Working on FirefoxOS

I was thinking about writing in English and expand the scope of the blog as it is widely read around the Spanish-speaking community. So this is my first English post but I’m planning to translate most visited posts as well. Anyway, I promise to publish another post with the translation of this 😉

Listening the news from MWC 2013 and most of the specialized press media, you realize that almost none is said about the big development effort made by Telefónica I+D on FirefoxOS (but can find an important mention from Gary Kovacs in the complete press conference). Maybe Telefónica does not have the best reputation in Spain, but I can ensure the research & development division, TID, is full of valuable people and the company is pushing hard to chase talented developers and managers out there.

I want to talk about how working on FirefoxOS is. As you probably know (or not), I was moved to OWD (Open Web Device) project in Telefónica I+D in May, 2012. OWD is the name of the initiative inside TID supporting FirefoxOS development both in back-end and also in front-end. This means there are code from TID members inside Gecko and Gaia. Gecko is the browser acting like the operating system while Gaia is the software layer the user will interact with. You can see the demo video of the MWC 2013 if you want to know more about the platform.

Working with Mozilla is being a very enriching experience allowing members from both companies to open their minds to other ways of work, management, company cultures and motivations.

Mozilla developers are said to be between the best hackers in the world and I can assure you it is mostly true; not only because they have recognized experts in their ranks but because the passion and dedication each of them put in the challenges they face. And exactly the same can be said about the engineers in TID. I’ve never been in such talented team plenty of good developers and willing managers. This job is my first approach to a big project with differentiated teams for Development, Quality Assurance and User eXperience and I’m proud to say I’m in this awesome team.

Although, there have been some confrontation points too as it is natural in any relationship.

For FirefoxOS, Mozilla needed operator support if they wanted to have an opportunity in the duopoly maintained by Android and iOS. It is only my opinion but I think, at the very begin Mozilla allied with Telefonica to count with this operator support. Telefonica is the 5th telecommunications company in the world with great influence in the emerging markets in Latin America. If Telefonica was in, who not? But I dare to say Mozilla did not expect to share so deeply the development, quality process and user experience design.

To be considered one of the best Internet companies around the world increases the ego of their members and increase the distrust on other companies. Meritocracy, needed when managing such huge communities with employees all over the world, several time zones, different cultures and languages, reinforces some kind of superiority syndrome hard to handle without the proper doses of professionalism and humility. This is what I first perceived when working with Mozilla. To give an example, the code review process was markedly stricter for TID members than for Mozilla team members.

Public perception don’t ease the situation. With Firefox, in early 2000’s, Mozilla returned the control over Internet back to the users by encouraging the use of standard technologies accessible to every people at the same time it broke Internet Explorer hegemony. For the Internet community Mozilla is seen like a sort of saviour meanwhile Telefonica is another giant corporation, furthermore it does not count with the sympathy of Spanish people due to his historical inheritance. But take note about one fact, there are two Mozilla institutions, one for non-profit activities, Mozilla Foundation and another for profitable ones, Mozilla Corporation. When talking about FirefoxOS, we are talking about Mozilla Corporation.

Related with the problem of trust, while TID has an extensive career shipping world-wide products with a solid background about how things must to be done in order to ensure the release of commercial and profitable solutions, Mozilla is almost a newbie here and it should be more likely to accept the advice of elders.

Anyway, as said, I don’t regret about working with Mozilla and I think collaboration in the development team is good enough to be considerer as an enlightening experience for both teams. One of my favourite activities are working weeks: from time to time, both teams meet together under the same roof to develop together. They are very intense weeks, with a lot of hard work to do and everybody do their best to meet the goals of the week but, for me, the most important think about working weeks is not fulfilling the schedule, it is they help to mend fences, approaching people to people and making them talk. Then you realize you are talking with equals, professionals sharing the same concerns you have and people with your own interests. Hope in Mozilla they think the same.

Finishing, developing with Mozilla has another advantage if you like free software. You know what is to work in a big community with thousands of members. Working in this way you learn some important lessons about code maintainability, about accepting changes on your code and to review code from others; you learn to negotiate as well and to discuss and support your arguments… There are a lot of reasons to work in a project like this. I can not talk on behalf the company but I can say we inside the OWD team are working on free software not only because it is the way of Mozilla but because great part of the team really believe on it.

We are building a new platform and growing a new ecosystem, a really cool one. And we are building it together.

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