My Big Shift

This is the second in a series of blog posts that will summarize my experience and takeaways from the Mozilla Summit 2013 Planning Assembly that took place in our Paris, France office on June 14-17, 2013.


Stereotype:  something that may be true about some members of a group, but not all, and yet is applied to all members of the group without regard for the individual. While stereotype might be a scary word to some people, worry not – they are within your control to manipulate, eliminate, and examine thoroughly for holes in logic.

Debunk your internally held stereotypes, and not just once.

Unpacking a stereotype you’ve held for any length of time is not a ‘set it and forget it’ process.  It came as quite a shock to me this past weekend when I became aware of the deep levels of distrust I had been holding toward new hires within the last 2 years. These are people who were in the ranks of our explosive growth spurt* and when I examined this feeling I saw that I didn’t believe this new bunch of Mozillians could be as hooked, committed, and passionate as myself.

It dawned on me over the course of our intensive 2 days of plenary activities that I held this belief while still going day to day believing what I care most about is bring new people into the community.  And I do care about this, but I see now how my stereotyping might also be holding me back.  When I bring someone into the community or get a chance to passionately wax on how Mozilla has changed my life I like to think I can tell if they are also catching the fever. For me, it’s been such a good pairing of challenging technical work and new areas to practice social justice activism in, so I’ll evangelize to anyone who’s interested while also inquiring with them to discover what area of Mozilla contribution might be a good starting place for them. I expect to see a similar spark of what is possible, working with Mozilla, for their passion. When I’m able, I try to help them network and make connections within the project to help clear barriers to their goals and find a mentor.  Again, that’s based on my experience of coming on board with the help of a strong mentor as well as having social connections to leaders within the organization.

If it’s not apparent yet, I am trying to recreate for others what I saw as the perfect ‘hook’. I believe I have a strong set of core values that align with being Mozillian and I want to install them into others. Here’s the catch: becoming a Mozillian isn’t close to how, in a perfect world, one might install a binary package containing certain values into a person and we have no reliable test of whether it patches correctly and provides a guaranteed shared core with each other.

After this weekend, and talking deeply and at great lengths with people who have joined the community in the last two years, who have obvious passion & commitment to the Mozilla mission, I have started unpacked my stereotype of a what makes a new Mozillian passionate and what hooks them.  It’s something I will have to keep reminding myself of.  The reminder will look like asking people what their hook was instead of looking for mine in them.  Knowing logistically that it was impossible for everyone to have my exact experience but trusting they had something to activate them in the ways I felt mattered were not aligning at all until I got to spend this time having what sometimes seemed like the same conversation over and over.  I was with 60 people where at least half of them were brought on in the last two years and yet, the discussions were passionate, committed, and inspiring. I am thankful for our process that it allowed me to have this revelation that will help me be a better Mozillian and community leader in the future.

In the actions I have leading up to the Summit, one is to look closer at the ‘hooks’ of others and to work on how we might abstract & synthesize those into options for new Mozillians to have an activity to engage in where we can be as close as 100% certain as possible that they’ve been activated as Mozillians with the core values we’re wanting to trust each other has. A follow-up post will talk about the core values and their importance to several other big topics for Summit 2013.

* ~300 employees to ~600 employees over the course of 2011 and continuing to grow towards 1000 in 2012-13

Trust Process

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will summarize my experience and takeaways from the Mozilla Summit 2013 Planning Assembly that took place in our Paris, France office on June 14-17, 2013.


We are a group of very smart people. Don’t ever doubt that for a second. We are a hit-the-ground-running bunch of doers who really like actionable items and clear instructions as well as accountability and deliverables. Oh and throw in some metrics and a post-mortem so we can iterate, please. This makes us very challenging for outsiders to work with, especially when trying to engage a sizable group in open process activities. Turns out we’ll ask a lot of questions to clarify instructions, search high and low for actionable items, and demand deliverables. We’ll interrupt process, we’ll doubt the value of the process, and we’ll assume even before attempting that it is too open-ended to be of value or to generate the tangible items we’re craving as the proof our time was well spent.

If we go too far down that path in this unconference style of meetup, we will lose out tremendously on letting ourselves be changed and engaged by each other.

Love it or hate it, asking each other “is this making sense to you?” or “are we doing it right?”,  that uncertainty IS a big part of process. Asking each other questions, being confused together, not knowing what’s coming next together is a form of bonding.

Bonding – which I shall refer to from now on as friendship – typically strengthens over equal parts of time spent together + common interests + shared experience. Sometimes you can fast forward a friendship by just overloading one of those areas. Having a particularly intense experience with someone (eg: riding a roller coaster), spending a lot of consecutive time (eg: traveling together), and connecting intensely on a common interest (eg: hacking) are all examples of ways to ramp up the development of a strong bond with another human. When attending a Summit we are provided a multitude of opportunities to have many of those three with a variety of Mozillians we normally might not interact with, and sometimes with ones we do – deepening connections is the ‘bonus’ to the work we get done when we assemble en masse. My most remembered experiences at Summits, All-Hands’, Moz Camp, and other larger gatherings with Mozillians have always been about the micro interactions which are not  part of the schedule. Walking to dinner, sitting on the bus, playing Rock Band – those are opportunities to look at the person or people around you and to try to make sure you’re getting to know even a little bit about them.

In the very earliest part of our process for the weekend of discovery and digging into the meat of what should drive our Summit planning a question came up about whether we could affect the decision to have the Summit in 3 different geo-locations.  Just that one little detail was something many people were tripping over and wanted to discuss and it was clear our dive into the weekend’s process would be held up until there were answers. What ended up happening was Mardi explained how logistically they had looked at previous Summits & large gatherings and had determined that 600 people seemed to be the largest number of Mozillians in one place where there still could be a ‘cozy’ feeling that allows for the kind of bonding previously mentioned.  Once Mardi said this, I was changed.  I, too, had wondered about the dispersal but now it made sense to me that the importance of connection between Mozillians had been placed before the need to put us all in one location and  I appreciated getting this new perspective on what the process had accomplished already.

Mitchell then spoke about how sometimes we get hung up on comparing one thing to another and are quite vocal if we find it wanting.  It’s important for us to have this gathering, this alignment exercise for the project as a whole, and if we don’t want to call it a ‘Summit’ because it’s not everyone in one physical space then call it something else in your head.  I found her point to be very inspiring and concluded that it’s important to go to this 2013 gathering – at whichever location – and BE there.  Do not waste time comparing it to other events, attend the event you’re at and reflect later. For me, this was when I knew I could trust the weekend’s activities would lead to great things and more changes of my tightly held beliefs I came into the weekend with.  There will be more about this in future posts.

Thanks, Process.



Mozilla’s got projects for GNOME OPW Summer 2013

We’ve got 2 projects right now for GNOME Outreach Project for Women to apply to: thanks to Liz Henry and Selena Deckelmann

If anyone else at Mozilla has a project that can be done in 3 months time (or at least give the contributor a sense of accomplishment and get them very engaged as a Mozilla contributor) feel free to add a project (and a mentor) to the wiki. Applications are being accepted via GNOME until May 1st.

One of my favourite things about this program is that it allows someone to ‘intern’ with Mozilla without the requirement of being a student. If you can help tweet/share the project, that would be much appreciated too. This project has been growing exponentially every session and is making a significant impact to FOSS community and culture.

My Progressive Benefits Dream for Mozilla

Recently I was approached by a co-worker to add my name to a petition about restoring the parental leave for Mozilla’s US employees.  At some point between 2009 and 2012 our leave plan changed without there being (to my knowledge) any formal announcement, transparency around the decision, or discussion of the impending change with employees.

As I was crafting my response to the request I thought this would be a good blog post since it states quite clearly what I hope Mozilla could strive for as a company with regards to how it provides benefits to employees.

Thanks for including me in this thread.  I’ve given it some thought and I’m seeing two very distinct issues here:

1) That Mozilla cut a policy without explanation, it looks to be by accident, and I agree completely that the old policy should be restored until a new one is put in effect with intention (and hopefully transparency)

2) That Mozilla needs a competitive and progressive leave policy going forward – this is something I am happy to help champion with adjustment to the current parent-focused language

I have recently been working on improving our benefits from another angle – trying to get our benefits to explicitly cover transgender surgeries – and I see the issue of being able to take paid leave as being very helpful to that ask.  Right off the bat, I wouldn’t want to support having gender-distinct parental leave durations, as this creates a problem for families who do not follow heterosexual patterns (eg: a man or men adopting a child gets less leave than a man/woman or woman/woman or even a single woman).  However, I would encourage us to think bigger and propose that paid leave should be a benefit available not only to parents.

If we really want to support diversity, I recommend we ask for (and get a lot of people on board with) a leave benefit that can be used to care for an elder, undergo surgery, adopt/birth/foster a child, write a book, pursue education, renovate a home, or anything that requires undivided focus away from work and enriches your life.  Imagine if your benefits at Mozilla allowed you 8 weeks (happy to shoot for more) of paid leave and the reason was up to your discretion.  What a measure of excellence we could have above current plans offered by other companies by recognizing a wide range of life-altering events that demand our attention.

Pushing our company to be more appealing to, and welcoming of, women and other marginalized groups is incredibly important to me and I want to see us grow our benefits and company culture in ways that encompasses more diversity. We should appeal not only to women for whom maternity leave is a priority, but also to women whose lives follow other paths, and show that Mozilla cares about the overall health and growth of all their employees with flexible plans that benefit the widest possible groupings of people.

For the short term I’m happy to put my name on this request to reinstate the plan that was never publicly revoked and call out the poor process there (lack of transparency and no announcement of potential change, no input from employees) but I also appeal to you and to others who participate in this request to consider joining forces with me (and some others who put in the request for transgender surgery) to draft a request for 2014 to create a Personal Leave policy and provide a benefit that enhances the well-being of all employees at Mozilla.

That’s the long and short of it.  I want us to be willing to discuss and consider our benefits in ways that do not single out certain choices or circumstances over others.  It may be how 3rd party brokers and the benefit providing companies create markets for their wares (reminds me of pink/blue toy marketing) but if we want to really have an ‘enviable’ culture and we truly value diversity in our recruiting efforts we should think outside of the boxes that have been created for us by the profit-driven insurance sector.

Creating a Mozilla workshop for beginner Hacking of Mobile HTML5 Games

Participants in the Mozilla Hacking HTML5 Mobile Games workshop at the 2013 Dare 2B Digital conference.

Dare 2B Digital is an annual South Bay conference that brings 300 young women ages 12-16 together to encourage them to consider STEM fields in college by coming together for a full day of inspiring talks and workshops showcasing women’s work and relevance in technology.  For the past three conferences I have signed Mozilla up as a sponsor and created a workshop that is run 3 times that day and reaches about 80-100 attendees.  Last year I created kits for participants to learn about soft circuit hacking and lighting up felt foxes, the year before I taught Universal Subtitles and Popcorn before it was even a 1.0 product yet. I’m always trying to keep our workshops current and, if possible, on the bleeding edge of whatever Mozilla is working on. The participants get a taste of one exciting aspect of what is happening RIGHT NOW in open technology.

In the past year I’ve been really inspired by Mozilla’s outreach around web literacy and at the same time there’s been all this work done around our upcoming Firefox OS for mobile devices that will allow apps to be built entirely of the web and installed/sold/shared outside of the silo-structures such as Apple’s App Store and Google Play.  At MozCamp Asia in November of 2012 I watched the Mozilla Taiwan reps showcase a fairly simple card matching game they had made of browser icons and they turned it into a Firefox OS installable app in only a couple of hours.  All of these snippets and ideas led to my proposed workshop for the girls being about hacking their own version of the browser-pairs game and installing/playing it on a Firefox OS device.

Now this was all before the Firefox OS phones even existed, and it was also before I went away on a 3 week vacation to Vietnam over the holidays.  I mentioned it to my co-worker Margaret before leaving and she said she’d be up for working on it with me but when I returned from vacation I lost about a week just on jetlag & minor flu-like symptoms then another on my birthday and having my family in from out of town.  Next thing I knew it was February 1st, the workshop was on February 9th, and I had NOTHING ready and there was no public Firefox OS device yet, either.

So I called up Ruth who organizes the conference and tried to beg off this year.  Would it be so bad if Mozilla didn’t do a workshop this one time?  Thankfully Ruth very calmly returned my panicked email with a phone call and asked me what I needed to get this workshop on track.  What did I need? Mostly just to buck up and finish what I started, me with my big mouth. The pieces were all out there.  I had code (thank you Mozilla Taiwan!), Chris Heilmann had recently posted some inspiring slides about HTML5 and mobile for Firefox OS App Days, and Hackasaurus has plenty of youth-focused resources.

Hastily, I organized a couple of lunch time meetings during the week leading up to the workshop with Margaret and we hashed out who would do what.  We made an exciting discovery in our first meeting, which was that we could host the game from a github page and this meant every girl in the workshop could hack on her own customizations of the game in github’s web interface code editor and see their changes reflected on a mobile device immediately.  No need to deal with the minutia of web hosting, no server-side code, and minimal development setup – the freshly imaged laptops we borrowed from Mozilla IT would be good to go in minutes!

I drove to Redwood City on the day of the conference with: 20 laptops, 15 Firefox OS test driver devices (thanks to my co-workers who let me borrow their phones!), and some slides about why hacking HTML5 is the future of mobile apps. One thing we realized as we were setting up was that there would be some delay between when the participants created their GitHub accounts and when they would see their github pages live with our demo code.  We ended up front-loading that and having them start right away as they arrived at the top of each time slot then going into the presentation after they had forked the repo which had the gh-pages branch set to default.  We later learned (through Margaret’s chatting with GitHub support) that it was likely the delay could be caused by not having edited anything yet on the gh-pages branch so in later workshops we had the girls follow along with Margaret and change the <title> of their index.html and commit the change.

Getting paired up, creating GitHub accounts and FORKING!

The presentation portion was about 10-15 minutes and started out with asking the girls to shout out what comes to mind when I say the word “HACK”.  Answers included “death row” and things along the lines of breaking or sneaking into someone’s computer, mostly things associated with dark or criminal activities.  A few did mention things like ‘nerd’ or ‘creative’ too.  When I showed them my examples for the talk we had a brief discussion about not asking for permission, being curious, creative, and taking ownership. After that we talked about Apple/iPhone and Google/Android.  Most of the girls had one or the other we explored how non-interchangeable they are, how much it might cost to be a developer for one or the other, the need to play by someone else’s rules in order to get your ideas out there.  My favourite part of this talk is repeating over and over how using open web technologies and the web itself is all about NOT ASKING PERMISSION.  You put your stuff up, tell people where it is, and they can go use it.  It can (and should) be that easy.

After the talking was done the young women had about 45 minutes to hack on their github sandboxes and test out making customizations to their matching game. We modeled it after Mozilla’s Thimble project which uses comments in the code to explain various areas of the code and gives ideas on what to change. Our take was to suggest they try (in increasing levels of difficulty):

  1. changing the background color/images (of the page, game box, card backs)
  2. changing the images on the cards when flipped
  3. change the music (few got to this part in the allotted time)

We saved 15 minutes at the end to do demos of what people did to their code and to come up and tell us what they did to achieve their end results.  Some of the customizations led to a newly themed game like pigs, magic, twilight, book covers, and other things the designers liked. A few girls went further and took snapshots of themselves on the laptop camera and used their own action shots in the match game, one girl had her own laptop and drawing tablet so she drew her own card faces and intro screen background, and another girl removed the card backs to make it look like the game box was all black – when I started to click during her demo and cards flipped I was surprised since I had thought the game was broken but she laughed and said it was on purpose.  It’s hilarious to me that she made a simple match game into a much harder challenge by hiding the discover-ability of the game.

LOTS of hacking going on here. Margaret and Larissa help out with question.

All in all the three workshops went smoothly, everyone got to do some hacking and see their results during the time we had allotted, and all the girls left with a new github account and code they can keep hacking and learning on over time.  During the course of the workshop we went around helping and answering questions and taught them about commit history, rolling back changes, and also using “Inspect Element” to figure out where to look in the code to make changes.  I should mention that at the beginning of every workshop I asked “Who here has touched HTML/CSS before?” and there were never more than half the hands in the room raised.  This comes up every year in the workshops I run. Some girls are getting this knowledge from parents, friends, self-teaching, and now things like CoderDojo (as one participant bragged) but there’s no indication that any of them are learning this in school where they spend a majority of their time. The thought that some girls are being left behind on this is sad to me, and I want to do all I can to help change that. Every single one of these young women left our workshop with a new spark in their eyes having now had first-hand experience with the power of creating web apps that can run on ANY WEB-ENABLED DEVICE. It was powerful to see.

So many new hackers of open source, mobile games.

So, what’s next?  I think this workshop should become another Webmaker and/or Hackasaurus project that can be taught anywhere, to anyone who wants to have a first-time experience with mobile app development.  We’re 80% of the way there, I’d say what’s left to do is:

* Code clean up (especially CSS) so that everything in the repo is clearly marked for its purpose and with comments on how to mess around with it. Specifically comments in the Javascript and exploration of that code – we didn’t touch this at all in our 1:15 hr workshops.

* Spend a bit more time, if you have it on basic HTML/CSS editing, using Inspect Element, and having cheat sheets printed up for participants.

* Have options for what to do next – getting off of github pages and hosting your own app, possibly with some server-side code.

It won’t take much to turn this into something more generic and useful for introducing people to the power of Firefox OS and HTML5 app creation and I look forward to continuing to develop this sort of material whenever I can. Thanks to the Desktop Support staff who prepped laptops for the conference, SF co-workers who lent their phones, and most of all to my coworkers who lent their time and their expertise: Margaret, Larissa, and Amy*.  Without all of you this would not have gone smoothly and because of you it was the best day of 2013 so far.


* At lunch we had a little Q&A with the 30 or so girls from the first workshop. They got to ask all of us questions about what we do and how we got there.  The four of us had such different paths & connections to technology. I love that we got to show these young women a variety of ways to engage with tech and to be in open source.

OPW Call

Release Management gets an Intern!

Thanks to the GNOME Outreach Program for Women, we’ve got ourselves an awesome January intern who will be doing her first Open Source contributions all the way from Australia.

Lianne Lee stood out as the strongest of several applicants to the Release Metrics Dashboard, which was one of the two Mozilla projects that Selena Deckelmann and I threw together in order to try and lure people to our devious schemes for moar metrics. Lianne’s application was thorough and used all the technologies I wanted our intern to have familiarity with (python, git, javascript, creating data visualizations)

Firefox 17 triage over 6 weeks

She did a great job of showing one of the things release managers do over the six weeks a Firefox version is in Beta. The spikes in the above graph align with our constant triaging of tracking-firefox17? flags and how the number of bugs flagged for tracking decreases after the first few betas have shipped. When we get to beta 4 we’re starting to get more reserved about what we’re willing to track (it usually has to be pretty critical, or a low-risk fix to a many-user-facing issue).

Firefox 17 Tracked Bugs

This next graph shows us what we already know – but it’s very nice to SEE: our bugs tracked for a particular release continually go down over time, gradually.  Remember, this is while new bugs are being added to tracking regularly, so the fact that the trend keeps going down helps us know we are staying on top of our work and that engineers are continuing to fix tracked bugs as we close in on a 6 week ship date.

Now that we know Lianne has got what it takes, we’re going to set her on a more ambitious project – to create an engineering dashboard both for individuals and for teams, that would give them this sort of info on demand.  Want to see where you’re at (or where your team is at) on a particular version?  The engineering dashboard could show you in priority sequence what should be top on your list and also what bugs your team has unassigned that are tracked and should be assigned pronto (or communicate to RelMan that the bug should not be tracked).

This will be a huge improvement over email nagging (don’t worry, that’s still going to be around for many more months) because it will give us some quick, visual cues about how we’re doing with Firefox priorities and then we can also keep these measurements over time to compare release-to-release what the temperature of a particular version was. We hope this will allow us to keep fine tuning and working towards more stable beta cycles as we move forward.

Lianne will be with us from January 2 to April 2, 2013 and in her first week she’ll be evaluating a bunch of existing dashboards we know about to see what the pros and cons of each are and to do reconn on the technologies and visualizations people use.  We’ll use that to help us develop the v1.0 of this project’s deliverable and make sure it’s left in a state that RelMan intern 2.0 can pick up next summer.

Please comment if you have dashboards you like, you loathe, or you just want us to know about.

Daughter wins with Geek Dad who hacks video game gender pronouns

[x-posted from Geek Feminism]

Michael Chabon, in “Manhood for Amateurs”, writes an essay telling the story of being at the supermarket with his child, feeling quite run-down and barely hanging on, with his toddler in tow on a Sunday morning so as to give his wife a chance to sleep in. As he’s in line to pay, a woman in line with him says something along the lines of “You’re a good dad, I can tell just by looking”. At that moment he has this epiphany that to be a ‘good dad’ in our society one must merely not be in the process of killing a child in public whereas a women can rarely achieve the status of ‘good mother’ in the public’s ever-shaming eye. If they ever do briefly get told that, it is all too quick to fade with the barrage of societal and internalized messaging women get telling them they are never good enough.

Michael Chabon’s take was this:

“The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is so pitifully low.”

As someone who did not have a dad, I have nothing in my upbringing about what it’s like to be a young female with a grown male caring for you, teaching you, or taking an interest in your life’s outcome. Chabon does sum up for me the conclusions I came to, quite young, about these creatures called ‘fathers’. Growing up with my lesbian, feminist mother my understanding of the odds was that netting a ‘good dad’ seemed so low and I was convinced I was lucky for not having to participate in that particular life lottery.

To folks who did have ‘good dads’, this story might seem familiar to you, but to many it may come as quite a pleasant surprise. Someone I am proud to consider a friend had their blog post picked up by ArsTechnica today and, yes, the title of this article is very unfortunate but the amplification of what Mike Hoye did for his daughter is such a ‘good dad’ moment that I hope there will be ripples of this for months as well as more hacking of games to do even just that simple binary flip that helps a young girl see something more like herself as the hero of the stories the games people play are centered around. Imagine for a moment if we could take this kind of hacking to children’s television and movies. Those are immutable objects for now, but video games? Well, Mike has proven that a bit of hacking can go a long way.

Because I am fortunate enough to know Mike through my time at Seneca College where he was a regular mentor to our zealous open source program, I asked him if I could interview him for a Geek Feminism post and he said yes so we hopped into an etherpad and had a talk.

LB: Hi Mike!

First let’s be clear, you didn’t give a fictional character who exists only as pixels in a video game a ‘sex change’ but you certainly upset the dominant males-as-heroes pattern in video games by simply flipping the gendered forms of address in the text of the game where the Hero does in fact have quite a gender-neutral appearance. Does it feel radical to you to do this kind of hack?

MH: It certainly felt… transgressive. I’m an inveterate gamer and Legend Of Zelda fan, and the Zelda series revolves around some pretty well-used tropes. You know you’re going to be the hero, that there’s going to be the Master Sword, a bow, the boomerang, the hookshot… Changing something, especially something as basic as the nature of the characters, feels like it should be a pretty big deal.

But at the same time, it seems like I’m just solving a problem that’s stubbornly refused to solve itself. That option should always have been there.

LB: You gloss over a bit in your post, will you put up more details (maybe another blog post) of step-by-step instructions to help people who have less technical depth than you try to do this at home with their kids? Alternately, is there a way to package up what you did and distribute it without getting yourself put in jail (or heavily fined)?

MH: The way I packaged it up – by making it clear that you’ll have to find the original material on your own, but here is the tool you’ll need to apply the following changes – is the best I could come up with. As for the step-by-step instructions… I found the game’s disk image, opened it up in a hex editor – I used for that, because it works really well with extremely large files – but once you’ve done that, you just need to make a copy of the disk image, and work on that one; just page around the file until you find the dialog, and then start editing it. The important thing, at least as far as the approach I took, was that you need to be extremely careful to use phrases that are exactly, letter-for-letter the same length as the phrases you’re replacing and make sure you can see the difference between a space (one kind of whitespace) and a linebreak, that look the same in the text but have different numerical values.

It helped me to use a very basic text editor with a fixed-with font, so that I could copy the phrases I was replacing out and work on them for a while without committing anything back until I was reasonably happy with them.

LB: I wonder if you handed this hack back to the game developers/publishers, would they be receptive to putting out the alternate version, considering how simple the hack really is?

MH: It’s unlikely that my approach is well-suited for that – I’m not building in an option that a player would be able to toggle. You either change the whole game or nothing.

LB: That’s a good point. Advocating for more options in the game defaults seems like a great tactic here over asking for entirely different releases of games.

Any plans for other games that you play with your daughter where you might want to make this similar adaptation?

MH: I don’t know – it depends on what she’d like to play next. We haven’t started The Ocarina Of Time yet, so that’s a candidate. But so much of this depends on whatever holds Maya’s interests that it’s impossible for me to say.

LB: It will be interesting when she grows up and talks to others about playing the game, perhaps slipping in a female pronoun. The looks of confusion from other players will hopefully make her laugh and perhaps feel bad for them that their dads didn’t take these matters into their own hands. My mom did a similar thing for me with pronouns in Dr. Seuss stories on characters that were too gender-stereotyped with no bad side effects so far, to my knowledge.

MH: God, I can only hope.

LB: Obviously you’re an accomplished hacker, what is your approach to hacking with your child(ren) in terms of meeting kids where their skills are at?

MH: I don’t have fully-formed thoughts about this yet. I’d like to start by asking Maya what she’d like to create – not necessarily out of code, but starting with carpentry or paint, and then helping her work stuff through. The only overarching principle I want her to understand is that she can, if she puts her mind to it, make and change things.

LB: Have you had to deal with any sentiments from your daughter that suggest she might get messages telling her that computers are ‘for boys’ or that doing anything hacky or tech-related isn’t ‘for girls’?

MH: Yeah, that shit is pervasive. It’s not so much computers – there aren’t a lot of those in school yet – but “boys do this”, “girls do that”, that starts awfully early.

I quiz her on it, when it comes up – Why do you think that? And the answer is always, always that one of the other kids, usually boys, in her class told her. It’s… disheartening, but you push back when you can.

LB: That’s interesting that your anecdotal evidence is that the boys seem to be doing more of the gender policing. In my experience it was more the girls who seemed invested in protecting ladydom.

MH: My sample may not be representative (interviewer acknowledges that hers wasn’t either) (also, it’s certainly possible that I’m not getting a reliable story from Maya, who has in the last two weeks claimed to be a girl, a boy, a crab, a moose and, earlier, a pentagon. So she may not be the most reliable narrator.

LB: Starting kindergarten can be a time when the gender binary really hits home for kids and the positive messages a kid gets at home start to become overwritten by the massive mainstream’s – are you having to up the ante in un-learning?

MH: She is in preschool, not quite kindergarden yet – and I don’t really have a clear sense of how things get addressed there – I suspect well, but I don’t know. Having said that, I think the old lead-by-example tropes are important. Mom and Dad treat each other with respect, even when we disagree, and insist that Maya does so as well. When she uses some other kid’s misbehavior as a justification for her own, we don’t accept that as an excuse, and occasionally admit our own mistakes as well.

photo of a child with a backpack ready to head out the door to school

Mostly, though, we just try to avoid television and Disney movies, and try to avoid books where the women are either helpless NPCs or props or both. It’s not always a perfect approach, because frankly there’s not a lot of those books out there, but it’s an uphill battle. But so is all parenting, so hey.

LB: Should we talk about the “P” word? Are there inklings of wanting to be a princess? Even if it was Princess Leia (who is now owned by Disney) would this fly with you and your particular approach?

MH: I don’t really know. We’re not there yet. She’s expressed as much interest in being a princess as she has in being a moose at this point, so I’m not super-concerned about it.

We’ll go through that phase at some point, I’m sure, but I just don’t want it to be the only phase she goes through.

LB: Love the moose stuff – where is that coming from?

MH: She has a shirt where the moose has antlers, so she holds up her hands to her head like antlers and says “MOOSE” and charges. It’s pretty great, unless you’re afraid of moose.

LB: Have you broken the news to her that moose are really big and stinky? Also a menace on country roads in Canada? :)

MH: For polite situations, she’ll hold up only one hand, and be a half-moose.

LB: You’re doing a great job here :)

Are you aware of projects such as: ?

MH: Yeah, I gave them some money on general principles.

LB: Can you speak to what works/doesn’t for you in terms of making technology feel accessible to your daughter and what seems to entice her or dissuade her from the things we technologists might be taking for granted?

MH: It’s too early to say. Right now, she’s surrounded by the tech Mom and Dad use in our day to day lives, watching us work with it. She understands very quickly how to use it herself. So far, to be quite blunt, “Accessible” means “stuff I can manipulate without needing to know how to read”, which basically means touchscreens with icons or hardware with big buttons, where interactions don’t generally have hard consequences.

LB: That brings up a good question – what does Mom do with regards to hacking or owning/customizing things in a way that teaches curiosity and exploration of creativity? Are you a one-man show, or is a love of technology, gaming, hacking something the whole family participates in to varying levels?

MH: Mom has almost no interest in technology per se. It’s not her thing, but her hobbies – more artistic, craftier in general – are complimentary, and also something Maya’s taken to.

LB: So your daughter gets balance then, between those many areas. I think it’s great that you take such responsibility for transferring your knowledge and sharing your passions with your kids.

MH: I’m not sure how they learn any other way.

LB: Final question:
What would you list as starting point for useful tools/skills a geek or geek-leaning parent might want to have at their disposal tohelp them alter the tech realities around us in this way and other ways that upset the defaults?

MH: I don’t think there’s one answer to that question, certainly not one that’s less than book length or applies to everyone. The thing that you ultimately need to do is to believe that not only can you look behind the curtain, but that if you’re a little bit smart and a little bit careful, you’ll be able to step up and operate the machinery there yourself. That’s what I’m hoping Maya takes from this – there may be an infinite number of things in the world you don’t understand, but there’s nothing that you can’t understand, and a little patience, a little courage and enough small steps. will get you there.

LB: Thanks for sharing your approach here, Mike, I think you’re an inspiration for open source geek parenting and I hope we’ll see more of these sorts of hacks in the years to come until they are no longer even “hacks” but in fact, defaults or built-in options.

MH:There’s a lot of work left to do, but we’ll get there.

Money for Nothing, and the Chicks (work) for Free

Ada Initiative reached its goal fundraising banner

Fundraising is almost as hard for me as self-promotion.  In fact, it’s easier for me to do the broadcasting I did around the Ada fundraising than I imagine it would be for me to do my own seed round for an idea I felt excited about.  I express with regularity how grateful I am for the people who practice social work in our society, doing outreach to the outcasts & downtrodden. I am also ever so thankful for people who can ask more times than I for contributions to important causes. No matter how valiant the mission, it’s such redundant communication, keep-your-chin-up, bright-siding, and a task this introvert, who merely has bouts of extroversion, finds very taxing.  So major kudos, fireworks, and many many pats on the back to Val Aurora and Mary Gardiner who held their own idea up and asked repeatedly for community contributions to support its very bright future. Thanks are due in advance for what they will continue to do now that there are some funds, to move forward and amplify the mission of getting more women, empowered women into all levels of Open Source communities.

I’ve observed that all these self-starting, entrepreneurial men act *entitled* to having people (often other men) throw (and put at risk) huge wads of cash on barely-developed ideas that appear promising on the surface.  And don’t a huge percentage of them fail?  And don’t many of those same men dust themselves off, move on to their next idea, and run the same game again?

Now, there’s some major class privilege here – these are generally very privileged men we are talking about. Men who have various safety nets, and often no dependents. Also they are the golden boys of capitalism (especially right now, and especially in the Bay Area) and that type of money lending/growing is not our game at orgs like the Ada Initiative.


When it seemed like the Ada Initiative’s fundraising goals wouldn’t be met, I found myself questioning the expectation of the Ada Initiative to get funds, to be a ‘we pay people’ organization.  There is a lot of messaging out there that tells women who care about outreach and diversity initiatives that this work should be extra, volunteer, and passion-driven (and can’t you just eat passion for breakfast?) kind of work.  I had to look hard to double-down my resolve to believe in (and broadcast) the opposite.  We should be able to ask for this, expect it, drive this point home repeatedly WITHOUT SHAME.  At this point I don’t care if someone thinks we’re asking too much, too often and I have not yet actually HEARD someone say that, I just made it up in my head. Then I had to notice it, and figure out how to tell that voice to shut the fuck up.

So here’s what I tell myself (and the other Ada Initiative advisers on our mailing list):

  • What you’re doing matters.
  • You should get paid for doing it.
  • You’re creating tremendous value.
  • It is fair to ask people to kick back a portion of their income (esp. earned in the tech industry) to help with outreach and diversity efforts.

The point of sharing my internal voice re-write here, and pointing out how others manage to do it without shame when working on capitalist models is to say:

As much as humanly possible (and your strength to do so will vary day to day, understandably) – please fake it.  Fake that sense of entitlement.  Pretend sometimes that you’re one of those guys who think people should give you millions just cause you made some little piece of plastic on a 3-D printer and you’re going to take your idea over to China and mass-produce more plastic for people who make too much money to buy from you in droves.  Fake that confidence as much as you can until it’s real – because our mission sure as hell is and the value of this project is bigger than their million-dollar, landfill-feeding crap any day.

Why isn’t Autoland working?

This question comes up enough that I figured a quick blog post/status update would be helpful.

What does Autoland do?

Poll individual Bugzilla bugs for an autoland token (currently using whiteboard tags, future Autoland has an extension & webservice that makes polling the entirety of bugzilla no longer needed). When an autoland request is found, the serviced does an automated landing to try for you of all non-obsolete patches attached to the bug if they can be landed cleanly on tip of mozilla-central and either the patch author or a feedback provider have appropriate hg permissions, otherwise it reports back to the bug what the issues were. Upon completion of the try run, a comment is left in the bug stating the results and if a final repo destination (or destinations) was specified (the hg permissions must match up between requester/reviewer and the destination repo(s)) the service can continue on to autolanding the patch(es) to the destination repo.  A comment would be left on the bug when the push to final destination(s) is done.  There would be no reporting back of final build results, that would be handed back over to human eyes on TBPL.

What is Autoland’s status now?

In April of 2012, right before Marc’s second internship ended, we launched a very experimental public-facing version of Autoland and announced it a bit so we could get more people testing it.  This had varying degrees of success.  We got more bugs ironed out but also discovered that Autoland’s daemons for hgpushing and bugzilla polling tend to fall over a bit too often.  When we moved Autoland off it’s staging VM to a more permanent home we lost the status page that would tell us (and developers) what the modules were doing and that really made the workings of Autoland quite opaque.  With Marc leaving at the end of April and my switch over to help with Release Management in Feb 2012  I had kept meeting regularly with Marc and driving the project to completion as much as possible but hadn’t been able to pull my weight on coding for the last 3 months of our time together. This left us with an Autoland that stopped working and no one available to continue to massage it into being the robust system we needed it to be.  I took mention of Autoland out of our trychooser page, try server docs, and have generally tried to downplay it’s existence while still keeping a plan on the back burner for how we will resurrect it as soon as there is some time.

What does Autoland need to be publicly usable again?

  • A status page that can show what modules are running or down, display what’s in the queue, and give a quick visual to users if Autoland is up or down as a result.
  • Nagios alerts on the Autoland modules that let me (and other people interested in helping to maintain Autoland) know when things fall over.
  • At least one person, if not several, who can access the Autoland master VM and ‘kick’ it as needed

This is what’s needed for a short term solution. I know that we have some bugs with our hg pusher module as well as some trickiness in our message queue that, once fixed, would make the overall system more robust.  We need people using the system to be able to catch more of those bugs though, so in the meantime having as close to on-click restoring of the system would be a huge win here.

What does Autoland need to be truly ‘production’ ready?

  • Security review on the code and the BMO extension so that we can move away from whiteboard tags and let people use the BMO extension instead — this gives much cleaner input to Autoland of what is being requested.
  • More VMs to run hgpusher modules on so that Autoland can handle a larger load. Each VM can run 2 hgpushers max so we’d want to be able to grow our pushing farm as the usage of the system increases.
  • Being able to push to repos other than Try.

There is no clear plan to be able to get the system beyond Try landings, but I see automated try landings as still being a huge help so I’d be super happy just to see that part get back to a working state.  This project is no longer a RelEng priority now that I’ve permanently moved to Release Management and Marc has gone on to other internships and more schooling. I can’t promise anything time-wise, but I wanted to provide some clarity into what is needed and put out the “patches welcome” call.  I see Autoland as being a great option for a community-managed project and I want to keep working on it when time permits. If you are looking to become a Mozilla contributor and are interested in automation and web APIs – this might be a good starter project for you. Please get in touch.



Isn’t “hack” a bad word?

This past weekend I led another soft circuits 101 workshop as a Mozilla Rep at a women’s music festival near SF called Fabulosa. I had one hour to teach people really basic electricity, circuits, and how to ‘hack’ their clothes/sculptures/lives with a 3V battery and some LEDs.

The reason I love to do this workshop is because I find it gives participants a physical representation of the hacker spirit Mozilla aims to embody for the web.  Learning soft circuits is just the tip of the iceberg and I always stress that the web has much more info for them to continue exploring, learning, being curious about how to create and modify technology in their lives.  In one hour, I just show them how to make light.

This workshop was smaller than the ~80 girls who came through at Dare 2B Digital.  The festival setting meant there were more conflicts of interest so I had 6 participants instead of the 20-25 I had planned for. The 6 participants were all very enthusiastic though, and we started off with a go-around to hear why people were interested in learning soft circuitry.  One person was hoping to learn how to light up her clay sculptures, another wanted to make art for Burning Man, and a few had costume ideas in mind.

I spent the first 10-15 minutes explaining electricity, how a circuit works, and what kind of circuit they would be creating with their 3V batteries and LEDs – their circuits would be made using conductive thread sewn into felt (or some other material if they brought it).  With only 40 minutes left, we got to work – everyone started in on their first circuit.

While we were casually chatting during the building time, one woman said “I thought ‘hack’ was a bad word” (I had written a large “HACK” on the whiteboard to inspire).  I’m so glad she brought this up and we had a chance to discuss the very reason for workshops like these, and for Mozilla. I explained to her that while it might once have been a vilified term, it has now been largely reclaimed as people work to make sure that they have full ownership of the things they buy, or make.  Encouraging people to open their minds up to the potential of hacking their lives – whether on the web or in the physical world – always feels great.  I was happy that even in this small gathering, we got to discuss this very key issue for technology going into the future, and that there are now 6 new hackers in the world.