39 Shirts – Leaving Mozilla

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Leaving Mozilla

In 2001 I had just graduated from a small town high school and headed off to a small town college. I found myself in the quaint computer lab where the substandard computers featured two browsers: Internet Explorer and Mozilla. It was this lab where I fell in love with Mozilla -- a browser that gave developers actual tools to solve dev problems.

It took me 7 years to get to Mozilla. I spent 5 years at my first industry job and another two elsewhere before I got to my dream: Mozilla. You need to remember that I didn't grow up in a tech-centric place -- Wisconsin is full of farms, cows, and people dreaming outside of the cornfields. When Mozilla came calling, though...I felt like my career was primed for lift-off.

I joined Mozilla as a member of the Web Development team -- my focus was the Mozilla Developer Network. Talk about a dream, my second week at Mozilla was a trip to Santa Cruz with an ocean-side view; this picture was my first at Mozilla:

I had an amazing week meeting my new colleagues. We held a Firefox OS hackathon and my Instagram clone won first prize. My eyes were opened to the world of big tech, Mozilla, and world class engineers.

I had my hands in everything I could at Mozilla. During my time on MDN, I also contributed to Firefox OS, the early WebVR team, the Mozilla Marketplace, X-Tag (web components)...just about anything I could dream of. I wanted a piece of EVERYTHING. I slept each night knowing that I buried my colleagues in pull requests -- I was a machine. I wanted to embody Mozilla...I lived it. One early highlight was befriending Christian and Brendan:

After leaving MDN, I took on a dual role: WADI (Web Advocacy & Developer Initiative) and Firefox OS for TV Partner Engineering. With WADI I had the pleasure of contributing to the Service Worker Cookbook. With the TV role I got a beautiful 60" ultra HD TV where I helped partners bring their video sites and games to life.

When things got a bit tough at Mozilla, I shifted to Mozilla's "Productivity Tools" team. My first two weeks were nothing short of hilarious; my new manager didn't know I was a front-end engineer, so I stumbled through completing a big python migration. It was a look into the future -- me being put into tough spots and fighting through to succeed. And I did.

When it was decided that we'd move to Phabricator for Mozilla's code review tool, I reluctantly started writing the auth code to integrate with Bugzilla. I reacquainted myself with PHP, I stepped back in time to learn perl, and made it happen. I felt low during this time, but looking back, most every patch that goes into Firefox has my fingerprints on it; it was a massive personal achievement.

After meeting a DevTools panel leader at an All-Hands in Hawaii, and a bit of lobbying afterward, I was finally transferred to the DevTools team. One part of me felt like I reached the promise land, while another part of me felt like I'd just started.

DevTools are what made me fall in love with Mozilla. My aspiration, my dream was to get to Mozilla but reaching the Developer Tools team made everything come full circle. I became what I fell in love with.

DevTools was amazing. I was part of a team I'll remember the rest of my career. I learned a ton. I implemented some amazing features in the debugger, including a Breakpoints pane rewrite, creating the Event Listener Breakpoints and DOM Mutation Breakpoints panes, as well as hundreds of other patches. I mentored Google Summer of Code, Outreachy, and UCOSP students, as well as guiding an amazingly talented contributor community. Despite enjoying my time with DevTools and its contributors, I knew my time was coming to an end.

As my Mozilla enthusiasm waned, I was loaned to the Firefox for Android team where I met new challenges; even better, I met an amazing team of young engineers fighting through changing requirements and negative perceptions. I absolutely loved it. Would I have passed an interview for that job? Hell no. Did I succeed in the end? Hell yes. I was a contributor to a major Firefox for Android feature -- the tab tray, something every user will see dozens of times per day.

The entirety of 2020 at Mozilla was thick with apathy and an impending knowledge that layoffs were coming. We all knew it. I spent many nights pondering with my wife if I wanted to be on that list. When the hammer finally came down, and I was under it, I felt more relief than anything.

I've pondered for a month why I didn't feel more hurt and the truth that I came to was...I did it. I fucking did it. Mozilla was my dream and I lived it. I don't leave with a single regret....not one. I have thousands of lines of code in more projects than I should. And I wasn't laid off for lack of performance; I'd been there a long time, done well while I was there, but COVID and other business factors contributed to 25% of the organization being made redundant.

Between MDN, Firefox, and Firefox for Android, I've shaped experiences for millions and millions of users. I've rewarded developers like myself, and shaped experiences for every day Mozilla consumers. I did it.

To the 18 year old David who sat in that lonely computer lab: you fucking did it, dude. You lived that dream.

To 37 year old David: Go do it again.

Note: I didn't mention any individual names or thank you's; not because I'm not appreciative, but because missing a single one would break my heart. You know who you are. Your fingerprint is on my story, I owe you more than you know.

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  1. Tom Fotherby

    I admire your positivity. This is a very inspiring post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Best wishes on continued success! And continued blogging. You are my go-to whenever I question PHP ternary operators. :)

  3. Gordon Smith

    Was waiting for this post since I heard about the layoffs and wanted to wish you well in the future.

    On a selfish note – I am really side that the whole MDN docs project is also gone (please tell me I am wrong), its been my go to reference site for ever…

  4. Thanks for telling this David. Thank you and all Mozilla fellows for every bit of energy you’ve put in – all the love can be well felt in the products and services!

  5. Tolumide

    I admire you writing this. Thank you David

  6. Oh hey, that’s me in the middle of the back row of that Santa Cruz picture! :)

    It’s weirdly been years since I last actually worked with you. But I was always happy to see Mozilla had managed to keep you around every time I managed to wave hi at an all-hands. Congrats on living the dream, you’ll rock whatever you do next!

  7. Enrico

    Very heartwarming to read, thanks for sharing.

  8. zakius

    Mozilla killed Firefox in 2017, not only as a browser but also as a dev tool as DevTools became horribly eyestraining, sadly noone of higher ups was interested in preserving what made Firefox the best browser on the market, their goal was downgrading it to be merely competitive to chromium. And they are proud of achieving that goal.
    And every person that came to Mozilla to realize the dream of supporting that amazing project should feel betrayed by that change as it was as spitting in their face and should’ve slammed the door and never came back. Punching someone in the face not required but strongly advised.

    And as always I have to clarify: there never was Firefox for Android, Fennec was a different product and Fenix is different product the same way Quantum is a different one from Firefox: different goals, different views require different names.

  9. Inspiring post, as a budding developer I wanna do all of what you did and Thank You for making Firefox awesome!!!

  10. Zakariya Abbas

    All the best wishes for you and the every other developer of Mozilla who made & supported the products till today. As a user we’ll be forever grateful to you guys <3
    Wish you more success ahead of your life.

  11. Mauri

    I am definitely NOT a code guy and for me is an achievement writing a command line on Terminal of my Mac … but I can say I have really enjoyed your description on how to achieve a dream and survive to it.
    Your history is the quintessence of the American way: work hard and pursue your dreams.
    Wish I the best

  12. Patrick Charles-Lundaahl

    Thank you for the wonderful read, and for all your Mozilla contributions over the years! I’ve been a Firefox user for the better part of a decade, and it’s still my favorite browser.

    Best wishes in whatever you do next!

  13. Ruturaj

    I’ve been a random contributor to Firefox’s devtools, and when I heard the news of the team being laid off, it felt like I was the one of them. I had so many interesting conversations with you guys during my patch submissions.

    Always been interested going through your blogs all these years, and then one day suddenly I found ur “raising hand” DP on one of the Devtools slack channels … And I went to your site, just to confirm its the same guy :D I was very excited. I hoped to work (atleast review my patches) with you. But… Alas!

    Best wishes for your future !

  14. Chris

    Good luck with everything!

  15. Thank you David. For everything. You’re a huge inspiration to me, though I am nowhere near your level of achievement.

    Thank you and best of luck for the future.

  16. As a simple Firefox user: Thanks a lot for your work and your passion for Mozilla and free software!!

  17. Ronny

    450 million a year from Google isn’t enough to keep 750 people employed? Mismanagement in my opinion. Just like Firefox OS was mismanaged.

  18. Justin

    Good for you mate. Just see it as a much needed push to move on to new challenges. The world is your oyster, good luck.

  19. I’ve enjoyed reading your articles for years. Thanks for sharing your story and for everything you did for Firefox. I hope the coming years are sweet and rich in new ways. :-)

  20. charles

    Wow, what an article.

  21. Matt Simpson

    Just an awesome and inspiring post. The positivity shines through brightly. Thank you for all your contributions at Mozilla.

  22. Filip

    Amazing article! You definitely lived the dream, sounds amazing. Good luck in the future and keep rocking!

  23. Tiago Celestino

    Thanks for your contributions in Mozilla’s projects and in the developer community.

    Enjoy the next journey!!

  24. Binyamin

    Sorry to hear your story. Hope you will quickly get on an even better journey.
    Sounds familiar. Begins with canceled products, then layoffs then…

    Any predictions when Firefox will be terminated?

  25. Mozilla = "be a great place where dreams comes";
    dreams = true;
    you = {action:"inspiring", who:["others","respect"]};
    me = "thank you!";
  26. Congratulations on the story of fighting to achieve your dream and live it intensely until your last day, you could have been revolted by the resignation, but the storytelling was told with real feelings. You will make a new success story wherever you are.

  27. John Larson

    Thanks, David, for all you’ve done! I’ve been an avid fan of your blog since I was first learning MooTools back in 2008, and for 12 years and counting, every time I search with a technical question and see a result from your site come up, I know where to click and I’m never disappointed.

    That itself makes me grateful for your contributions, and to know that the surface area of your work covers at least some of my frequent forays into MDN as well is remarkable!

    I’m grateful for all your contributions, you’ve made me better at what I do.

  28. Cesare

    Good luck David for your next adventure!

  29. Hello, David!

    Thank you a lot for this article. It’s such wonderful memories. I really admire you as an engineer! You’re very kind and creative. I want to say thank you for your work, thank you for your ideas:)

  30. Meraklı

    I do not understand. Why cannot Firefox spare some money from ceo’s sallary? It seems ok to reduce the over paying salaries so as to keep the employees.

  31. Ahmed Gawad

    Indeed, you should be proud of being a mozillaian .
    And sorry for mozilla that they could not overcome the situation of COVID-19.
    How knows?! may be this is a new start

  32. I know how hard it is to leave a company that one worked for many many years, especially if it’s small company and you know everybody there. But sometimes that is best thing to do. It was similar in my case. Good luck to you in your next job!

  33. David

    You achieved more than many will ever hope to in this field…and you’re under 40. Congratulations. Your career is just getting started.

  34. Robin

    That was a solid read! I like it, also, you did it! *Pulling up your hand to cheer!*

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