to say that won't cause more harm in the current environment. It is not because I am afraid, malicious, or suffering from a lack of freedom of speech in any way. As soon as I have the environment and the words to say something helpful, I will.

By "the current environment" I mean the situation where many of the culture warriors of all stripes are picking over every utterance looking for something to be angry against or something to fuel their anger against others.

Update Actually, right after posting that, I thought of something to say.

I have never loved the people of Mozilla as much as I do right now. With just a few exceptions, your commitment and grace under fire is inspiring and (in the old-fashioned sense) awesome. I'm glad I'm here for this.