Weeknotes 5 – Webmaker Workweek

View from Mozilla Space Toronto
View from Mozilla Toronto

As I’m halfway into the following week I’m writing these notes quickly rather than losing them completely. I apologize in advance 🙂

Week 5 was spent in Toronto with the Webmaker team and it will be hard for a quick write-up to do this week justice. I got to hack and hang-out with about half of the total Mozilla Foundation staff, which is hugely valuable four weeks into a job where you mostly work remotely. IRC handles turned into real people, and the people turned out to be very special. So first, thanks to this amazing team for welcoming me so kindly. I think we crammed a year’s worth of social activity into a week’s worth of evenings and across the whole week, I almost got a whole night’s worth of sleep.

I signed more that one waiver in the name of fun this week
I signed more than one waiver in the name of fun this week

There’s a test that goes something along the lines of “people you wouldn’t mind getting stuck at an airport with”, and everyone I met last week would pass that test. Genuinely.

I thought this week might have been a lot of talking and leaving with too many ideas to implement, but from the start it was structured to create measurable output.

Sunday in the office, the bugzilla tickets were transformed into a physical scrum board:

Webmaker Scrum Board

And during the week, these discrete tasks moved from To Make > Making > Made

In the metrics track, I was lucky to work closely with Scott Downe who taught me a tonne of useful things, and we shipped some stuff too. Including a brand new process to make continual testing and optimisation of the Webmaker tools practical.

You can see the new testing process here, and our tests and the results will be open for you to follow along as we learn more about our tools and how people use them.


I like this Canadian alternative to the UK's "One Way"
I like this Canadian alternative to the UK’s “One Way”

And I would be negligent not to include the gif of the week:

Week 4 at Mozilla

I gathered up the output from my many discussions with our teams so far, and I’m proposing a plan for shipping a Mozilla Foundation Contributors Dashboard as quickly as we realistically can. I’ll be presenting this next week, and once I’ve had feedback on it, this can be turned into a proper plan of action and shared more widely.

Next week I’m in Toronto with the Webmaker team for a work-week (a pretty focused gathering on getting things done), which I’ve been busily preparing for.

You can see what we’ll be up to here (I’m space-wrangling the Metrics track):

P.S. ‘Space-wrangling’ is official Mozilla terminology, and animated GIFs are our primary means of communication.

Because we work in the open, you can follow live updates on how well we’re shipping our planned output during the work-week:

Getting ready for this week involved opening a lot of Bugzilla tickets, so we can track progress during the week. Bugzilla is a bit of a monster (I think it looks like this) but it’s also a good way of getting things done. By the time I’d looked at 20+ tickets my brain was starting to filter out the noise in the interface from fields that don’t get used. I’m sure it will get easier to use with time.

I also learnt this week that there are close to 1 million bugs now logged in that system – which is pretty amazing record of the amount of work done by many many Mozillians over many many years. I reckon as you’re using the internet right now (I hope you haven’t printed this out!), you’re online experience is better as a direct result of at least one of those million bugs.

To wrap this up, I’d like to be about 10 times more prepared for next week, but I think that’s largely the result of not knowing what to expect.

I’m very excited to meet more of my new teammates IRL, but will also miss my wife and our little lunatic, so this picture is my new wallpaper for my travels:

Go work-week!
Go work-week!

Week 3: One thing to rule them all

Seeing how useful it is when my colleagues blog about work, I’m encouraged to do more of the same. So here’s an update from week three at the Mozilla Foundation.

I’m caveating this post with a big *this is week three*, as this is a collection of current thoughts rather than any conclusions. The things I’ve been digesting in the last three weeks are things the Foundation have been thinking about for some time, and that by their nature are tricky to pin down (i.e. quantifying interactions with people in a meaningful way).

So this is an overview of what I’ve been doing so far, and what I think I will be doing overall (using diagrams to help)…

If this is all of ‘Metrics’ at the Mozilla Foundation:

Simple, so far :)
Simple, so far 🙂

It covers a range of projects, teams and programs:

This is oversimplified, and you could cut it other ways, but it will do for this purpose.
This is oversimplified, and you could cut it other ways, but it will do for this purpose.

Across those areas, there are metrics at multiple levels, something like this:

Metrics Diagram 3
* h/t

On top of all this is the ‘one metric that matters’, that has the lofty goal of bringing all the strands together:

Metrics Diagram 4
With ‘contributors’ being the one metric that matters to us

If that diagram above is the overall scope, these dots added below show you where I’ve been spending my time so far:

Metrics Diagram 5

I’ve mostly been talking to people across the teams about the OMTM, gathering a bit of feedback on what people want to track across the whole of this scope, and I spent a couple of hours on some specific tracking methods that can be added to one bit of the Webmaker toolset. That’s the lonely dot in the bottom left. 😉

The Webmaker workweek in a weeks time will look more like this:

Metrics Diagram 6

And much of that will spill across to other projects.

So, in the long run, this should be a balanced distribution of work across the board but prioritized to work with the numbers that best feed into the one metric at the top.

I’ll write more about the OMTM in another post as this is getting long, and my train journey is coming to an end in a minute.

KNIME UK meetup at Mozilla London

On my very first day at Mozilla there was an email to all staff in the London office looking for someone to sponsor an evening event in the (amazing) community space.

The Mozilla London Community Space
The Mozilla London Community Space

It was a meetup being planned for users of an open source tool for data analysis, KNIME.

I don’t know much about KNIME, and had no idea what ‘sponsoring’ the event would actually entail, so it seemed like a good idea to say ‘yes’ and find out more about both.

I’m thinking the worst that can happen is I learn some new things and meet some new people who like working with data.

If you’re interested in coming to a free event, including free beer and pizza, and a useful ‘New to KNIME’ talk, join the meetup group and RSVP here:



The immediate value of working in the open

I’m both excited and a tiny bit nervous about how “open” Mozilla are about the way they work.

As I’m getting to know the Foundation, and the projects and priorities, and to make sense of what exactly I’ll be doing here I’ve been reading lots of Etherpads. If you don’t know what an Etherpad is, it’s a bit like a Google Doc (the ‘word doc’ variety) but less slick and more open. If you give someone a link to an Etherpad, the barrier to them contributing to the document is almost non-existent.

Anyway, the value of this open working process somewhat blew my mind today. While lots of these docs have been useful in a general sense, today I read the documents from the initial planning around MoFo metrics that led to recruiting for my role (so it was pretty relevant!). The final document is a fine and very useful thing, like most summary documents, but what was really useful was the option to ‘replay’ the creation of the doc.

As I watched it being outlined, revised and then shared for comment I was able to see many of my new colleagues jump in to add the points they care most about and to challenge and contribute to the rest of the document.  Better than just seeing the final document is seeing how it started and where it changed direction and who was involved.

Even watching the hesitations and re-phrasing of particular sentences tells you something about where the subtleties and complications in the process exist.

I probably spent 15-20 minutes watching the replay of the writing of this document, and think I got more indirect information than I would otherwise pick up in even two-weeks of introduction meetings.

There is so much information in the history of that document that would be lost in any closed system. If for example, that document was a PDF on an intranet behind a password, the value I would have gotten from it as a new employee today would have be greatly reduced.

As ready as I’m going to be

Tomorrow is the first day in my new role at the Mozilla Foundation, and I’m getting the new job nerves and excitement now.

Between wrapping up at WWF, preparing for Christmas, house hunting, and finishing off my next study assignment (a screenplay involving time-travel and a bus), I’ve been squeezing in a little bit of prep for the new job too.

This post is basically a note about some of the things I’ve been looking at in the last couple of weeks.

I thought it would be useful to jump through various bits of tech used in a number of MoFo projects, some of which I’d been wanting to play with anyway. This is not deep learning by any means, but it’s enough hands-on experience to speed up some things in the future.

I setup a little node.js app locally and had a look at Express. That’s all very nice, and I liked the basic app structures. Working with a package manager is a lovely part of the workflow, even if it sometimes feels a bit too magic to be real. I also had a look at MongoDB, Mongoose and MERS as a potential data model/store solution for another little app thing I want to build at some point. I didn’t take this far, but got the basic data model working over the MERS API.

I’d used Git a little bit already, but wanted a better grasp of the process for contributing ‘nicely’ to bigger projects (where you’re not also talking directly to the other people involved). Reading the Pro Git book was great for that, and a lighter read than I expected. It falls into the ‘why didn’t I do that months ago?’ category.

Sysadmin-esque work is one of my weak points so the next project was more of a stretch. I setup an Amazon EC2 instance and installed a copy of Graphite. The documentation for Graphite is on the sparse side for people who don’t know their way around a Linux command prompt well, but that probably taught me more than if I’d just been following a series of commands from a tutorial. I think I’ll be spending a lot more time on the metrics end of Graphite, so getting a grasp of the underlying architecture will hopefully help.

Then, for the last couple of days I’ve been working through Data Analysis With Open Source Tools at a slightly superficial level (i.e. skipping some of the Maths), but it’s been a good warm-up for the work ahead.

And that’s it for now.

I’m really looking forward to meeting many new people, problems and possibilities in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Took my son to an "Alien Invasion" exhibition and got to play a little Space Invaders
Took my son to an “Alien Invasion” exhibition and got to play a few minutes of Space Invaders

Panda Swap: New year, new job.

Giant Panda 02

Red Panda Pensive

After almost five years working for the black and white panda, I’ll be moving to the red panda in the new year. Well, kind of… and that’s close enough to the truth to justify the cute pictures in this blog post.

As of January, I’ll be working for the Mozilla Foundation as their new Metrics Lead, which is about the most exciting job I could possibly dream up.

I owe the web pretty much everything, so the chance give something back and push something forward is both an honor and a privilege.

Mozilla work in the open, which means this blog will hook up a bit more directly with my day-to-day work in the future and I’ll be able to share some of the successes and challenges I face with you here on a more regular basis.

In other news, my Open University study has me spending my evenings writing a screenplay which is a completely new challenge for me. Though the OU is more open than most, I can’t share any coursework publicly until the course is finished. So that work will not be done in the open.

I’m a person who likes to solve problems, and writing drama is mostly an exercise in creating characters you care about and then making them suffer as much as you plausibly can instead of solving their problems. It’s a strange thing when you think about it, but it’s also fun unpicking what makes a story tick and stick.

My First #Mozfest

Mozfest 2013I have an hour free this morning, so wanted to quickly write up my thoughts on Mozfest before my memory fades too much. This will be a rough, but f*** it, ship it as they say at Mozfest.

I bought a Mozfest ticket in July with next to no expectations and just a little hope that meeting some new people might trigger some new ideas. It’s fair to say that this was a massive under-prediction on my part.

A couple of months later, with about a month to go until Mozfest, my boss (@ade) mentioned some sessions that might be interesting for WWF and my work in fundraising. A couple of introductory emails and a Skype call later and I’d put my name down for a yet-to-be-confirmed session called ‘Pass the App’.

We were going to use a new tool called Appmaker to build a donation app in a three hour session. At this point in time Appmaker didn’t do a lot. It was pre the version that would be called pre-alpha. I looked at Appmaker for a few minutes and worried I’d just agreed to waste the first quarter of Mozfest.

I had some time off and a couple of weeks went by. With two weeks to go, I wanted to get setup with Appmaker in a dev environment before the day so I didn’t waste people’s time with silly questions about configuration when we could be building things. Work was a bit crazier than usual and another week went by before I finally sat down to look at some code.

It was quite astounding how much Appmaker had evolved in those few weeks. The team working on this are incredible. From thinking the morning would be wasted, it now looked like a tool with enough components that with a little imagination you could hook up all sorts of awesome apps. My goal was to add some kind of payment to that.

The components in Appmaker are built with HTML, CSS and JavaScript and looking at a few examples I was happy I could build something by copying and adapting the work that’s already been done. But getting a development environment setup to work with these technologies I know pretty well required diving into a number of technologies that were completely new to me.

The deadline and motivation drove me through some of the initial hurdles and learning, and jumping into the IRC room for Appmaker I received great help and support from the team. I was worried about hassling them for their time while they were busy getting ready for Mozfest, but I was welcomed very warmly. It was a really great experience working with new people.

I guess the lesson here is: If you try and make something new, you cannot help but learn something new. And also that deadlines are amazing, as we’ve discussed before.

There were ten tracks at Mozfest, and at any given time I wanted to be in about eight of them. After the Saturday morning Pass the App session I was planning to alternate between the Open Data and Privacy tracks for lots of interesting things, but it didn’t work out that way. I didn’t actually make it to any other sessions. I got hooked into (and hooked on) making things in our scramble to build a working Pass the App demo, which we did. Here’s a link to the write up. I won’t re-tell that story. I got to work with kind and intelligent people making something valuable and learning a tonne. You can’t ask for more than that from any conference-esque event.

My hour of free time is up now, so I’m going to ship this despite the vast amount of things I was grateful for and wanted to talk about.

And I’ll say a quick hi to the people from the pass the app session,

And the many other lovely people I got to meet for the first time.