Archive for February 7th, 2005 staff and Mozilla Foundation Employees

February 7th, 2005

In the beginning of the Mozilla project there was the “ staff.” staff is the virtual organization that guided the Mozilla project, spoke for the project, developed and implemented policy for the project. At its inception, the individual members of staff were all Netscape employees. As time went on more and more staff members were volunteers or employed by someone other than Netscape / AOL.

Over time staff took over more and more of the activities previously managed by the Netscape management team — milestone releases, managing the CVS tree and so on. staff members guided both the policy decisions and the daily operational decisions that kept the project going. Some years ago I described the role of staff in some detail in the Mozilla Roles and Responsibilities document.

The Mozilla Foundation was born in July of 2003. For the first time we had an official legal organization that could hold the critical assets and hire people to work on the project. Launching the Mozilla Foundation was a hectic and pressure-filled time. The pressure grew continuously through the release of our 1.0 products. I’m sure anyone who’s been through a make-or-break product release cycle will understand this!

With the creation of the Mozilla Foundation it was clear that some thought needed to be given to the relationship between staff and Mozilla Foundation employees. But we also needed to get the Foundation off the ground, establish key relationships, focus on maintaining our development community, think out how to raise enough money to sustain ourselves (a big topic, more on that later), develop our new applications and make progress on the underlying platform technologies as well. So the question of rationalizing the roles of staff and Mozilla Foundation employees (ie, Mozilla Foundation staff) has been on my mind, but not front and center. We’ve trimmed the staff list to reflect those people who have moved on and are now longer active. But we haven’t had a policy for what “ staff” means in our new incarnation and so we haven’t added anyone to it. Even key players like our lead developers aren’t officially listed as staff members. (Tolerance for ambiguity is probably a characteristic of those comfortable in our world.)

The Mozilla project still has a great deal to accomplish, and we’ve all got more to do than we can imagine finishing. But we have successfully completed a series of milestones with the release and adoption of Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird. So I’d like to start the discussion of staff and Mozilla Foundation employees.

I have a few basic premises that drive my thinking. I should be clear here — these are my personal views. At some point I’ll write an official policy for review and (hopefully) adoption, but this isn’t it. My current working framework is:

  • The Mozilla project is bigger than the Mozilla Foundation
  • The Mozilla Foundation does not and probably never will employ all leading contributors to the project or all those whose voices represent the project
  • An employment relationship with the Mozilla Foundation should not take the place of peer review and leadership through respect
  • A single management chain, even that of the Mozilla Foundation itself, does not reflect the diversity of the Mozilla project
  • An employment relationship with the Mozilla Foundation should not be necessary in order for key contributors to have a respected voice in the direction of the project
  • Checks and balances create a messy governance structure but are nevertheless worthwhile

In concrete terms this boils down to my belief that (1) a role for “ staff” is important for the project, and (2) this role will build upon and modify the previous role of staff.

It probably doesn’t make sense to continue the previous role of “ staff” unchanged. Before the Mozilla Foundation, staff was the group involved day-to-day, making the operational decisions. Doing this requires pretty intense, constant involvement and Foundation employees do much of this. A staff member who isn’t involved on a serious if not full time basis will have trouble keeping current with enough info to make these decisions. This isn’t to say that I believe that dailyoperational decisions should be made only by Foundation employees. It’s possible this is the case, but I can also envision scenarios where this is not the right path at all. But I do believe that maintaining a group separate from Foundation employees to make daily operation decisions is a mistake.

There should be a mechanism for clear, valued input into project direction and Foundation activities by those who are not employees. Our open-source DNA gives us mechanisms for this when code is involved — module ownership, peer review, leadership through reputation, etc. I think it’s important to develop mechanisms for significant issues that don’t end up in source code. This could be extending the Module Owner system to non-code areas. It could involve a role for staff. Perhaps both; perhaps something entirely new. The Mozilla Foundation will grow and change over the coming years. I want to do so in a way that delivers great products, moves the web forward and reflects the community that has built the Mozilla project.

There’s much more to say but I think I’ll stop here since it’s getting late and there’s no need to get everything into one comment.

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