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What is the Role of Mozilla’s Executive Chair?

May 27th, 2016

What does the Executive Chair do at Mozilla? This question comes up frequently in conversations with people inside and outside of Mozilla. I want to answer that question and clearly define my role at Mozilla. The role of Executive Chair is unique and entails many different responsibilities. In particular at Mozilla, the Executive Chair is something more than the well understood role of “Chairman of the Board.” Because Mozilla is a very different sort of organization, the role of Executive Chair can be highly customized and personal. It is not generally an operational role although I may initiate and oversee some programs and initiatives.   

In this post I’ll outline the major areas I’m focused on. In subsequent posts I’ll go into more detail.

#1. Chair the Board

This portion of my role is similar to the more traditional Chair role. At Mozilla in this capacity I work on mission focus, governance, development and operation of the Board and the selection, support and evaluation of the most senior executives. In our case these are Mark Surman, Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation and Chris Beard, CEO of Mozilla Corporation. Less traditionally, this portion of my role  includes an ongoing activity I call “weaving all aspects of Mozilla into a whole.”  Mozilla is an organizationally complex mixture of communities, legal entities and programs.  Unifying this into “one Mozilla” is important.

#2. Represent Mozilla and our mission to Mozillians and the world

This is our version of the general “public spokesperson” role. In this part of my role, I speak at conferences, events and to the media to communicate Mozilla’s message. The goal of this portion of my role is to grow our influence and educate the world on issues that are important to us. This role is particularly important as we transform the company and the products we create, and as we refocus on entirely new challenges to the Open Web, interoperability, privacy and security.

#3. Reform the ways in which Mozilla values are reflected in our culture, management and leadership

This is the core of the work that is intensely customized for Mozilla. It is an area where Mozilla looks to me for leadership, and for which I have a unique vision. Mozilla’s core DNA is a mix of the open source/free software movement and the open architecture of the Internet. We were born as a radically open, radically participatory organization, unbound to traditional corporate structure. We played a role in bringing the “open” movement into mainstream consciousness. How does and how can this DNA manifest itself today? How do we better integrate this DNA into our current size?  Needless to say I work hand-in-hand with Chris Beard and Mark Surman in these areas.

#4. Strategically advise Mozilla’s technology and product direction

I’ve played this role for just over 20 years now, working closely with Mozilla’s technologists, individual contributors and leadership. I help us take new directions that might be difficult to chart. And in this role I can take risks that may make us uncomfortable in the shorter term but yield us great value over the longer term. By helping to point us towards the cutting edge of our technology, I reinforce the importance of change and adaptation in how we express our values.

#5. Help Mozilla ideas expand into new contexts

I’ve been working with Mark Surman on this topic since he joined us. We’ve expanded our mission and programs into digital literacy and education, journalism, science, women and technology and now the Mozilla Leadership Network. I have also championed Mozilla’s expanded efforts in public policy. I continue to look at how we can do more (and am always open to suggestions).

So these are the different parts of my role. Hopefully it provides you with a framework for understanding what I do and how I see myself interacting with Mozilla. I’m planning to write a series of posts describing the work underway in these areas. Please send comments or feedback or questions to “office of the chair mailing list.” And thanks for your interest in Mozilla.

All Change, All the Time

April 5th, 2016

Mozilla is in a time of change.  For those of us deeply involved with Mozilla, we see this everywhere we turn.  Projects are changing, organizational structures are changing, product direction is under constant discussion, process is changing. Even more disorienting, the changes often don’t seem to be well connected.  And even within a particular group the changes are not always consistent — sometimes there is change after change in direction within the same group.

This amount of change can feel bad.  For many, it’s deeply destabilizing.  Nevertheless, it is required.  We need to be doing this, and the degree of change will not slow down anytime soon.  At least I hope not.  We need massive change to build openness into the next era of the internet and online life.  A working principle for us these days is that  change will be a constant.

Ongoing change is the iteration process through which we test ideas, iterate, change direction (“pivot” in Silicon Valley lingo), take what works, discard what doesn’t and repeat.  On the product side, this is classic Silicon Valley product and idea exploration.  We are also doing the same thing with our tools, engineering processes, organizational structures and skillsets —everything from how we build our software, to our toolchain, to how volunteers and employees interact, to how we build our values into software.

This process to test, iterate, magnify what works and drop what doesn’t can feel inconsistent.  If something doesn’t work well today, then tomorrow we won’t be doing it and we’ll be trying something else.  The new idea you just got used to is gone and now it’s time to talk about a different idea.  And next week there might be yet another focus.

This is where Mozilla is today.  For example, the Firefox team is testing ideas for what keeps Firefox great today.  I like their ideas today better than their ideas nine months ago, or six months ago.  (They probably do too 🙂 .)  That doesn’t mean the previous ideas were bad.  It means they are trying things, iterating, taking what they learn and trying new things.

We should expect this everywhere for a while.  It’s how we design the future.

We  can do a better or worse job of execution during this time of change.  There is a whole genre of literature on start-up iteration, “change management,” and leadership. So here I’ll note two things I find particularly important for Mozilla.

Mozillians identify with the mission, and with the sense of more people having more ability to affect our own lives.  As a result, building grass-roots and distributed understanding and engagement is extremely important and effective at Mozilla.  That in turn requires a bunch of things, which we can dive into shortly.  The key will be finding ways to do this that are also quick and nimble and allow rapid iteration, especially when we don’t have a consensus.

Second, change that is happening *to* me feels different than change that is happening *by* me.  Given Mozilla’s goals of distributed leadership and engagement, I predict that making the change process itself inclusive and empowering is also particularly important and effective at Mozilla.

That’s more change.  I’m excited about these kinds of activities; they should make life better for all of us.  I’ll be working on this, with the work on decision-making as a first step.

Simultaneously I encourage each of us to think about our own adaptive capacity — how do we assess and respond to change, both internal and external?  How do our teams, and how does and should Mozilla?  This is a rich topic for exploration and culture development.

Co-Chairing the US Commerce Department’s Digital Economy Advisory Board

March 29th, 2016

This blog post originally appeared on the Mozilla blog.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has just created a Board of Advisors for topics related to the Digital Economy.  I will participate as one of the two co-chairs, along with Zoë Baird, President and CEO of the Markle Foundation.  The Digital Economy Board of Advisors is to provide regular advice to the Secretary of Commerce from leaders in industry, academia, and civil society on the Department’s new Digital Economy Agenda. The Agenda is focused on advancing the Internet and the digital economy across many frontiers, including promoting innovation, a free and open Internet, trust online, and Internet access for all Americans.

The Board of Advisors has been charged with taking a broad, strategic look at the digital economy, including how best to promote innovation and development of new technologies, and the impact of Internet policy issues such as cybersecurity and privacy on the digital economy. I expect the the Board of Advisors will consider whether, when, and how the U.S. government should take direct regulatory and policy action, and when not to do so. The Department of Commerce has a key leadership role within the U.S. government on these issues.

Read more about the Commerce Department’s Digital Agenda here and see the Advisory Board’s announced appointments here.

 

Pilot Working Group on Decision-Making

March 28th, 2016

Decision-Making is hard at Mozilla.  We often face inertia and ambiguity regarding who owns a decision.  It can feel as if many people can say “no” and it’s hard to figure out who can and will say “yes.”  Our focus on individuals as empowered leaders can make it hard to understand how to make a decision that is accepted as legitimate.  This impacts everything from deciding what platforms or tools to use, saying yes or no to projects, to the role of  volunteers and supporters in our work.  I hear that decision-making at Mozilla is hard regularly, and I’ve experienced it myself.

A few months back I decided to get involved directly.  I decided to develop case studies of how to make decisions well, using the decision-making model I presented during Mozilla’s Portland gathering as a guide.  The slide is below.

If you’d like to spend 20 minutes or so listening to this part of the presentation go to minute 1:35 here.

ML SLIDE

I started by recruiting Jane to do the project management and make this a more consistent project than I would do on my own.  The next step was asking a few people if they have decisions they are struggling to get made and if they would be interested in piloting this plan with me.  I started with people who know me well enough to be comfortable with give-and-take.  In other words, a few people who aren’t so intimidated by my role and can tell me things I don’t really want to hear :-).  I’ll widen the circle over time.  There is also a set of people I think of as “standing members.”  This latter group currently includes:

   — Jane Finette, for project design and management;
   — George Roter, for his participation focus;
   — Larissa Shapiro, to help build inclusion of diverse voices into our decision-making; and
   — me.

We’ve learned a few things already, even though we’re not far enough to have a case study yet.  Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

  1. The decision-making model is missing at least one key element.  It’s so key that we currently call it “Item 0.”  (We’ll probably rename it item 1 at some point.)  This is — identify the actual decision that needs to be made.  This sounds obvious.  But the actual decision may be very different than the question as first presented.  For example, in one case the initial question was something like “what’s the most cost effective way to do X?”  But in reality the decision turns out to be things like “How important is this product feature?”
  1.  We need a shared understanding of what “community” means and how we think about our volunteers and community when we make decisions.   We need a way of doing this that respects the work being done and that simultaneously allows us to decide that not every activity should be supported forever.  George Roter is our point person for this.
  1.  We decided to create something I dubbed  the “Map of the Land Mines.”  This will start as a list of questions that tend to stop forward momentum and leave us paralyzed.  Our starting list here is:

— How public should we be? When is open appropriate / when is it not?
— Are we collecting data?
— Is it important we choose open source for our tools?
— How do we think about supporters and volunteers?

Of course we’ll want more than a list.  We’ll want tools for how to approach these topics so we can all get unstuck and stay unstuck.

We’ll meet every 2 weeks or so.  Steps 3, 4 and 6 of the decision-making model are about communication, participation and documentation.  So expect to hear more, both about the process and the decisions areas we’re using to build case studies.

Comments and suggestions are welcome, either here or via other channels.

Inviting Conversation

March 28th, 2016

I feel a strong need for more conversations with people who care about the Open Internet, Mozilla and Mozilla’s mission.  I’ve noticed that my blog has become pretty “official.”  By this I mean most of the posts are more one way and don’t invite conversation the way I’d like.

I’m going to try returning to blog posts that are  more about topics in process, and see if this helps spark good conversations about what we want to see happen and the decisions we want to make going forward.

I’ll tag these posts as “thought process” to be very clear they aren’t intended as decisions or announcements.  We’ll moderate comments on these posts.  Hopefully after-the-fact if possible but if we see too much spam or flame-throwing or trolling we’ll change that plan.

International Women’s Day; Time to Take Action

March 7th, 2016

Tuesday March 8 2016 is International Women’s Day (IWD), an event launched just over 100 years ago to promote equal rights for women.  IWD is officially celebrated in many countries and by the United Nations.

This year I’m much more focused on marking International Women’s Day than ever before.  There are two drivers for this.  On the one hand, there has been important progress to date and many women in the world have ascended to new levels of empowerment.  On the other hand, there is a great deal of critical work still needed.  As the World Economic Forum’s annual The Global Gender Gap Report 2015 notes, “Ten years of measuring the global gender gap has helped us understand how lack of progress is damaging to global economic growth, and given us insights into how practical measures can support growth and improve the quality of life for women worldwide.” Governments around the world have recognized the remaining needs by including “Gender Equality” in the United Nations shared goals for the future, known as the “Sustainable Development Goals.”  Empowering women to reach full potential has many aspects, and each one of us with good will can make valuable contributions.

I am particularly focused on the role the Internet can play in improving the lives and opportunities of women, girls and their families.  The Internet is an unusual development because its core design principles are to provide the maximum amount of opportunity for the maximum number of people.  In the tech world we use phrases such as “decentralized” or “placing decision-making at the edges of the system rather than the “center” or “open” or “interoperable” or “permission-less” to explain this extraordinary nature of the Internet.  Sometimes we shorten this to “the Open Internet.”  Whatever the phrase, the meaning is a system where more people have opportunity to innovate and to solve problems that are important to them.  An opportunity like the Open Internet comes along very rarely, maybe once in many generations, and so I want to make sure that its benefits are available to all of humanity.  Indeed, it is crystal clear to me that the Open Internet is they key to development that is inclusive, innovative and sustainable.

For this reason I am honored to participate in the United Nation’s’ first High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, which was launched this January.  I am eager to bring the possibilities that ICT and the Internet bring for  empowering women into the work of the Panel.  This involves learning for me, as this is a global topic and my Silicon Valley experience is only a piece of the picture.  At Mozilla we’ve learned a lot and benefitted from our participation in the US State Department’s TechWomen program, which brings professional women in technology fields to spend time with Silicon Valley technology organizations.  The women Mozilla has hosted through this program have been impressive, inspiring, and the source of much learning for Mozilla and for me.  Similarly we have learned a great deal from the Outreachy program, which brings people from underrepresented groups, including women, to working internships in free and open source software organizations.  And of course I learn an enormous amount from the thousands of Mozilla volunteers as well as the organically developed Women@Mozilla program.

Recently Anar Simpson (Special Advisor to me on the topic of Women, Girls and Technology) and I followed up with delegation trips to join women  professionals in technology in Jordan, the UAE and Zimbabwe.  In Jordan the TechWomen designed the  “I Am Empowered” campaign which reflects the degree of progress we’ve made to date.

Photo Credit: Agnes Monpanari

The input from these activities will help form my technology related contributions to the Panel.  Similarly I’ll be gathering input from Mozilla community members, who build and teach and spread the benefits of the Open Internet around the globe.  And of course, from technology leaders in Silicon Valley, so that together we can make greater strides for women’s economic empowerment.

Dr. Karim Lakhani Appointed to Mozilla Corporation Board of Directors

February 1st, 2016

Image from Twitter @klakhani

Image from Twitter @klakhani

As we just posted on the Mozilla Blog, today we are very pleased to announce an addition to the Mozilla Corporation Board of Directors, Dr. Karim Lakhani, a scholar in innovation theory and practice.

Dr. Lakhani is the first of the new appointments we expect to make this year. We are working to expand our Board of Directors to reflect a broader range of perspectives on people, products, technology and diversity. That diversity encompasses many factors: from geography to gender identity and expression, cultural to ethnic identity, expertise to education.

Born in Pakistan and raised in Canada, Karim received his Ph.D. in Management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, where he also serves as Principal Investigator for the Crowd Innovation Lab and NASA Tournament Lab at the Harvard University Institute for Quantitative Social Science.

Karim’s research focuses on open source communities and distributed models of innovation. Over the years I have regularly reached out to Karim for advice on topics related to open source and community based processes. I’ve always found the combination of his deep understanding of Mozilla’s mission and his research-based expertise to be extremely helpful. As an educator and expert in his field, he has developed frameworks of analysis around open source communities and leaderless management systems. He has many workshops, cases, presentations, and journal articles to his credit. He co-edited a book of essays about open source software titled Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software, and he recently co-edited the upcoming book Revolutionizing Innovation: Users, Communities and Openness, both from MIT Press.

However, what is most interesting to me is the “hands-on” nature of Karim’s research into community development and activities. He has been a supporter and ready advisor to me and Mozilla for a decade.

Please join me now in welcoming Dr. Karim Lakhani to the Board of Directors. He supports our continued investment in open innovation and joins us at the right time, in parallel with the Katharina Borchert’s transition off of our Board of Directors into her role as our new Chief Innovation Officer. We are excited to extend our Mozilla network with these additions, as we continue to ensure that the Internet stays open and accessible to all.

Mitchell

Honored to Participate in New UN Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment

January 22nd, 2016

Women’s economic empowerment is necessary for many reasons.  It is necessary to bring health, safety and opportunity to half of humanity.  It is necessary to bring investment and health to families and communities.  It is necessary to unlock economic growth and build more stable societies.

Today the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched the first ever High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment to help drive change by providing thought leadership and mobilizing concrete actions.  The Panel will provide recommendations for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to

. . . improve economic outcomes for women and promote women’s leadership . . .

The Panel is co-chaired by Luis Guillermo Solis, the President of Costa Rica, and Simona Scarpaleggia, the CEO of IKEA Switzerland.  Leaders of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, and UN Women will participate.  The Panel will also include a diverse range of representatives from different regions and roles.  I have been invited to serve on this Panel and I have, of course, accepted.  It’s clear to me that the Open Internet is the key to global growth that is innovative, inclusive and sustainable.   To fulfill this promise, digital transformation must include education and opportunity as well as basic access to everyone, with women as equal participants.  I am delighted to contribute this perspective to the work of the Panel.

The Panel is supported by the UNWomen, which will provide the Secretariat.  UN Women is the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.  I’ve been lucky enough to watch the Executive Director of UN Women, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at work over the last six months or so.  She’s a tremendous force for the empowerment of women globally and I am delighted to work even more closely with UN Women.

A call for the release of Bassel Khartabil

December 16th, 2015

Bassel Khartabil is a Creative Commons and open source contributor in Damascus, Syria. He  has been imprisoned for three years due to these activities. The MIT Media Lab has invited Bassel to join the Lab as a research scientist in the Center for Civic Media. There Bassel could continue his work building 3D models of the ancient city of Palmyra, the remains of which have been destroyed by ISIS.

Instead, word has recently come that Bassel has been secretly sentenced to death.

On December 10 Joi Ito, the Director of the MIT Media Lab, described how he and Creative Commons came to work with Bassel. Joi’s story is also the story of how I came to know and work with Bassel on open source projects.  I’ve put some additional details of my experiences with Bassel below.

The Guardian has also written a detailed story of Bassels’ involvement with open culture and open source activities. Bassel was also explicitly mentioned by US Secretary of State John Kerry in the statement issued this December 10 to mark International Human Rights Day.

I initially met Bassel through joint activities with Creative Commons. Joichi Ito, then CEO of Creative Commons, invited me to join CC in their launch events in the Middle East. I accompanied Joi on the trip he describes in detail in his post linked above.  My role was to add additional open source contacts and expertise to the group.

As Joi mentioned, the CC crew and I drove from Amman, Jordan to the Syrian border, and then from the border to Damascus. All except me, that is, who had visa issues when we arrived at the border. This was not really surprising to me since the idea that an American citizen could drive up to the Syrian border and get a visa on the spot seemed unimaginable to me. One of the organizers had been sure this would not be a problem however, so I joined the group. It didn’t take long at the border to realize it would would be a problem. Joichi asked one of the local CC contacts and one of the drivers to stay with me, giving me two Arabic speakers to help and a degree of comfort. The other car, driver and the rest of the CC team continued on to Damascus for the events Joi describes. In a moment of odd humor to defuse the tension, Joi named me the “hot potato” to be juggled.

I spent seven hours at the Syrian border while Bassel worked with authorities to get my visa situation sorted out. I was extremely lucky that the driver was an elegant and cultured gentleman, who told me stories and acted as my guide around the border buildings.

Meanwhile, Bassel was working like crazy to resolve my visa issues. This of course involved constant contact with the government authorities. I was fully prepared to learn it was not possible to continue  –emotionally, anyway. I wasn’t really sure how I would get back to Amman, or if I had enough local currency to pay for the trip but I figured that the Creative Commons folks would help me get settled somehow.

At the end of the phone call Bassel kept saying that it would work out, it just needed time for him to talk with all the various people who needed to sign for my visa. To my surprise he was right.

Eventually all the necessary paperwork was obtained and the border authorities allowed me to continue to Damascus. After arriving in Damascus I attended the events Joi described, feeling very lucky to see Creative Commons and open source welcomed by a previously unknown community. It was clear that Bassel was focusing huge amounts of his life’s energy on serving these communities.

A year or two later I returned to Damascus on my own. Once again Bassel was my host. He arranged for me to meet with government officials. He did the same with a range of students, including the local organization of women programming students. He arranged for me to give talks at the university and at the local HackerSpace which he had founded. We talked about Open Source, learning to code and Creative Commons. Bassel worked to promote the open Internet and open culture.  He pushed hard for inclusion of Arabic speakers in online life.

Bassel was arrested in March of 2012 when he returned to Syria after a Creative Commons conference. The Guardian article describes what has happened to Bassel after that arrest. And recently the warning that Bassel has been secretly sentenced to death has come.

Today I echo Joi’s call to the Internet community on behalf of Bassel Khartabil: “We ask for your help in calling attention to Bassel’s arbitrary detention and seeking his whereabouts and immediate release.”

Mozilla Open Source Support: First Awards Made

December 10th, 2015

We are delighted to announce the first set of awards in the Mozilla Open Source Support program’s “Foundational Technology” track, which supports projects that Mozilla uses or relies upon.

We have been greatly helped in evaluating applications and making awards by the MOSS “Foundational Technology” Committee – many thanks to them.

The first seven awardees are:

Buildbot: $15,000. Buildbot is a continuous build and integration system which has been immensely valuable to Mozilla over the past few years. Their award will be used to remove the term “slave” from all documentation, APIs and tests, and also to make improvements so Buildbot works better in the Amazon EC2 cloud.

CodeMirror: $20,000. CodeMirror is a powerful source code editor built with Web technologies, used in the Developer Tools and in Mozilla Thimble. Their award will be used to improve support for both right-to-left languages and complex script input.

Discourse: $25,000. Discourse is online discussion forum software, used by several Mozilla communities. Their award will be used to make email a first-class interaction mechanism for Discourse, allowing Discourse instances to replace and improve upon mailing lists.

Read The Docs: $48,000. Read The Docs is a website for building and hosting documentation, used by many of Mozilla’s Web projects. Their award will be used to add the ability to generate documentation from code without needing to install it, thereby making it easier to build the documentation for complex projects.

Mercurial: $75,000. Mercurial is a distributed source code management system, used heavily by Mozilla for core repositories such as mozilla-central. Their award will be used to implement better support for ‘blame’ (showing who last changed some code) and a better web UI.

Django: $150,000. Django is a popular server-side Web development framework, used in many Mozilla websites. Their award will be used to make Django suitable to be a back end for Web apps which use WebSockets.

Bro: $200,000. Bro is network monitoring software, which is at the heart of Mozilla’s intrusion detection system for our network. Their award will be used to build the Comprehensive Bro Archive Network, a public repository of modules and plugins for Bro.

MOSS is an ongoing program, with an initial allocation of $1 million. The above awards allocate just over half of that money ($503,000), and applications are open for the “Foundational Technology” track on an ongoing basis. We look forward to supporting more of the excellent projects that Mozilla uses or relies upon in the future. Thank you to you all – we couldn’t do what we do, without you.

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