2 months in at Mozilla

It’s been 2 months since I started at Mozilla. I’m working with fantastically talented and friendly people. I’m enjoying myself tremendously and I’m starting to get a sense of what makes Mozilla different from my previous experiences. Put simply, it’s teamwork.

In his speech to Harvard Med School graduates last week (stick with me here, this is relevant), Atul Gawande (author of the Checklist Manifesto), laid out, in his clearest and most convincing argument yet, how the practice of medicine needs to change:

The core structure of medicine emerged in an era when doctors could hold all the key information patients needed in their heads and manage everything required themselves. One needed only an ethic of hard work, a prescription pad, a secretary, and a hospital willing to serve as one’s workshop, loaning a bed and nurses for a patient’s convalescence, maybe an operating room with a few basic tools. We were craftsmen. We could set the fracture, spin the blood, plate the cultures, administer the antiserum. The nature of the knowledge lent itself to prizing autonomy, independence, and self-sufficiency among our highest values, and to designing medicine accordingly. But you can’t hold all the information in your head any longer, and you can’t master all the skills. No one person can work up a patient’s back pain, run the immunoassay, do the physical therapy, protocol the MRI, and direct the treatment of the unexpected cancer found growing in the spine. I don’t even know what it means to “protocol” the MRI.

Gawande tells colleagues they need to work as well-oiled teams. No heros, no cowboys. I believe, and surely I’m not the first, that the same path lies ahead for software engineers.

The open-source and free software movements caught on to this a long time ago. Sure, there are leaders (Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, Mitchell Baker.) But more importantly there are teams, incredibly agile teams of developers who rise to the occasion of the software itch that needs scratching. The coordination requirement on most software is usually not that of a medical team treating an emergency patient… except when it comes to releasing Firefox 4 to 100,000,000 users in 84 languages in a matter of days. You need a well-oiled open-source software machine run by a top-notch team, and that’s what Mozilla is.

There are no rock stars, or rather, everyone’s super impressive in their own way but no one is treated like a rock star. Because what matters is the team. This is incredibly refreshing for me, especially coming from academia where, though individual academics are highly collaborative by nature, there is a strong incentive to specialize, find a niche, and be the single rockstar in that niche, because that’s how you get promoted.

So I’m really enjoying Mozilla. And, we’re hiring, so if you want to work on one of the world’s most important pieces of digital infrastructure, drop me a line.

One thought on “2 months in at Mozilla

  1. This reminds me of Crytek GmbH – they intensively prioritize true team work – and it seems to work for them.
    While one individual can do an awesome job and pull the company ahead the others, it’s terribly difficult for one “super person” (and 19 minions, if you allow me calling them that) to “beat” 20 regular guys that work together efficiently (actually, it’s just not possible)

    Disclaimer: i’m going to categorize people, if that shocks you, stop reading !😉

    Then again, the key in my experience is to get a few of these “leaders” (or super persons – not people that actually _know_ how to lead, but are extremely good at what they do) – and a few other average guys and make *that* work as a team.

    In general, the “super guys” have to be managed a lot more because they usually want to go their own way – but if you’ve the social skills, that works out. The average guys will always follow the “super guys” because they know they’re good and they wanna be as good.

    With proper training and management, the average guys can be working together with the super guys *on the same level as them* and render the team very efficient. When the average guy can’t keep up, the super guy is there to push them back into the loop.

    Therefore, both kind of persons are needed ( a bunch of super persons, if that existed, would just end up walking on each others feet and achieve nothing / leave, and a bunch of average guys still need a lead to  follow, a lead which a single manager just cannot give – you’d need to clone yourself)

    In fact, these things have been known for centuries – but are not always applied in today’ corporations – mostly due to the promotions/money/competition between individuals, which is sad

    All this actually require a lot of involvement from the manager and the ability to rise as a true, respected leader person, not just a good engineer.

    Now, that was a long post.

    Good luck🙂

Comments are closed.