In response to David Boswell’s post on getting involved at Mozilla, I thought I’d relate my own story.
I worked at a company called SimDesk that decided to reuse the Thunderbird and Sunbird code bases and make a great email application–this was long before the Lightning extension came into being. Like any good closed-source company, we stole the code and worked on it in secret until we had a shining example of an “Outlook killer” (well, more or less).
Then we started feeling like we should contribute some of that code back to Mozilla. We had a bunch of very awkward meetings with Dan Mosedale and Mike Shaver as they tried to teach us how to do open source. They kept saying, “just submit a patch”, we kept wondering which lawyers we’d have to get involved to do that.
Eventually, Mike Hovis (an old friend and superior developer) and I started writing those patches. It became clear that our changes wouldn’t apply cleanly to the newly refactored “Lightning” source base. We decided that I’d make it part of my job (20% of my time, as I recall) to make patches for functionality we cared about and get it to the Mozilla calendar team.
I started attending the calendar team’s public meetings, and during one, when they asked if anyone wanted to lead a calendar QA team, I volunteered. I had no idea how to actually do this, but I wanted to try organizing online to see if some of my offline organizing skills would translate. My contribution of time grew. As SimDesk directed me to work on Outlook extensions rather than an Outlook killer, I spent more and more of my time working with my calendar team, writing patches, mentoring, and aiding volunteers as they found their roles as leaders and developers in the calendar project.
And one day, when I could plainly see the writing on the wall, I asked Dan if Mozilla would actually consider a resume from me. After his enthusiastic “yes”, I applied, and the rest is history.
Starting in the calendar project was incredible. It was smaller (of course so was Mozilla in those days–even though it felt huge to me at the time). It was easier to see your impact in such a small space, easier to identify volunteers, and easier to mentor people through the process and watch them become leaders.
Starting in that small area was also fortuitous because there was so much that needed to be done and opportunities were everywhere.
I still think that there are small areas across Mozilla where people can start and have a similar experience. However, I think that Mozilla seems so monolithic these days that it is daunting to even try to find those niches where you can start out as a volunteer. It is up to us on our teams to identify those areas where people can start, publicize them, and help people make that leap from “casually interested party” to “volunteer”. In that vein, I tried articulating the roles that we’d like to see people step up to fill on my team. If you’re interested, you know where to find me.