Leading Mozilla: Focus Forward

A short blog post to let everyone in the Mozilla community know the latest news.

As the “About Brendan” sidebar says, I’m a founder of Mozilla, and since 2005 I have had the title of CTO. That job has entailed work on technical strategy, Web standards, influencing/partnering, Mozilla Research, public speaking, and talent-scouting. (Oh, and I still code.)

I’m happy to announce that as CTO I will now also be managing our product and platform engineering teams. This is a privilege and an obligation I take seriously. I look forward to working even more with community members including Mozilla’s engineering staff to advance the Open Web on all platforms, especially the mobile ones rising to overshadow desktop computers.

Mozilla is many things: mission-based organization, community of hackers and supporters, social movement representing the people using the Web above all other agendas. To fulfill our mission, we must serve users with excellent products. Successful products require great design and engineering, and also (increasingly) partnering.

We can’t fulfill our mission without winning products. We can’t have winning products without focus on the technology trends, including the rise of mobile, and also of multicore and GPU processing, and yet more laser-like focus on serving the people who use our products.

The watch-word for me is therefore “focus”. Competition and partnering have focused Mozilla in the last few years, and all to the good in my view. We are on the right track with Firefox OS, Firefox for Android, Firefox on the desktop, and our other initiatives (two to name here: Persona and Web Maker). We need to continue, with even sharper focus on what’s in front of us.

In particular, on mobile this means not just great user interfaces and fast, smooth performance. It also means, as I said to @stshank, expanding up the stack to fight proprietary lock-in that diminishes developer and user experience. We did it with Firefox in 2004, we can do it again with Firefox OS, Firefox for Android, Persona and beyond.

I remain the buck-stopper for Mozilla module ownership and other technical delegated decision-making disputes. Mitchell remains governance conflict buck-stopper and Chief Lizard-Wrangler.


9 Replies to “Leading Mozilla: Focus Forward”

  1. congrats, i can’t imagine a better person for the job..

    btw, can you explain in more detail what exactly has changed? weren’t you, as a CTO, responsible for those same things until now (“buck-stopper”)? who was responsible for managing platform and product engineering?

  2. @Tom: I’ve taken management of engineering staff who work on Firefox OS, Firefox for Android, and Firefox for Desktop OSes; the Gecko engine that underlies those products; and all the engineering services (release engineering, test tooling and automation, QA).

    Mozilla has an open-source governance model independent of any company’s org chart. My role, just like Mitchell’s, predates the Mozilla Foundation, and (there’s a story here for another time, especially from Mitchell!) it has survived multiple VPs of Netscape and indeed the death of that company. The project and social-movement aspects of Mozilla are primal and enduring.

    In my project role, I set direction via roadmaps (new one coming), work through bugzilla and the newsgroups/mailing-lists and IRC, and try to find and fill gaps. When something unexpected needs attention, I am the technical escalation path terminus. I collaborate on governance with Mitchell but she is final authority there.

    However, for Mozilla’s paid engineering employees, I have had no authority or influence beyond this project role and my CTO title.

    What’s different about CTO vs. VP Engineering? I like this write-up from Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures:


    Since 2005, Mozilla has had a separation: I’ve been CTO, and first @schrep, then @shaver, then @damons, have been VP Engineering.

    This is the point where I would like to thank Damon Sicore for his tenure as VP Engineering and wish him success on his new adventure:


    Damon’s plans weren’t public until after I blogged, or I would have linked from the body. My new role had been in plan for a while, and everything happened quickly and well in the end, but I was moving toward this role no matter what, based on the successful Firefox OS milestone of 1/15.

    As Fred Wilson notes, it is rare to have CTO and head of an engineering org in one person. I’m the first to acknowledge that my c.v. does not scream “management”. Therefore my goal is to delegate heavily to seasoned direct reports who are already in place.

    I also have some ideas about how to sharpen focus in Mozilla on the technical side of our full community, both paid and volunteer contributors. This is vitally important, in my view. We depend on volunteer contributors as well as some paid by other companies who are investing in Mozilla by partnering with us, and we would not survive without our community.

    If I find I’m not doing right as manager of the Mozilla-paid engineering team, I will quickly seek a VP Engineering replacement. Since I have been working closely with all our VPs till now, I think I know what to do. So I may be an exception to Fred’s rule, but I have to view myself skeptically and hold myself to as high a standard as I would any of our VPs. Higher, really.

    At the end of the day, as CTO and technical buck-stopper of Mozilla before now, I have had some organic authority. And as a Mozilla founder I had all the angst and responsibility. Now I have more authority to match, usually a good idea (responsibility without authority is terrible, same for the other way ’round).

    I’ll do my absolute best to use this authority with responsibility to uphold and advance Mozilla’s mission.


  3. “In my project role, I set direction via roadmaps (new one coming),”

    Does Mozilla have plans to develop a complete widget toolkit for web development across both desktop and mobile? Building Blocks goes a little of the way towards that (https://wiki.mozilla.org/Gaia/Design/BuildingBlocks , https://buildingfirefoxos.com/ ), but will Building Blocks grow into a comprehensive suite of visual and non-visual components for desktop and mobile web development, possibly following some kind of spec like Web Components (https://dvcs.w3.org/hg/webcomponents/raw-file/tip/explainer/index.html)?

    I really want something like Qt for web development. Toolkits like Dojo (https://dojotoolkit.org/) are all right, but perhaps Mozilla can lead a project which builds an even better widget set.

  4. Ray: it’s hard to make *the* toolkit, and we do not propose to do what webOS did: build a big mandatory framework. That’s as proprietary as any native stack, even though implemented on top of standards.

    Instead, PhoneGap, Sencha and many other ways of developing portable web-based code are targeting FFOS, and we aim to satisfy with 60fps CSS animations/transitions/transforms and more.

    We are exploring Web Components via x-tag (see https://github.com/mozilla/x-tag), and we’ll probably use x-tag to iterate on the Gaia BuildingBlocks to common more CSS, HTML, and JS as we go.

    You mention Qt. I just saw @kripken running Emscriptened Qt apps at respectable frame rate in Firefox. Better done with a custom back end, but in any case another demonstration that the Web can host many approaches and toolkits.


  5. “Ray: it’s hard to make *the* toolkit, and we do not propose to do what webOS did: build a big mandatory framework. That’s as proprietary as any native stack, even though implemented on top of standards.”

    Yes, I don’t want *the* toolkit as much *a* toolkit which offers another choice. There are things I like about Dojo, for example, but also things I don’t like. If Building Blocks evolved to be a thing similar to Dojo there’d be more options available for those use cases. Mozilla offering a strong, cross browser javascript component library seems like it would be a good fit for Firefox OS and beneficial for the web generally.

    Speaking of Dojo, maybe contributing a Firefox OS styled theme to the project would be a good way to advertise Firefox OS to developers using Dojo.

  6. “In my project role, I set direction …”
    For me that means also long range direction : I think that the Mozilla net product architecture “all the files in each profile” is obsolete dating from the time were a PC has only one user, one disk,one ISP and 1 mail address. Later, profiles have been duplicated but kept as is.
    This limits the user experience : some files are better PC-wide (e.g. dangerous URL list, local language spell checker dictionary, some configuration parameters as printer, some add-on, etc.), other files are better user-wide (e.g. bookmarks, address books, some configuration parameters, perhaps Thunderbird accounts definitions and mail-boxes, etc.), some may remains in the profiles (some configuration parameters, perhaps Thunderbird list of accounts to allow to have easily accounts common to the daily or weekly or obsolete addresses profiles, etc.).
    Also in many configurations OS+programs and user data are separated : 2 equal partitions in my lap-top, SSD and hard disk in my fixed PC. The users ask for this for ease of use (or back-up) and crash resilience.
    I think that Mozilla needs a team to build a new architecture for its products. This is painful and needs development work without adding functionalities. I think that Chrome is overtaking Mozilla because it has a brand new architecture that has taken into account the drawbacks or deficiencies of older browsers…

  7. Congrats Brendan, seems like a sound move and God’s speed to you. Hope we’ll be able to interact some more with you and your teams in the near future, and investigate how our offerings can be superimposed in any shape or form!



  8. In a COMPLETELY off-topic question… Does the html5 draft standard support increasing the volume up to 200% so that we don’t have to struggle listening to quiet videos on youtube. A bit like how vlc player allows you to increase the volume to 200%. If this isn’t currently in the html5 spec could you please make a proposal to add it, would love to see that on youtube and other sites, my laptop speakers are pretty quiet 🙁

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *