Category Archives: Personal

Ode to Morgamic

Mike Morgan – morgamic – was my boss for nearly six years. Friday was his last day working at Mozilla. I wanted to write something to memorialize his departure, in the same way he did for others. Of course, this blog post will not be as eloquent as if he had written it, but I will do my best.

There are two things that stand out about Morgamic: his leadership, and his passion for the Mozilla and the Open Web.

Morgamic is that rare leader who, rather than rallying the troops from the front, leads from beside you, encouraging you every step of the way. Morgamic is an introvert. Never let anyone tell you introverts can’t lead. He excels at leadership because of his special talents for introspection, reflection and the ability and willingness to listen.

He taught me, by example, and by teaching me to ask the right questions, three important things about leadership:

Enable autonomy by quiet leadership. In six years, I don’t think he ever really told me to do anything. Like Confucius, he simply asked questions that helped me figure it out for myself.

Trust people. I can get really mad about things being done in a way I consider wrong. He always encouraged me to ask myself why someone might be doing it that way, and to trust that they were doing the best they could.

Reframe problems. Mike sees problems as complex and nuanced. It’s never black or white: you just have to zoom out a little to see a million solutions to a problem that you might not have seen before.

We certainly had disagreements over the last few years, but we always managed to resolve them in a constructive way, and that might be the greatest lesson of all. As a technical leader, he goes out of his way to hire people that he is confident are smarter than him, and he never gets insecure about it. (In my case, I’m not sure he was right. He certainly outdoes me in wisdom.) He coaches those people into excellence. Morgamic is a force multiplier. Not only that, but he cares about his people, and will go out of his way to help them develop into the best and happiest versions of themselves.

Virtually every website you use at Mozilla was made with Morgamic’s hands, Morgamic’s help, or Morgamic’s leadership. We still use code from the first web app he ever built for Mozilla, when he was a volunteer: Every time you update or download Firefox, you can do that because of Morgamic.

Morgamic also has a vision and a passion for the Mozilla Mission and the Open Web. If you’ve ever talked with him about it, you’ll know exactly what I mean. With Mike, it always came back to two questions: How does this move the mission forward? How does this benefit the Open Web?

He also manages to bring humor and humanity into every action: whether it’s org charts with Care Bears, photoshopping your head onto a meerkat, or presenting interns with trophies at the end of the summer. Once, when I had a sick pet and he knew I was really upset, he sent me a giant bunch of flowers (‘From the webdev team’). That made me cry, quite a lot, but in a good way, I swear. I still have that card on my desk, and I tear up every time I look at it.

I’m not the only one with stories. Here are some from other people who have had the pleasure and privilege of working with Morgamic:

  • “I’m not sure I consistently hear more praise for any other manager at Mozilla as I do about Morgamic. That includes me hearing myself talk about how pleased I’ve been over the past two years to have him mentor me — and our entire team. I feel pushed to do great work because of him, but in a way unique to him and Fred (who I have to think he mentored well, given their similar management styles) — constantly encouraged and pushed but with amazing empathy and reason for pushing me. He also encouraged us all to get along with each other and all of Mozilla, taken what seems to me as the sanest growth plan in Mozilla, and strived to build an awesome team instead of just a big one. He encouraged us to reach out and include “former” colleagues and constantly bring potentials into the webdev world.”
  • “Mike Morgan brought me to Mozilla, a move I had always wanted and was appreciative of. It wasn’t until I had to opportunity to really work with Mike and see him in action that I realized how much of a compliment it was to have him seek me. Mike invests so much into each of his developers that they can’t help but strive for greatness to repay the favor. Morgamic fought hard for his developers and made sure they were working on something they were passionate about. I’m proud to have worked with and for Mike Morgan and I’m already jealous of the next set of developers he’ll lead. Mozilla wont be the same without him. Legend.”
  • “Like many of us on the web development team, I came to Mozilla through Mike. I’ve worked closely with him for 7 years and watched him grow from a volunteer developer into a well respected leader. I watched a team of two turn into a team of fifty with his expertise and guidance. He is magnetic – someone who naturally acts as a hub, of people, of information, and of value. He strived to be a better leader, reading books, studying role models, and speaking with experts about how to encourage excellence on his team. People who have worked with him will understand how short “he’ll be missed” falls – we’re all fortunate to have worked with him for this long, and really, I guess we’ve been greedy, it’s only fair to let the rest of the world have a chance too. “
  • “Even when we disagreed he trusted me. He could have ordered me to do something else, or ordered my boss to order me. Instead he’d take me for coffee and try to convince me of another way. Usually he succeeded, but when he didn’t he would go out of his way to support my decision. Our products were a byproduct of his relentless focus on the team — hiring the right people and trusting them to make the right decisions.”
  • “Morgamic embodied Mozilla in so many ways. He was a continual positive influence in everything we did in WebDev, always believing in people and trying to get them to improve themselves. But he went far beyond the boundaries of the team and influenced so many others. His legacy at Mozilla will continue on from those lucky enough to have worked with him.”
  • “Soon after I switched from the Webdev team to the Engagement team, Morgamic walked by the glass walls of a meeting room I was doing a video conference in. He walked away, came back with a whiteboard marker, drew a heart, and left.
    I’d follow that man to Hades.”
  • “He helped me feel good at Mozilla very quickly. I like how he can be totally not serious sometimes, but efficient when he needs to. He gathered an impressive team of wonderful, excellent, incredible Web devs (except me, of course, but every team has its weakness 🙂 ). We were the first interns to win the Annual Employees VS Interns Basketball match!”
  • “Morgamic exemplified Mozilla for me. Openness, transparency, and just plain fight-for-the-user awesomeness. Morgamic was one of the few managers I’ve had who was less my superior and more my facilitator. He often acted like a Mozilla concierge – ensuring I had what I needed, intervening where I was blocked, and making sure I was happy and headed in the right direction. I don’t think I ever disagreed with his strategic decisions, which often had included my input or had at least been communicated to me early & often. Not that my agreement is needed to run the company, but it at least felt like he always had my back and we were doing things the right way.”
  • “I’ve known and worked with Mike for ten years. On meeting him, I knew immediately that I had met one of those rare personalities that one encounters only only a few times in life. I watched Mike mature over the years in both his personal and professional life. One Mozilla cantina night, I recall sitting with Shaver and, possibly, Schrep: the conversation was about finding good engineering management. I remember pointing across the room to Mike, who likely at that moment was doing something very silly/dangerous will alcohol and fire. ‘There is your man, promote from within and you’ll see amazing things from him.’ I think I nailed it.”

The words “he will be missed” are so far from adequate it’s not even funny.

His legacy at Mozilla will live on, in the projects he built, in the people he mentored, through every Open Source project that comes out of Webdev, in the Mozilla mission, and in the hearts of all of us. I can’t wait to see what he pulls off next – I’ll be watching, and so should you, because I have no doubt it will be amazing. Remember, too, that being a Mozillian isn’t something that stops just because you change jobs. It’s more like what happens when your best friend moves away. Nothing changes except the logistics.

As for the rest of us, we will miss him, but we will go on working for the Open Web as the better people he helped us to be.

On his last day working at Mozilla, Morgamic said, “Webdev isn’t a job, it’s a movement.” I’ll leave you with that, and with this video, that I know he liked to watch over and over:

Hail, farewell, and mahalo, Mike Morgan, until next time.

The Weight of Impostor Syndrome

Talk of impostor syndrome is almost memetic at the moment. If you don’t know what it is, go look it up.  I’ll wait.

Like lots of other people, I struggle with this constantly. I’m not as smart as everybody else in the room. I’m not as good a coder. I’m not as good a manager. Sooner or later I will be found out for what I am: an impostor.

Thing is, I can rationally defeat many of those things by looking at objective evidence. I recite the evidence to myself. I am smart: my IQ is nearly 150. I wrote a programming book that some people really like – note I first wrote that as “great”, deleted it, wrote “best-selling”, deleted it, and settled for “some people really like”. I have worked on some interesting coding projects. I manage a successful team at an interesting company doing things that are technically difficult and that will hopefully make a difference in the world.

But in the back of my brain, a little voice says, that was just luck.

I recently realized that impostor syndrome is present in all parts of my life, not just in my career.  Everyone is better at riding horses than I am, even though I’ve been doing it since I was four. My fiction writing sucks, and my critique group will eject me once they figure it out.  My house is messier than everyone else’s, and I think I’m a terrible cook. I can’t co-ordinate my wardrobe.

The worst part is standing at the playground, thinking that every other parent there knows what they are doing except for me.

I have to remind myself these things aren’t true. Every day. I heard some good advice recently, which was to speak to yourself as if you were your best friend. You wouldn’t say to your best friend, “You’re an idiot”, now, would you? Even if your BFF did something objectively stupid, you might tell them, “You’re not stupid. We all do dumb things, sometimes.”

How about you? If you have strategies for overcoming impostor syndrome, share them in the comments.

A Year at Mozilla

This week marks one year I have been at Mozilla.  I’ve always found milestones a good time for reflection, so I tend to think back around these times.

Since I started at Mozilla, I’ve been lucky enough to work on some great projects, including:

– Developing the AMO ( API, used by Firefox 3 for the Addons Manager

– Scaling SUMO ( in preparation for Download Day

– Leading development for SUMO

– Helping plan the PHP5 migration for our web properties, and migrating AMO

– Working with Chris Pollett on full text search for AMO

– Working with Jacob Potter, one of our awesome interns this summer, on Melanion, our loadtesting webapp

– Working with Legal on an upcoming project

– Designing and planning a Single Sign On solution for all of the Mozilla web properties.

There’s been a lot of travel including to the superb Firefox Summit at Whistler, which was one of the highlights of my year.

I’ve also been pretty slack about blogging over the last year, I note, because some of these things really deserve their own entries.

The Mozilla firehose takes a while to absorb, but finally it dawns on you that this place is really really different from other companies, and in a very good way.  John Lilly was calling it “chaord” which is an excellent description – pushing control and responsibility out to the edges.  In some ways it reminds me of academia, with regard to both the autonomy we have and the rigor in the way we do things, in other ways the organic anarchy of many other Open Source projects.

I’m also really lucky, and feel privileged, to work with such a good group of people, both in my own team and in the whole of the organization.

On a more personal note, I’m a much happier person now than I was when I started this job.  I don’t think I’ll ever be the same person who came to the USA for three months three years ago, but I guess time changes everyone.  (Even this year hasn’t been straightforward or quiet on a personal level, but it’s been easier.)

Here’s to many more years of good work with the good people at Mozilla.

A rare and special day

Yesterday was one of the best days I have ever had.

We rented a car and drove from Portland through twisty mountain roads (all alike) to Nehalem State Park on the Oregon Coast.  Luke and I were guided on our adventure by Wendy, her daughter Blake, and helper Tracy from Northwest Equine Outfitters.  (Wendy started running trail rides because she is a quarter horse breeder, and the horses needed to help with the bills.)

After mounting up we rode through the dunes and scrub of the state park, past deer, and giant gulls.  A mist of rain freshened our faces as we cantered over the sand and down to the beach.  What I thought at first was a pile of rocks turned out to be the local seal colony, some dozing idly, others keeping a watchful eye on us, with tails raised.

We dismounted at the beach and left the horses.  Wendy called for a ride and a tiny boat, with pirate flag astern, came speeding across the estuary to pick us up.  We sailed past the seals – a bit closer this time, so we could see their black little eyes and long whiskers – and then crossed the water to the Jetty, where we bought freshly caught clams, crabs, and oysters.  The fishermen steamed the clams and crabs for us, while we took our oysters to the campfire and cooked them over the open flames. The oysters were the biggest I have ever seen – the meat in each one the size of two hands.  Wendy basted them in a mix of butter, garlic, chili powder, hot sauce, and lime juice.  We sat on giant seats carved out of thousand year old trees around the camp fire, patted the dogs, ate oysters til our fingers dripped with juice, and heard stories of great courage and being lost at sea.

Eventually we sailed back over the water and were reunited with our horses.  We rode down the beach for a couple more hours, returning at last, exhausted and sandy, to the corrals.

Abysmal customer service

Recently I have been the recipient of a number of incidents of abysmal customer service and I really need to vent.

The worst of all is Bank of America.  They are as extraordinarily polite as they are incompetent.

On a number of occasions they have stopped my card.  Reasons for this have included:
  – You were spending a lot of money (it was Christmas Eve)
  – Someone used your card in another state (I live in Maryland, 20 minutes drive from Virginia malls).
  – You spent money in another country.

The last seems reasonable in some sense, so I have now taken to calling them before travel and advising of travel.   I have also on several occasions asked them to cease this practice as I travel a lot.  They always agree that this is fine and that they have made a note on my record, but it has never had any noticeable effect.  On my last trip home to Australia in September they stopped my card again.  After calling them – at least half an hour on the phone, at international rates – they assured me it had been unblocked.  I went out shopping and found it still blocked.  I repeated this process AGAIN and it was still blocked.  It was not until the third call that I managed to get the card unblocked.  On each occasion they assured me the problem was solved.  Overall I spent about three hours on the phone at international rates. 

I wrote an email to complain and was told they would send a physical letter to explain what had happened.  Such a letter never arrived.

Last Monday, 11/26, while en route to California, I misplaced my card.  Believing I had lost it in the airport, I rang to report it lost.   I spent 25 minutes on the phone and spoke to three different individuals.  The final one told me she could not suspend the card for some reason that she didn’t mention and that I would have to call back some other time.

I did not call back, hoping the card would turn up.  It did, on Friday 11/30, and then they promptly suspended it.  I emailed them to ask if it could be unsuspended, and was told that a new card had been issued and that I would receive it by mail 12/3.  Today 12/5 it had still not turned up, so I emailed again and they told me it was *mailed* 12/3.

On some level it is my own fault for continuing to bank with them, a problem which I will shortly remedy.

However, I am particularly grumpy with customer service assistants this week.

Number 2 was the gate agent at United in SJC on Friday afternoon.  After she twice stopped serving me to help someone else – and gave us each the wrong boarding passes – I politely asked if she could finish serving me before moving on.  She threw the boarding pass at me and it hit me in the face.  Charming.  I said nothing but took my pass and walked away.

Number 3, today I was on the phone to a doctor’s secretary.  She could not find me in the computer and then gave me a lecture on the fact that I was mispronouncing my own name.  If I would only pronounce it the way she did, instead of the way my entire family does, then people would be better able to assist me!

Vent over.  Will resume normal programming shortly.

Reports of my death…part 2.

Despite the universe’s best efforts!  News:

1.  On Saturday, yes, I did break a rib, and yes, I did get to go to trauma via helicopter.  It’s really not that serious, I just have impressive bruises and am walking kind of slow.  (I was out of the hospital within about 2 hours, so really not that serious.)

2.  On Monday I started my new job, working for Mozilla Corporation.  It’s a great deal of fun so far and everyone has been really nice.  I’m excited to take up a whole bunch of new challenges.

3.  I’ll be speaking at the Zend Conference on Wednesday October 10th on the topic of "Premium PHP".

One horse’s life.

He was born 17th October 1984, like all future racehorses with hopes and dreams riding on his back.    He came to race named Safari Boy, by Chamozzle out of Chantana.    He raced six times, winning the second, at Albury, in 1988.  He never did so well again, and retired to become a dressage horse, when he was renamed Chamozzled, or RJ to his friends, after the brand on his left shoulder.  He had two dressage homes, and when we came to see him had been in one place for nine years.  His owner had a baby and no time.

I knew as soon as Luke got on that we would take this horse home.  I remember their first show.  Luke said, "I don’t think I’m going to like showing" and after RJ carried him to three championships and a reserve that first day changed his mind.  They learned to jump together and we went to many dressage days, jumping days, shows, and on long trail rides in the rain.  When my horse hurt his leg I rode RJ for a while, sharing him with Luke, and he always took good care of me and tried hard.  Oddly, some of the things I remember best are the times when he wasn’t well – I always seem to end up playing nursemaid to them then.  He had azoturia once and I remember the freezing night where we walked slowly round his field for four hours until the vet rang back to say he couldn’t come.  RJ kept leaning his head upon my shoulder.

He had almost three years to the day of retirement.  We first realized he wasn’t quite right at Barastoc Horse of the Year show, and soon after he headed down to Julie’s farm, turned out in the middle of dairy country, in ten acres of lush grass with a couple of girlfriends for company.

This is another drought year, after all the other drought years, and on Saturday he could barely move, brought to this by Australian stringhalt.  He ended his life there in the paddock.  Good night old fella.  Rest in peace, it’s well deserved.

May the road rise up to meet
may the wind be ever at your back.
may the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields.
and until we meet
again, May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

the pragmatic and the profound

First, the pragmatic: today I was interested to read Paul M. Jones’ framework benchmarks.  So often benchmarks are biased – and Paul would have every reason to be biased, considering he’s the author of Solar.  But he clearly goes through his methodology, and points out what he thinks might be the flaws in it.  An excellent read from a clear mind.  I’ll be interested to see the way the comments go, although I see from that and other blog entries I’ve been reading lately that RoR appears to have a number of comment spam bots (tongue firmly in cheek here).

Second, the profound: I was pleased to find online the complete text of C.S. Lewis’ essay The Inner Ring.  When I first read it (a few years ago now) it had a deep impact on me.  It was interesting to re-read this essay as my older, perhaps wiser, perhaps more bitter self.  If you’re not planning on clicking though, you may be swayed by the fact that the subtitle is "On Making Good Men Do Bad Things".  It’s about the desire to be accepted and how this turns men into scoundrels.  Sixty years old and as true as the day it was written.

In part:

To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still- just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig- the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which "we"- and at the word "we" you try not to blush for mere pleasure- something "we always  do."

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face- that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face- turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.