Matt Basta

My Blog

Thoughts on Mozilla

A recent Mozilla alum, a lot of folks have been contacting me today to either tell me about the recent news (seriously guys, I know, you can stop) or to ask me my thoughts. I've been reading quite a bit, as well, and see a lot of people getting really worked up and heated. Folks are talking past one another. I think part of the problem is that a lot of people don't understand Mozilla.

I've been very quiet since I've left Mozilla, and this is two-fold: one, because I know if I get started about it, I'll get red in the face and make a fool of myself on the internet. Two, because it's the past and I've put it behind me. I care about this particular situation for a number of reasons, though, and so if you care to read to the end you're going to get an ear-full.

Mozilla's leadership dropped the ball.

Plain and simple. Mitchell Baker flew from Europe to the US after Gary Kovacs announced his departure to help look for a new CEO. That was very nearly a year ago today, and frankly it's an awfully long time for the congregation to be without a preacher. To make matters worse, there was virtually no communication with anyone outside of management about the search for a CEO, let alone with the community.

Part of the rage that the community is expressing is out of broken trust. Nearly everything Mozilla does as a company is brought before the community. More private matters go out to the members of https://mozillians.org. Nobody received an email saying that Brendan was being considered. Nobody had a chance to make their concerns known.

The board didn't like the choice of Brendan as CEO either. That didn't surprise me at all. The board has been pushing hard for Firefox OS, and Firefox OS needs a salesman right now. Brendan is a very technical guy, but he's not going to get 18 CEOs on stage to back his product. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for those discussions.

Mitchell has done more than her share of apologizing throughout all of this. I think she's made up for it, and by the sound of it she certainly seems regretful.

I don't know Mitchell very well (I don't know Brendan very well either), but I do know that the two are close. On some level, I think Mitchell may have let that kinship get in the way of choosing the best possible candidate. Brendan is/was far from the best perfect candidate, but he may have been an appealing and familiar option.

Brendan Eich dropped the ball.

I've got to give him credit, the man has principles and he's glued to them. There aren't many people out there that would stick to their convictions to the point of turning down the position of CEO of one of the coolest tech companies in the world.

But frankly, that's what really made the situation worse. Instead of saying, "This is what I believe. Period." and giving a thorough, well thought-out response, or saying, "I made a mistake. I shouldn't have given that money to support Prop 8." and being forgiven, he said, "Everyone has their beliefs, but you don't bring those into the workplace."

That's why things are where they are today.

Mozilla is based on principles of inclusiveness, openness, and transparency. Part of that means equality in every way, and the Mozilla community guidelines show that. The very fiber of Mozilla's being is the set of values that it's based on: nobody is excluded for any reason.

Now imagine you're an LGBTQ person working for Mozilla, or you're a part of the Mozilla community (family?). You've placed faith and trust in an organization because you believe it's in line with your personal beliefs. And then someone who acknowledges that he has a personal belief which directly conflicts with the fundamental values of the organization is placed at the very top of the chain of command. But of course, he promises to censor himself in the workplace.

That's a bit dramatic, but it's still a real kick in the balls.

I think that's really hard for some people to picture, though. There's a lot of folks out there--especially those that don't support same-sex marriage--that feel that support or opposition towards same-sex marriage doesn't indicate any sort of moral bias one way or the other. I think that's not an invalid argument, but it doesn't address the very real feelings and needs of the community.

I don't mean to get dramatic again, but imagine this: you put your child into elementary school. At a school board meeting, they vote a new superintendent into office. That superintendent happens to be a staunch libertarian who donated $100 to support lobbying efforts by NAMBLA a few years back. The poor bastard isn't a pedophile, it's just his moral conviction that the government shouldn't be in the business of telling people what they can and cannot do.

Would you be comfortable with that? I certainly wouldn't be. I don't think anybody would be. And frankly, no board in their right mind would vote that guy into any position within 10 miles of any place that children gather. That's the kind of pain that Mozillians are feeling.

If you're in a same-sex marriage and the organization that you dedicate your work, your passion, your life to puts a man that would prefer to criminalize your relationship into the top leadership role, it makes for some really mixed emotions.

Mozilla's LGBT staff, community, and allies dropped the ball.

Everyone is at fault. And Mozilla's LGBT community has really done a shameful number here. The community was quick to pull out their pitchforks and call for a witch hunt. Of course this was amplified by the media. Nonetheless, I'm disappointed in many of my former coworkers and friends for having such an abrasive and caustic reaction.

In some ways though, this was unavoidable. When the community wasn't consulted about a very polarizing decision, it wasn't left many options other than getting upset. A trust was broken, and a wrath was unleashed.

This isn't something unique to the LGBT community, though. And in fact I think it could have been worse. Imagine if someone who donated heavily to the gun control lobby was put in charge of the NRA. I'm not sure they'd last very long, and they wouldn't be stepping down in the same way Brendan did.

The community dropped the ball.

There was a lot of finger pointing (yes, I realize I'm pointing a lot of fingers in writing this). And a lot of arguing. And bickering. From the day of the announcement to today, my Twitter feed has been scrolling like a roll of toilet paper with people bitching about Brendan, people bitching about people bitching about Brendan, people not looking at both sides of the issue, people who probably just read the headlines and put together an uninformed opinion... everybody lost.

Everybody lost.

Mozilla is again without a CEO. And a CTO. And a bunch of board members. I'm not a Firefox user, but I recognize that Firefox is the reason the web is so damn good. And now not only is Mozilla under a microscope, it's going to be forced to prove yet again that it really is the force of good that it purports itself to be.

There's a lot of pieces need to be picked up.

Edit: Corrected number of board members (again)