Emily Kager

Leaving Mozilla

I don’t think any little girl grows up with the goal of “I want to be an OSS Android browser developer” and to be totally honest, even as an adult I just kind of fell into it. I first joined Mozilla as an intern during my change-career journey mainly because I had taken one Android class, knew some Java, and applied on a whim at the right time to hit the recruiter’s inbox. Despite not actively seeking Mozilla or Android out, I immediately fell in love with the project and team and knew I had stumbled into a very special place. The problems were interesting, I had opportunities for leadership and growth from the start, and the people were kind, smart, and supportive.

At Mozilla you’ll meet the smartest and most passionate people who could be tech leaders at any other major company (and almost certainly make more money) but are choosing to work specifically on Firefox because they believe in the product and the mission. It’s definitely intimidating to come in as an intern to one of the original “software companies” but everyone I’ve met is truly wonderful and welcoming. It was (mostly) fun to be the underdog and celebrate our wins, large and small alike. I felt connected to the mission and the products we were creating. I felt like I had a large impact in my team after only a short amount of time (most teams are quite small and tight-knit). The fans and the community were passionate and many times I had the cool experience of wearing a Firefox t-shirt in public and people thanking me for my work (now that I’m writing this, it feels a bit odd. I guess you had to be there).

So if it’s so great then why am I leaving? I know it’s not a satisfying answer, verging on cliche, but I’m just looking to do something new. That and.. I am also extremely burnt out. The very small mobile team has been through a gauntlet in order to ship a full rewrite of the flagship Firefox for Android browser (partly during the pandemic no less). Working too much during the week for the last 2 years was normal for me and while never asked for from my team, I cared deeply about the product and the success and it would have been impossible to hit our deadlines and ship something I was proud of without it. And when we finally did ship, I WAS proud of our team and what we had accomplished, but the release just felt like a blip in our planned schedule before jumping into more sprints and fires and thinking about the next iteration.

I did take one week of PTO right after our release! … which just so happened to be the week that the large layoffs happened. I was safe from layoffs, but morale plummeted, and I was definitely not refreshed. The cherry on top was being specifically targeted for harassment that same week after the release by unhappy users of Firefox looking for someone to direct their frustrations at1. There’s nothing that Mozilla really could have done in this scenario, but it left a terrible taste in my mouth after all of the blood, sweat, and tears I had put into this project. For someone who thought of themselves as an empathetic dev overworking myself FOR the end users and product, this hurt and I’m not sure I ever really recovered. While the pace is slowing down now and there’s a promise of no more deadline crunches, I just feel that I haven’t been able to catch my breath no matter how much time I take off. Whether that’s the project, pandemic fatigue, or all of the above, I’m very ready for a break, a fresh start, and a change of pace.

Working in open source full-time has been an incredible experience that has had its extreme ups and downs. On the positive side, I’ve loved mentoring new contributors to get their first open source PR merged. I’ve enjoyed all the positive interactions with the lovely community volunteers who care as much about making the product better as I do. On the negative side, it has become increasingly hard for me to separate work from not work. I found myself “contributing” (read - working) at all hours of the day. Replying to issues, emails, and public chats when I was in bed at midnight, when I just woke up at 7am, in the car on the way to go hiking on the weekend, and then while ON the hike. This might be a me problem, but boundary setting when there’s a public repo always getting new issues, comments, emails, and chatroom messages was difficult for me. And of course not all of those messages are nice; the constant stream of negative comments from unhappy and rude users during the work week and outside of it was extremely draining. Besides politicians, this might be one of the only jobs where you can wake up to an inbox full of emails and messages about how much everyone thinks you suck at your job. You definitely grow a thick skin quickly, but it’s still exhausting.

I think a lot of people tend to forget that Mozilla was also my very first job in tech. I learned so much there and there’s always more I could learn, but it’s good to try new experiences and face new problems, especially early in my career. I will be forever grateful for the experiences I’ve had at Mozilla and the people I’ve met. It was my “big break” into tech and I will never forget that! I will keep using and supporting Firefox and take a lot of the Mozilla ideals with me wherever I go. My experience was super formative for how I view ethics, privacy, and other important issues inside the tech space.

I am excited about my break and my next adventure but I’m definitely very sad to be leaving Mozilla and the wonderful people. The (good) problem with working with people who are true friends is it’s painful when people leave, including yourself. I will miss everyone dearly, especially all of my mobile team peers. I hope you all stay in touch and our paths cross again once conferences are a thing again (or maybe I’ll just crash the next All Hands, I’m not above it). If you’re at Mozilla and want to say goodbye, please ping me in the next 2 weeks! I’ve also heard I’m quite easy to find online! 😉

Love you all ❤️ XOXO

The mobile team at Mozilla

1: EDIT: Saw this made it onto Hacker News and people in the comments were doubting this harassment happened. Classic. I documented it well on my Twitter at the time, but I’m happy to give more context. I tweeted around the time of release that I was proud of the team for all our hard work and I’m not “worrying about the haters” with a photo of me drinking a beer and flipping off the camera. I never referenced users. “Haters” is just a saying that the youngins say that isn’t specific but according to the internet, “a hater is a slang term used in everyday language and especially online to describe an individual who talks and behaves negatively in response to other people’s success and goal achievement.” It was a light-hearted joke for my Twitter friends after a year of hard work and constant negativity. In response this tweet was posted all over Reddit and 4chan and then there were coordinated doxxing attacks, multiple 4chan threads full of violent sexual and death threats, troll PRs opened in our repo, all of my photos pulled off of my Instagram and posted into these threads with disgusting commentary, and actual calls to my work from fake “journalists” to try to get me fired. I’m not going to post the comments here because they make me sick but feel free to search the archives to see for yourself. If you think this is ever an appropriate response to a dev on the team telling a joke online, I can’t help you.

This project is maintained by ekager