Thursday, March 3, 2016

My Nerd Story - Revised for 2016

[My then-Mozilla colleague Crystal Beasley started this thread of women in tech/hackers posting our stories, in response to some comments out there.... This is my nerd story, shared with you because I do believe in role models, and I do believe that there are many paths one can take.]

I am, among other things, a daughter of Silicon Valley.  Mine is not a story of arriving at tech from the sidelines, or of dedication from childhood. it is more a story of how exposure shapes you, how marinades work, if you will. This is not the story of a straight path, or a clear dedication from childhood to one goal. It is a story of intense privilege, I am aware.

I was born in Manhattan, but we lived in New Jersey while my dad was working on a pHD at Rutgers in Computer Science. When I was four, someone at school asked me what my dad did for a living and I said "he watches tv and hunts for bugs, but I never seen em". He had a dumb terminal at home, presumably by then for his job at BBN.  I was watching. I did not get to play with dad's bug hunting TV, but I was steeped in tech from an early age, and I value the gift of that early exposure. Early exposure is one of the things we must give to the future nerds... take time to talk to the kids you know (it takes a village to raise a child) about what you do!

Similar, if not identical, to this one.

When I was six, we moved to California, dad was taking a job at Xerox Parc. I went to school in Palo Alto, where, after a year of public school, my sisters and I were sent to Peninsula School... at school, we rarely saw anything one would call a computer, in the early to mid 80s. I do remember cranking the mimeograph machine. Home was another story. Following his days at Xerox Parc dad went to Apple, where he worked on and brought home the first computers I played with.... to wit the Apple II and the LISA. I remember that he made us "play" the mousing tutorial over and over - he wanted my 3 year old sister to be comfortable with it.... and she was.  Maybe it was a bit like...

OK maybe not quite like that. But close.

At the same time, in school, while I was great at conceptual math, I floundered in basic computation. One teacher told my parents I was bad at math because while I excelled in our "regular" math program, understanding logical puzzles beyond what one expects of a seven year old, I could not successfully complete the math "drills" we had to do at the beginning of each day. She called me stupid, and I didn't forget it. My parents quickly moved me to another school (lucky us, with the resources for private school) where that did not happen again...

Years of playing with dad's computers followed. He went from Apple to EA to SGI, and I played with all his machines. Eventually this led to us having what we thought was the coolest house in town, because we had an SGI machine on which to play Doom, in our garage. I didn't code much at all... what I got from those years, I see now, was a measure of fearlessness about trying out new technologies. At the same time, my mom, whose background was literature and education, became a technical writer, showing me both that careers can change, and that it is possible to manage a technical career and motherhood together. She was leaning in way before it was hip. It might follow that all of this early exposure might send me straight into a technical degree and career. It did not.

I thought I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, and I enrolled at Mills College with every intention of doing that, and instead was moved toward Women's Studies and later theology, primarily driven by one of my great desires in life - to understand human motivation, and another, to work for a better world.  At the same time, I was for the first time being exposed to the full power of the internet, in 1991 a very heady thing, to have your own unix shell account and a world of people to talk to. I learned a lot from just "playing" online, and more from having people around willing to answer my many questions, and it turned out that these same explorations led me down my career path at least as much as any formal academic education. All information is useful. I do not think it is *any* accident that this critical period of learning and exposure happened at a women's college, where a brilliant woman ran the CS department. We were not just allowed but encouraged to explore many paths in that rarified atmosphere of empowerment (we had access to lots and lots of technology and to smart people who wanted to help), and I did. I've always been grateful for it. It was also where I learned about geek culture...

I went to grad school in feminist theology, but technology was in my blood by then, and when I realized I didn't want to be a professor or an academic ethicist, I left academic life and came home, with a lot of school debt and not a lot of ideas. I was stunned, in 1995, at the power I saw in the world wide web, to connect people and share thoughts and information (I still am stunned by it).  I wanted in on it.  It occurred to me that I could go into the "family business" but not really *how*. I started working as a temporary contractor, at offices in the valley, and I tried a few things (writing very basic databases on semiconductor data, pre-press work for technical manuals, filing payroll stubs) before I landed my first "real" tech job, at Sun Microsystems (a very exciting place to be... we were, after all, "the dot in dot-com" heh)...

At Sun, I stuck my neck out, trying as many new things as I could... I worked first hand-htmling (what, it's a word) white papers, then hacking basic surveying tools (perl, mostly) for beta programs, then became a program manager for Solaris beta programs, and at last, got my first whiff of open source in running beta programs for Open Solaris. The biggest thing I did was learn. I found it to be an atmosphere where engineering and education were both valued, and where my questions were not "stupid", and I was lucky in my choices of mentors and friends. I took every class I could, read every book I could, and tried to give myself the technical, business, and project management skillsets I hadn't obtained in school, before deciding to take the oft-discussed "mommy break" to prepare for the birth of my second child. When I was ready to go back to work Sun was no longer a viable place to go, so I gathered my contacts (networking is your friend) and my consulting skills and ended up with a rather long term contract release managing a web "portal" (in 2005, everything was a portal) and exposing myself to everything I could about CRMs, release methodology, localization, networking, and more. I explain all of this background, mostly because my biggest lesson was that the education I got was in what I tried, and in what I failed to do, as much as in what I succeeded at... and I think we need role models for that, too. In many respects, the entire first part of my career was my technical education. It was a different time and place - I worked on supporting women in the organization, and other underrepresented minorities, but it was not as overtly difficult, to be a woman in tech, then. Maybe (certainly) we were less aware, but I also saw less direct misogyny and racism in the industry then than I do now.

After all of this, I still did not see myself as a role model, or as highly technical. I was quite shocked when a geek friend encouraged me to apply for a job as product manager at a very obscure seeming and highly technical nonprofit open source infrastructure shop (Internet Systems Consortium, makers of BIND, the widely deployed open source DNS nameserver, and operators of one of the 13 root nameservers). For the longest time, I couldn't figure out why they hired me! I knew very little about DNS, infrastructure, or protocol development, but I found my mentors again, and I found that I flourished, traveling, working on critical processes, figuring out how to work with highly international teams, solving hairy problems, and most of all, embracing open source and the vibrant community that loved and supported our efforts so very much. I learned most of all again, by making mistakes. I learned what it takes to build a vision for a product, and how building things in the open and in community takes all sorts of specific skills, talent, and patience, but how much value it brings.

It was while I was at ISC that, through the amazing TechWomen program (which brings technical women from the Middle East and North Africa to Silicon Valley for mentoring), that I got hooked on mentoring other women in tech, and mentoring in general, and supporting women in tech, particularly  in open source and open culture. It was really when I started mentoring, that I started believing in my own abilities, too. That was a long lesson to learn.  When I first read the advert for TechWomen mentors, I didn't think they would even want to talk to me! My impostor syndrome was so strong. I was so shocked when I was asked to mentor the first cohort, and that I've continued to be asked every time for six years, and when that led me to leadership positions on the TechWomen Alumna Board and the WAKE board... but I am learning to believe that I earned these things.

In the end,  I had to leave my job at ISC for reasons to do with the leadership there at the time. Luckily, my work and my values brought me to Mozilla, where I've been both perseverant and lucky enough to have several meaningful roles, following my passion for empowering people to find meaningful ways to contribute to the internet I believe the world needs, an expansion of the one that excited me so long ago, (and changing open source culture in ways that it needs) and I get to see a lot of the world while I do it. Now I work full time on building a more diverse and inclusive Mozilla, standing on the shoulders of giants who did the same before me, and in partnership with many of the smartest and kindest people I know. It's a new challenge every day, and I guess that's what I love most about working in tech and in particular on the open web. The very pluralistic nature of the web that first drew me in is the same possibility I still seek - a world where there actually is opportunity for all and where there are resources for them and role models and mentors and resources. This is not too much to seek, if we do it together.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Radical Participation – Scaling the Human Network

Co-written with Emma Irwin

At Mozilla we’re always thinking about how to improve our products, how to continue a legacy of innovation and quality while shipping often. That said, we can’t talk about Mozilla’s history, or future without acknowledging the critical role of our global volunteer community in our success, and of it’s importance to our future. Software is made by people, and community is made both by and of people.
This year’s learnings around the challenges of contributor growth and retention, come with a recognition that we have two very different tracks of ‘shipping Mozilla’: How we ship product, and how we grow community are distinct, and there is no doubt that the betterment of both lies in the scaling a human network.

Designing for participation is really about designing for people , it’s about building an ecosystem of empowerment. We’re learning that our most successful pathways reflect diversity of community background, skill-set, available time and motivation.



The aha-moment of open source contribution is when someone feels successful in ‘doing a thing’. Be it connecting to a chat room with an IRC tool, or building a local copy of, it’s that first success that drives the next. These successes need to happen long before a first pull request, even before taking a ‘mentored bug’. We need to get better at helping people reach their first ‘Mozilla moment’, through deliberate and predictable teaching and learning ‘by doing’ opportunities. We’ve already started doing this in person with Open Hatch events and curriculum,  but scaling this means building online opportunities.

We need to provide ongoing, predictable, transparent and inclusive educational opportunities for volunteer community and product teams working with volunteers



Mentoring is core to the success of our community. Staff AND volunteers, go farther when someone is there to encourage their success, to answer their questions and to help strategize for the future. The Mozilla Reps program is a great example of how we can scale participation through thoughtful and ongoing mentorship .

The Mozilla Guides project is proving that by offering a searchable, scale-able, organized resource for brand new Mozillians who need encouragement, coaching, and mentors, to take their first steps and find the projects they want to make an impact on .

Mentoring is done well already in some places at Mozilla. The Reps program has done an incredible job of building a network of mentors, and mentoring is at the core of its success. We need to make mentors and mentoring easily available and usefully structured for all Mozillians at all levels of skill and participation.


Designing Participation Tracks

Designing participation for a college graduate is much different than designing for an experienced C# engineer interested in transitioning strong technical skills to open source ecosystem. Making pathways as simple as possible for the episodic volunteers , is as important as providing long-term opportunities. What other types of participation should we be considering? Is Mozilla contribution accessible for those with disabilities? How do we plug one into the other?

What does it look like to show up as an organized group effort? How do schools and companies interested in lending skills to a project on an single, or ongoing basis get involved?
We suggest that we framing Mozilla contribution as an opportunity for individuals and organized groups. Corporations can lend time and technical talent for skill & team building , while universities across the world can their better help students for the job market through the opportunity that is – contributing to Mozilla. Mozilla in kind, can define on-ramps for organizations (corporations, universities, other open source projects, and more) to be able to easily find opportunities and make an impact – and develop mutual benefit.

A Community Building Community

We’ve been saying that community building is everyone’s job at Mozilla, but what we haven’t explicitly said – is that we’re building a community around ‘community building in Mozilla’. This means, we need to get better at sharing resources across the project. We need improved communication mechanisms to help avoid duplication of efforts. We need to be more deliberate about reaching out with what we’ve learned.

Designing for humans ensures that those who want to go fast (move fast and break things, if you will) – can, and those who want to be more deliberate in their process will get there too. Our collective speed of innovation, development, and impact will increase when we are deliberate about mentorship, teaching and growing a connected community of community designers – as core tenets of participation design, human infrastructure, and volunteer empowerment at Mozilla.

Emma and I would love your feedback on these thoughts around radical participation at Mozilla.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Our web will be inclusive, open, diverse, and free: Tales from the TechWomen/Mozilla/Internet Society/ Peer to Peer Womens Network Mixer

By 6:00 on that Monday night the heat of early October had lessened - the Embarcadero was breezy with a blessed return of traces of fog. A large group of technologists gathered, many of them women,  to share lighting talks and stories - and build relationships. They came together for a TechWomen program mixer hosted by  Mozilla and the SF Bay Internet Society, featuring talks by:
You missed it? Don't be sad, there is a video!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Evolution of a systematic and traceable, robust and scaleable system for onboarding volunteers.

I want to make sure everyone has seen the all new Get Involved page  and to give a huge shout-out to the many, many Mozillians, including many of you, who have been involved in setting this up, along with Guides - our new community forum designed to support brand new Mozillians.

(Note that localized versions of Get Involved are coming soon! Many people here have been involved in getting the locales up, and that is critically important. Thank you. We can't wait to share that work with the world.)

David blogged about it too, including some history of the page and the importance of this system in what we do as a community here at Mozilla.

This set of improvements will allow us a far more robust tracking and followup system for community as well.  I look forward to growing and learning with all of you. The metrics we will get from this new system will allow us to trace volunteers from signing up for an opportunity through becoming an active member of our community - and all the places people could get lost along the way can be addressed. This is a huge opportunity for improvement.

Thank you to every one of you who made this happen. Especialy big thanks to Jennie Rose Halperin, Emma Irwin, Matthew Zeier, everyone on the team, our Stewards, all the community who helped and were interviewed and reviewed prototypes, and our dedicated localizers.  Building programs and tools like this with all of you is my sincere pleasure and joy.

This is how we will build the internet the world needs - with the power of a scalable way to help people figure out what they want to do - and support them in doing it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Web We Want is Private: Building a global community of Privacy Contributors and Advocates through Mozilla

[This is the first of a series of blog posts related to my new-to-2014 role leading Contributor Development as a Community Builder at Mozilla. Most are also posted on Mozilla’s about:community blog.]

I’ve never actually been that good at keeping things private. I’m a talker. I’m not usually the one to keep your secret. I learned the hard way why one should be careful with passwords and privacy via a few embarrassing linkedin and twitter incidents. Despite having learned my first system administration in college in 1993 or so, I have been pretty hopeless at staying private. But. I’m learning all the time. And, increasingly, I see that privacy is about a lot more than my learning to use Last Pass correctly, or the settings on my facebook (though those are important things).  It’s actually central to all that we do online. And if I can learn the value of privacy, anyone can.

When we started the Community Building Team this year we chose teams to work with as partners, to help them build Mozillian community. One of the teams I chose was Privacy, and I was privileged to be partnered to work with Stacy Martin to grow the project we’ve come to call PriMo - or Privacy Mozillians. Working with the newly established Contribution Lifecycle, we brainstormed projects we’d like Mozillians to do around privacy, and we listened to people around the project’s existing ideas and needs for privacy community.

Stacy: "Larissa has been a great connector for us.  She is aware of what other teams are doing and helps point us in the direction of content and ideas we can leverage.  She suggests ways to include Foundation projects, such as Webmaker and Open Badges."

We started out with a call for privacy advocates to rally around Data Privacy Day and started to collect a few contributors.  Following on his assessment of the needs of community in Utah, Mozilla L10N engineer and Rep Jeff Beatty started a program around TACMA screenings - which has been very successful and will be expanding soon to include screenings in more Mozilla spaces and in communities as far apart as Utah to Zimbabwe. 

Outside organizations also have been reaching out to us for support in privacy - the National Network To End Domestic Violence asked us to develop best practices for browser privacy for survivors, and a community project is evolving. Please check out the NNEDV Browser guidelines project to learn how you can support this effort.

Throughout all our efforts, we're also infusing educational opportunities to learn more about Privacy, and building community of privacy educators - that can be as simple as learning to teach family members how to use lightbeam over the kitchen table on a Saturday afternoon.

The relevance of privacy work becomes more clear all the time. When we released Firefox 28, we did a global campaign to ask our community - the global network of Firefox Users - what kind of Web We Want. Resoundingly and around the world, they responded: the web we want is private. With the development of PriMo, and projects such as the TACMA screenings and NNEDV browser guide among many, we have the power to take that energy and enthusiasm and turn it into action - one privacy advocate at a time.

I ask you to invite your privacy leaning friends and family to become privacy action takers
- whether that means downloading lightbeam (or teaching someone else to),  signing our Net Neutrality petition, taking action to support our work with NNEDV, or attending (or hosting) a TACMA screening when it comes to your town…  there are many actions large and small that can add up to a strong global community of privacy advocates.

The web we want is respectful of each of our autonomy, our privacy, our data, our needs. The web we want is open to innovation and includes diverse voices. Building community for privacy means casting a wide net and calling many kinds of people together - people who have been involved with Mozilla a long time, and people who are just learning what we’re about. It will take many people together to change the culture of the web. What kind of web do you want?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Next Steps After Summit - The Mozilla Summit 2013 Session That Wasn't Quite

  Long ago, at a Mozilla Summit... well, last week... several Mozillians planned an afternoon "supporting session" called "Ideas Into Action: Next Steps for Me and My Team". It was planned for Sunday afternoon, but for a variety of reasons (mostly, I think, the plethora of amazing technical Open Sessions that cropped up like mushrooms after a rain) was not well attended. Karen Rudnitski, Selena Deckelmann, Ernest Chiang, and myself, had put some thought into a framework for y'all. I think it is still helpful. Maybe especially now, a week after Summit, with the clouds of #MozFlu and our hangovers and jetlag dissipating at last. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm feeling overwhelmed with finding time for my big ideas and wild notions among the day to day, already, again.

To that end, and to further the goals of our once poorly attended session, I submit to you:

Ideas Into Action: Next Steps for Me and My Team - Blog Edition

I encourage us all to consider the following four steps:

Remember what got you excited at Summit!
Was it the "Million Mozillians" idea? Candy Crush on Shumway? Security Champions? Appmaker, Marketplace, L20N? A conversation with someone you didn't know before - whether from Botswana or Belize (or Boston)? Write it all down. Big and small things. Maybe you already did this part. Find those notes.
Personally, I was really excited by the idea of the "internet the world needs", and volunteer community security champions, and open badges, and this totally badass robot made from an old One Laptop Per Child box that the folks from Uruguay brought to the World's Fair…. or the Innovation Fair…. one of them). How to make a Popcorn class work in a situation where there isn't reliable wireless (local web server of course).  All the open hardware stuff, and Liz Henry's "bug bracelets". And every new person I met.

Remember the four pillars Mitchell walked us through.  
Build, Empower, Teach, Shape. How do your favorite Summity things connect to the four pillars?

Come up with goals that tie these ideas together for you - in terms of how you could further the mission, build the internet the world needs - through what you do, who you know, and your own unique contributions.  

Think of small, achievable actions, that will move you forward on these goals.
One for each. Or a few, but then only consider the first one as an actual "to do" item for now.

Think of another person (probably a Mozillian) who could hold you accountable for these actions, and ask them to meet with you at regular intervals to discuss progress. 
 Offer to hold them accountable, too. Keep meeting with them and iterating through "small actions"… and watch for big results. (This trick is not my invention, I got it from TRIBE... and it's been working for me!)
It is easier to think big thoughts when we're away from home and from regular work - that is part of what events like Summit are for. A few tricks are needed, to turn ideas into action, once we're back to the grind.
I cannot wait to see what we do.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dusting off the blog. Yes.

I have in fact been communicating online in the last year, just... not here. A few outside old blog posts of mine...

And I tweet incessantly.

These days, I am working for Mozilla, and what I'm most excited about at the moment is community building, and most particularly the Mozilla Summit, which is coming quickly, next weekend. My specific roles include organizing the Innovation Fair, and working as a Track Owner for the Product and Technology track for the 3-city event, as outlined in our founder Mitchell's blog post from yesterday. I've recently made a commitment to myself to start blogging more again... so... perhaps this shall get less dusty.