Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mozlandia!

Three weeks ago I was in Portland for Mozilla's Portland coincidental work week, dubbed "Mozlandia".

In Mozilla, a lot of the teams have members scattered across the globe. Work weeks are a way for team members to discuss/hack together and get to know each other better. This one was a bit special; it was all Mozilla teams having a simultaneous work week in Portland, so that the teams get a chance to work with each other.

This was my first large Mozilla event outside of the country. I was there as a member (volunteer) of the Servo team, and it was my first time meeting almost everyone there. This meant that I got to enjoy the experience of seeing my perception of various people move from an amorphous blob of username (in some cases, a face too) to an actual human being :P

I've always thought that I'm able to interact well with people online — perhaps even better than I do in person!. I've spent a lot of time with various online communities (Wikipedia, Stack Exchange, Mozilla), and I've never had trouble communicating there. However, meeting everyone in person was a really awesome experience and I was pleasantly surprised to realize that this makes it easier for me to interact with them online; something I didn't think was possible.


Initially, I'd felt a bit skeptical about the "coincidental" bit of the work week; while I wanted to meet Mozillians outside of my team, I was worried that with all the cross team discussions (and other activities) we wouldn't really get any time to focus on Servo. However, it turned out great — the cross team discussions were very productive and we got lots of time to ourselves as well.


On the first two days there were all-hands sessions (talks) in the morning. These were quite insightful, clearing up many question on the future goals of Mozilla, and being inspiring in general. Brian Muirhead's guest talk about landing a rover on Mars was particularly enjoyable. A rather interesting thing was brought up in Darren Herman's talk — Mozilla is going to start trying to make advertising on the Internet more enjoyable for consumers, rather than trying to just fight it outright. I'm not entirely sure what I feel about this, but they seem to be on the right track with the sponsored tiles on the new tab page; these tiles can be hidden/changed/pinned and aren't obtrusive at all (nor do they detract from the experience of surfing since they're on a page which used to be blank).

I personally did a variety of things at the workweek:


  • I worked with Sean McArthur on getting his Hyper integration to work on Android (We finally got it to work!). I started out knowing nothing about the Android environment/NDK; now I'm much more comfortable.
  • There was an awesome session organized by Mike Hoye on helping new volunteer contributors  get involved in your project. One of the major reasons I contribute to Mozilla is that they have by far the most welcoming and helpful system for newbies I've seen in any open source project. Mike gave a great introduction to the topic; covering a lot of ground on what we do well, and more importantly what we don't. Josh Matthews and Mike Conley outlined what makes a good mentored bug; and what makes a good mentor. There were various other talks outlining experiences with new contributors and lessons learned (including mine). The success stories by Joel Maher and Margaret Leibovic were particularly inspiring; both of their teams have managed to get a lot of effective community involvement. After the session a couple of us had a fun discussion over lunch on how we should move forward with this and make the newbie experience better. Mozilla may be the best at onboarding new contributors, but there still is a lot of room for improvement.
  • I was also part of a discussion on Rust's compiler plugins. Rust provides hooks for writing custom syntax extensions and lints that can run arbitrary expansion/analysis on the AST at compile time. However, the API is unstable since it deals with compiler internals. We discussed if it would be possible to somehow get a subset of this working for 1.0 (Rust 1.0 has strict backwards-compatibility requirements). We also discussed the future of Rust's serialization support (currently based on builtin syntax extensions and rather broken). Hopefully future Rust (though not 1.0) will have support for an evolved form of Erick's serde library.
  • We had a couple of discussions with the Automation team on testing, including performance/power tests. These were quite productive. I also had some interesting side discussions with Joel on performance testing; I'm now planning to see if I can improve performance in Servo by statically checking for things like unnecessary copies via the lint system.
  • I was part of the discussion in replacing some component of Firefox with one written in Rust. We were quite apprehensive about this discussion; expecting all sorts of crazy requirements  — apparently the build team was tempted to tell some horror stories but fortunately held back :P, In the end, it turned out okay — the requirements were quite reasonable and we're rather optimistic about this project.
  • I also helped Eddy on his crazy project to polyfill the polyfill for web components/Polymer so that it works in Servo.
Besides the major things listed above; there were tons of side discussions that I had on various topics which were rather helpful.


The week ended with a great party (which had a performance by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis!).

Overall, this was quite a fun and enriching experience. I hope I'll be able to participate in such events in the future!


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