Archive for February 24th, 2005

Email Addresses, and the Mozilla Foundation

February 24th, 2005

A couple of weeks ago I wrote something about my belief that staff membership is different than employment with the Mozilla Foundation. Here’s a concrete example of questions that come up: email addresses. It almost sounds trivial when I write it. But email addresses are often a statement of identity or relationship and so they turn out not to be trivial I believe that membership in staff is not a decision that should be made by the Mozilla Foundation. And a hiring decision by the Mozilla Foundation should not automatically convey staff membership.

When we set up the Foundation a set of key contributors became employees. Some of these people were staff members (Asa, Myk, Leaf, Brendan, me) of long tenure. Others were key contributors who had previously been employed to contribute their work product to the Mozilla project but weren’t officially chartered to speak for the Mozilla project or guide its general policies — jst, dbaron, Ben Goodger, Scott Macgregor, Chris Hofmann. (If this sounds obtuse or too “inside” to be understandable, please take a look at the Mozilla Roles and Responsibilities doc which lays out the role of staff in our past incarnation.)

It’s pretty hard to argue that this latter group of folks haven’t been “speaking for the Mozilla project” or guiding policy or determining releases or doing the myriad of things that staff has historically been chartered to do. Even so, we didn’t have a policy for what staff meant vis-à-vis Mozilla Foundation staff. So we didn’t officially make these new people staff. That is, they are (still) not listed on the staff page. However, we did give them “” email addresses. These addresses have historically been limited to staff members. And in the real world, an email address that is in use everyday is probably a much clearer indicia than a listing on a web page most people never see and may think is outdated anyway.

As management goes, I’m not proud of this. It left key contributors in a state of limbo that would have best been avoided. However, I felt it was important for the health of the project to keep the idea that mozilla,org staff membership means something separate from employment status. Fortunately the people living in this limbo are dedicated primarily to the success of the project and were able to live with this. As I said, tolerance for ambiguity is a key value.

Then we began hiring a few more people. By this time I had realized that not having a process for determining staff membership meant that we really shouldn’t give out “” email addresses. Not just realized it, which wasn’t hard. But realized it enough to force implementation of it. So over the last year we’ve hired a set of people and asked them to continue to use their own email addresses. More precisely, I have declined to authorize more “” email addresses. (I would say refused, but we haven’t had a real fight about it. Maybe others would say refused.)

Again, I’m not proud of this. It’s definitely been awkward for the people involved. So we’re going to create email addresses for Mozilla Foundation employees. I’m not sure what they’ll be — perhaps. That’s awfully long so perhaps we’ll choose something shorter. Those of us with addresses will probably continue using them, just as current staff members employed elsewhere use their addresses.

I expect that these new addresses will remain in use after we figure out the relationship between and Mozilla Foundation staff. Maybe it will turn out I’m wrong, and we’ll end up realizing that there is no need for staff or no need to distinguish it from Mozilla Foundation employees. But we spent years learning how to build an organization and manage the project separate from an employment chain, and I don’t want to let that experience fade away by accident.

When we figure out exactly what the email addresses representing employment with the Mozilla Foundation will be we’ll say something about that, and hopefully get them implemented soon. And of course we’ll keep working on the question of what staff membership means — or could mean, or should mean — in the current era.

I remember when I joined the Mozilla project I was astonished at how much energy went into technical topics that didn’t seem so important to me. I’m embarrassed to admit this included such things as directory names. Now of course I understand their importance better. And judging from the attention I have paid to the topic of email addresses and organizational identity, I have come to fit right in!

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