Mozilla

Posts Tagged with “awards”

Musings on Entrepreneurship

June 1st, 2005

Last week the Women’s Technology Cluster hosted an awards event for the 4 venture capital firms who during 2003 invested in the most companies lead by women (apparently data is not available for 2004). The WTC is a business incubator headquartered in San Francisco that helps women leaders build technology businesses. I agreed to give a keynote talk and learned that I was to be the “entrepreneur keynote” as counterpoint to Cynthia Ringo’s VC keynote.

This was interesting, as I tend to thing of “entrepreneur” and “founder” as synonymous. And of course, in the technology world “entrepreneur” is pretty closely tied with venture capital and the search for many multiples of return on investment. Neither of these quite fits my role in the Mozilla project. Although I was involved in the creation of the Mozilla project, the role was not that of a “founder” creating an idea and bringing it to life. I was closer to that with the creation of the Mozilla Foundation, but this was still much more of finding a way to organize and lead an existing group of people than the prototypical founder’s role. And of course the basic goal of the Mozilla project is not focused on a large return on investment. We need to generate enough funds to keep the project vital, but that is far different than the typical startup as an investment vehicle.

But nevertheless the definition of “entrepreneur” turned out to be not that far off and the work I actually do is entrepreneurial enough that I found I had plenty to say. I spoke mostly about the “sense of possibilities” that I think drives most entrepreneurs. Those possibilities can be focused on making money, on creating technology, on helping others, on enriching one’s own life — the substance of the possibilities is not the key. It’s the sense that they exist, and the act of will required to bring them into existence. I also think that most entrepreneurs have a sense of the part of the possibility that they most want to conform to their internal vision. In some cases, that’s the whole thing, and the entrepreneur maintains control over all significant aspect of the project or the company.

My case is very much the opposite. The actual technical direction is not my space — my colleague Brendan Eich provides leadership in that arena. Beyond that, and far more unusual, is the degree to which the identity of the Mozilla project and the Mozilla Foundation is shaped by the myriad of participants and volunteers.

There is of course a piece of the Mozilla project where I have a very strong sense of the possibilities and a determination to see things proceed in a way that makes sense to me. That area is the organizational structure of the project. How do we integrate the various constituencies? How do we organize ourselves? How do we provide enough structure to build top quality products and still provide room for individual initiative and serendipity? How do we integrate the core development with the Spread Firefox community marketing effort, the mozdev.org development community, mozillaZine, the localizations groups, our International Affiliates which now include Mozilla Europe, Mozilla Japan and Mozilla China, and the numerous companies that use, develop and distribute Mozilla technology?

How do we remain the center of great technology and individual drive as we integrate with commercial teams? How do we create polished end-user products? How do we generate funds and remain true to our mission? How do we integrate employees of the Mozilla Foundation, employees of other companies and volunteers? How do we create an asset of great value, keep it vital and maintain it? These questions are only a part of the Mozilla project, and yet they provide plenty of challenges.

Of course, this was also a gathering celebrating VC investment in companies with women CEOs so I noted how often I find myself in meetings where I am the only woman. Or more accurately, how often I think back to a meeting to consider its content and realize in retrospect that I was the only woman. Being the only woman in a group of decision-makers is so common that I rarely even notice it any more. Looking at this gathering as I spoke I realized that this not noticing is probably learned behavior. This may seem obvious but it was a new thought to me.

Later Heidi Roizen noted during her acceptance comments for Mobius Venture Capital that she’s recently learned of a business school professor who taught the same case study — a study about Heidi herself — to two different sections of a class. In one section the study was about Heidi Roizen, in the other it was about Howard Roizen. Afterwards the professor conducted a survey asking questions like “How much do you respect the protagonist?” “How much would you like to work with / for this person?” Howard scored noticeably higher than Heidi, particularly among the male students. I can’t vouch for the study or the methodology as I’m recounting Heidi’s message. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that our “meritocracies” remain highly flawed and subjective.

After the formal program ended one of the women from the Women’s Technology Cluster challenged me to take personal responsibility for the low percentage of woman hackers in the Mozilla project. I refused, saying I would take responsibility with her, and the rest of our society for this problem, but wasn’t willing to take additional personal responsibility. We have not yet begun trying to direct the nature of the community that develops around Mozilla beyond our nascent international efforts. It would be interesting to hear whether other people think I’m more responsible than most for the low percentage of Mozilla Foundation employees and key volunteers who are women.

All in all it was quite an interesting evening.

Time Magazine Dinner

April 26th, 2005

Time Magazine hosted a dinner for the Time 100 last week, inviting this year’s list, last year’s list and a set of other interesting people. As you might imagine, many people don’t attend. I went, thinking it would be an opportunity to meet interesting people. The dinner was a black tie event held at Time Warner Center in Manhattan. That’s “Time Warner,” as in used to be “AOL/Time Warner,” which I found somewhat ironic. It was a classic New York event, black tie, with the red carpet and photographers and “headliners” to generate interest and so on. I was reminded once again of how pervasive the role of the media is in New York life, and how unabashedly people seek the spotlight.

We (my husband and I) did meet some interesting people. For example, we turned around to talk with a gentleman standing behind us to learn he was James Watson who, with his colleague Francis Crick, is credited with figuring out the structure of DNA.

As we got to the dinner table I found myself standing between two people from the Time 100 group of 2004. One woman, from the investment world, looked a bit unsure as I described Mozilla and Firefox. But she had brought her son as her guest and he immediately piped up “Firefox! Everyone I know uses Firefox!” And went on to describe why. I then turned to person on my other side, who is active in politics. He too looked a little lost of the idea of software. But his companion, a doctoratal student in the biosciences looked up and said “Firefox! I absolutely use Firefox. All my colleagues use Firefox.” And he went on to explain why as well. Then someone from the other side of the table joined in about Firefox. One person has a Spread Firefox account. I could feel the initial confusion morph into something along the lines of “hmm, I may not know of it, but it feels like something is going on.”

I found the experience to be a perfect example of the Firefox phenomenon. A whole set of people have no idea about the Mozilla Foundation. Many find software confusing in general and have little interest in sorting through the complexities of the browser or other software. And yet all around them are people they respect who are aware, who do care, and who are actually connected to the Mozilla project in some fashion.

Two Interactions with Time Magazine

April 11th, 2005

A while back (in early January I think, but I can’t be sure) we hosted a writer for Time Magazine at the Mozilla Foundation office. He talked mostly (maybe exclusively) with Ben Goodger and me. would have preferred that this discussion included a set of other people who are central to the project, but we don’t make these decisions. We talked a bit about the community of people that makes the Mozilla project happen. (We try very hard to describe this community to the press, although this focus doesn’t always appear in the resulting stories.) This writer noted the importance of community and was clear that we wanted to know something about me as well.

This made the interview quite different from almost all others. (Esther Dyson is the only other person I can recall who has been quite so interested in the mindset and motivations of a non-programmer like me, and my discussions with Esther were several months after the Time Magazine interview.) The writer asked a set of questions about motivations, approach and leadership techniques that had not been asked before. Some were broad — I remember something about whether my participation in the project reflects a specific view of human nature — and some more specific. It was a thoughtful interview for me.

This made me very interested to see the piece, as I had no idea how it would turn out. But it never ran. The interview was midweek, the writer said he would have the piece done by Friday, and it would probably run the next week. But it didn’t, nor the week after. We never found out why, that’s just how things are.

Months later I was in the office during the early morning mail delivery time. First I open the door for a UPS delivery man with a package for a Mozilla Foundation employee. A few minutes later I did the same for a FedEx delivery. It is astonishing how much junk mail we receive at the Foundation. There appears to be an entire industry that scans some set of databases and does mass mailings to anything that looks like it might be a business and spend money. So a lot of dealing with mail involves sorting this stuff out from the legitimate mail. I looked at the FedEx package skeptically. It was addressed to me, from Time Magazine. “Right.” I thought. “What kind of attention-grabbing scheme is this?” Then I noticed that the return address had an intelligible name. (Of course FedEx requires this, but in the context of expecting advertisements it was a surprise.)

I opened the FedEx package. Inside was a red envelope with my name printed on it. Inside the envelope was an invitation to a dinner at Lincoln Center somehow related to something called the Time 100. That’s it. No explanation. Just the invitation. Browsing the Web I found information about last year’s Time 100 and the Time 100 for 2000. (Have I said before how much I love the Web?)

I thought “I’m on someone’s list of people to invite to fill tables.” Whose list could I possible by on? Rafael, our marketing guy, had a different take. “You’ve been nominated — I’ll bet you’ve been nominated.” I didn’t believe it in the slightest. So Rafael got the job of tracking down the person at Time Magazine and figuring out what was going on. A day or two later he came back to report that he was right, I had been nominated. The list would be announced in a couple of weeks.

Then the list appeared online. Blake Ross pointed me to it and yes, I was included. It’s a fine description (except for the late-40′s part, which seems an exaggeration to me, but that’s life). It’s not the interview from my first interaction with Time Magazine. I would still like to see that piece. But this brief description has a good focus on the Mozilla project and the value of the project, which is good to see.

In guiding the Mozilla project I find myself thinking about topics, organizational dynamics and goals in a way that is new and challenging. The existing analytic frameworks — how does one lead an organization to accomplish goal X — are helpful but do not fit our setting. The Mozilla project combines a set of passionately committed individuals with commercial and business players to produce great technology. Our goal is the health of the Web itself — the client side anyway (that’s ambitious enough). Choice on the client side, combined with innovative technology to bring the myriad possibilities of the Web to citizens and consumers everywhere. We achieve this goal partially by creating choice and great technology, and also by appealing to consumers so they take the extra steps to adopt it.

It’s a new and exciting task. The Mozilla project has always broken new ground, building on Open Source traditions, learning from our peers and bringing our own experiences, creativity and drive. The Web is still young. It’s a fundamental piece of the digital world, and something as seemingly mundane as one’s choice of Web browser software makes an enormous difference in the long term health of the Web. Mozilla Firefox gives people that choice, provides a Web browsing experience that people love, and demonstrates that the commitment and dedication people bring to the Mozilla project makes a difference.

It takes constant inventiveness to guide the Mozilla project. Fortunately that challenge is met by the enormous number of creative people within the project. At some point I assimilate the various needs and goals and try to create an over-arching framework in which people can be successful. This is always done in close collaboration with Brendan Eich, co-founder of mozilla.org, technical lead for the project and my anchor for making sure the project stays on course. That assimilation is a personal challenge as well, driven by the goals of the Mozilla project, the vitality and dedication of our community and the quality of people drawn to the project. Altogether it adds up to a sense of great responsibility, of enormous possibilities, and of great good fortune to be involved.

Odd One Out

August 10th, 2004

One of the first open source gatherings I attended was a group of 30 or so hosted by Tim O’Reilly in a San Jose Museum sometime in 1999. I had only recently joined mozilla.org full time, was unknown to most people in the group, am not from a technical background, and am a woman to boot. It was hard not to feel out of place.

Before long there was talk of encouraging an open source culture that values contributions other than code. This was reassuring. It’s one thing to spend my time knowing that I’ll never be deep in the mainstream activity of programming; it’s another to make that effort assuming I would be a complete outsider forever.

At last year’s OSCON Eric Raymond announced that the Open Source Initiative and ZDNet were launching the Open Source Awards, intended to “to reward and encourage excellence in open-source software.” The Gold (“Grand Master”) and Bronze (“Merit”) awards are for those who write code. ilver (“Special”) Awards ” . . .offer a way to experiment, and will be expected to occasionally lead to the development of new “regular” categories to go with the Merit and Grand Master awards.”

This year Eric announced the first winners of the Grand Master and Special Awards. Larry Wall was the winner of the Grand Master award — who could argue with that? To my surprise, I was the winner of the “experimental” Silver Award. So surprised that when people began to congratulate me “on the award” I could only think that Firefox or Thunderbird had won another award and I had somehow missed it. When he gave me the award Eric told me it is for authoring the Mozilla Public License and subsequent leadership of the Mozilla project. Only the latter appears on the OSI website. But it’s impossible to talk about leadership in the Mozilla project without talking about Brendan Eich, and so the combination Eric described has to be the correct rationale.

The chance of me becoming a primo hacker is just about nil. Well, maybe less than that. The Mozilla Public License shows up in the Mozilla code, but nothing else I write ever will. It’s definitely rewarding to learn that my eclectic, code-free contributions are seen as valuable by people other than mozilla.org staff. It’s also another data point that suggests that the elusive “community management” concepts I mentioned in my last post are becoming generally recognized as an important element of the open source world. Maybe this experimental award will become a regular part of recognizing contributors to the open source community.

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