Mozilla Tech Speakers – Growing skills for developer outreach


Mozilla Tech Speakers runs a successful public speaking programme based on three guiding principles. In this talk from DevRelCon Tokyo 2017 Havi Hoffman discusses working openly, vibrant design and why it is important to be nice.


Hello. As you know, my name is Havi Hoffman. I am not a seasoned public speaker. To be honest, I’m pretty much of a newbie when it comes to public speaking. Yeah, it’s true. I worked in developer relations for many years and I do all sorts of communicating with developers, designers, product people, business people, influencers, practitioners. But my work usually takes place way out of the spotlight and public speaking is way out of my comfort zone.

About Mozilla Tech Speakers

So, it might surprise you to know that I’ve enabled hundreds of talks delivered by scores of speakers in dozens of countries, men and women on all the continents, at prestigious tech events like Tech in Asia, JazzCon for EU, arrive and fluent. These talks have reached thousands of developers, and garnered tens of thousands of views on YouTube. I haven’t given a single one of those talks, but I helped all of them happen through the training and funding we provided in the Mozilla Tech Speakers program.

You could say that everything I know about a public speaking, I’ve learned from Mozilla Tech Speakers. So, today, I wanna talk to you a bit about the principles, people, and future possibilities of this program. We’re proud of the opportunities we offer through developing skills and growing influence. And, we’re even more proud of the impact that this group of volunteers is having around the world. Now, keep in mind, everything I’ll talk about today can be modified and remixed. There are principles and program elements worth replicating for any size organisation or any kind of developer event.

Our first principle: open participation

And that’s what I’d like you to come away with today, the idea that there is something in this program and its principles that you can use in your developer strategy. And I save the bit of time at the end… So, I hope I saved a little bit of time at the end for your questions. So, let’s begin with the guiding principles. These three fundamentals have guided this program from the very beginning until today. They are why we succeeded. Our success can be replicated in small, medium, large organisations. What matters is having the right mindset and the right intentions. First principle, open participation. This means working collaboratively and communicating openly in a decentralised environment, usually across time zones and cultures. The approach includes all the participants, volunteers, paid staff, developers, end-users.

We take the ecosystem point of view that the best ideas on the smartest people are likely to be found outside of your organisation, no matter how big, how smart, or how rich you are. Now, Mozilla is an unusual organisation, we are a non-profit mission-driven open source company with a global network of volunteers. We make the Firefox web browser used by hundreds of millions of people around the world. Volunteer Mozillians contribute code to all the parts of the browser and the tooling that supports it.

They participate in testing, infrastructure support, localisation, documentation, marketing, evangelism, advocacy, event design, and more. Sometimes, we hire volunteers as contractors or full-time staff. Sometimes, we invite volunteers to own modules in our open-source governance system. We support grassroots, web literacy, and advocacy events, and we fund tech speakers to give talks at conferences and events just like this one.

So, a little bit of history. In 2015, the same year as DevRelCon, we launched a pilot program to provide speaker training and a community of interests for volunteer technical evangelists. Mozilla Tech Speakers combine skill development with open participation. To start, we ask for input from volunteers we knew who were already out speaking about Firefox, Mozilla, and the Open Web Platform in regional communities.

The coaching we offered these first speakers empower them to participate more actively and extend our reach and theirs as well. Today, we support open participation in other ways through this program. Master classes on public speaking and tech briefing materials provided for training are recorded and distributed to support speakers no matter where in the world they are. We had captions and transcripts to the recorded materials to help the majority of our participants who are not native English speakers.

Why we work openly

We take notes collaboratively, share notes openly, and limit the use of closed source proprietary tools. We cultivate cross-pollination, the exchange of ideas and we look for force multipliers, things that can amplify our ideas beyond the size of our teams. Our work at Mozilla is rooted and an important assumption that the benefits of working open outweigh the challenges and the risks. Working open can create a strategic advantage when applied with intelligence, flexibility, and a clear value proposition for everyone. Yes, there are many ways to get this wrong and generate conflict, burnout, strife, but there’s an amazing upside in getting it right, amazing upside.

Here is what happens. Volunteers who are supported to extend their skills can achieve their own personal and professional goals. At the same time, they become better equipped to add more value and influence more developers on behalf of Mozilla and the web, and our mission. We extend our workforce. Volunteers extend their skills, access, experience. Everyone benefits.

Our second principle: psychological safety

Second key principle, psychological safety, we are 100% committed to psychological safety. Creating and maintaining an atmosphere for all the participants in the tech speakers program always on all channels. At the same time, we actively recruit for diversity across all the access including gender, nationality, religion, language, years of experience, fields of expertise. So, this enriches the pool of ideas and gives us the opportunity to reach ever more fire flowing communities around the world. And it allows innovation and leadership to flow in two directions, from the edge to the inside and back out to the edge. We make sure that people treat each other with respect, we enforce the Mozilla community participation guidelines in all our interactions, and we advise speakers to look for a posted code of conduct before accepting a conference invitation. We do not sponsor conferences that do not post code of conduct, although, we may send a speaker to test the waters.

The concept of psychological safety is very powerful. Not too long ago, Google did a lengthy study called Project Aristotle, hundreds of interviews, hours of data crunching to identify the characteristics of effective, productive happy teams. Guess what they found out? It’s what the best leaders and managers already know. People thrive on teams where they’re treated well. The best teams respect one another’s emotions, and are mindful that all members contribute to the conversation equally. So we follow those principles.

We are vigilant about being nice, mindful with good manners and tone, and share equal time. Because of that, the tech speakers are a cohort that helps each other. They’ve created a network of relationships and exchange that increases the influence and visibility of the group. It’s brought talented new speakers and contributors into the program, extending our orbit. Together, tech speakers create their own network effects.

Our third principle: vibrant program design

Third principle can be described as Minimum viable program design. I think of a vibrant program as like a living organism. Its needs and priorities, not to mention its activities, must change over time. It’s essential to stay responsive to serendipity and change. Serendipity, some of the most interesting online services have emerged from serendipity. Twitter was born as the unexpected child of an unsuccessful podcast product. Anyone remember that? Slack emerged from an ailing flash-based game called Glitch with a very sweet IRC-like experience built in. And more recently, Glitch was reborn as a friendly hosting platform in community for building apps and bots or hosting WebVR A-Frame demos.

Serendipity, not very long ago, a tech speaker from India traveled to Siberia in the winter to introduce WebVR and A-Frame at a developer conference, and met a Russian developer who is presenting about Rust, a system’s programming language, and invited him to become a tech speaker. And now, for some reason, there are other tech speakers giving talks at GDG Dead fest in Russia and all over Eastern Europe. That’s serendipity.

So, scaling a program and keeping it like way as it constant balancing act, we have to build scalable processes without adding too many layers of bureaucracy. This is an ongoing challenge. We have to maintain high levels of access to staff while automating and depersonalising some key points of contact. We maintain a personal touch as the program grows by extending the mantle of mentorship, so that more experienced speakers can lead meetings, help train new speakers, and facilitate new practice groups.

We welcome new ideas

Another more generalised way to keep our program healthy and relevant as it grows is to experiment, accept feedback, and welcome new ideas. We look for good ideas from adjacent communities that have already figured stuff out like WordPress, the Open-source CMS that powers more than 25% of the web. And Rust, the next-gen systems programming language supported by Mozilla and a vibrant program of community. Feedback and experimentation, key parts of responsive program design. Mozilla Tech speakers though would be nothing without its people.

Let me quickly share some of the people who are participating in this program. Ayah Soufan is a QA Engineer in Palestine, founder of Palestine Tech Meetups, Vice-President of Arabic women in Computing’s Palestine Chapter, and an ambassador for Technovation Challenge in which small teams of girls and mentors build apps together to meet community needs. Gabriel Mičko is front end developer from Slovakia working in Budapest. He took his first airplane journey ever as a substitute speaker at Rolling Scopes Conference in Belarus 2016. He spoke about WebRTC, his favourite technology and his live demo inspired the cartoon you see on the screen. Srushtika Neelakantam, who is from Bangalore, is a second-generation speaker. Her mom teaches programming to computer science students. She is a new computer science grad herself and co-author of a book called “Learning Web-based Virtual Reality.”

Manel Rhaiem of Tunisia is currently on a Data Engineering internship at a start-up in Hungary. Manel chairs on monthly tech speaker meeting, and add syntactic sugar, and motivational juice to all our communications. Daniele Scasciafratte has recruited a brigade of tech speakers in Italy, where he is CTO,  co-founder, and full stack developer at Codeat in Rome. He is also a leader in the Italian WordPress community. Daniele likes to say “Every conference is a community.”

Where we are going

Finally, let me share some of the things we’re working on in the future of this program. This is a group that will never run out of things to speak about. For instance, the upcoming Firefox release on August 8th includes significant performance games, new and better developer tools for debugging, for building web extensions, and working with modern CSS. There’s the ongoing evolution of the A-Frame library for building WebVR, and the underlying platform evolution enabled by cutting-edge technologies like WebAssembly, and the Servo Engine, which is built with Rust.

We are entering a phase where we need to create robust content repositories and profile pages for tech speakers, places for storing and sharing assets, code samples, and demos. This is work we are doing now collaboratively, asynchronously, across time zones. Overall, we’re shoring up infrastructure, prioritising content, and finding new ways to measuring path. We want to support our emerging leaders and most talented presenters, while at the same time continuing to empower and develop speakers at all levels.

In the fall, you can find us at the View Source, a web conference that will take place in London on October 27. There is sure to be a small group of Mozilla Tech Speakers there to support the event and attend the conference. And then after View Source, you might find us again at the Mozilla Festival where there will be tech speakers running workshops with demo stations.

We’re very thankful

In conclusion, there are many, many people I would like to thank for their help in this program and getting me here today. I’m a very big believer in the power of thank yous, great marketing tactic. I especially want to mention my colleagues formerly from Mozilla, Japan. It’s really because of their friendship and generosity that I’m here today. I was originally going to present this talk with the colleague Chico Schinizhou, but the timing didn’t work out, so it’s just me.

I also want to introduce WebDINO today. It’s a new entity that will continue the mission of Mozilla Japan under a new name, dedicated to diversity, internationalisation, neutrality, and openness. Tomoya Asai or Dynamis, as he’s known on the web, is CTO of WebDINO and leads developer relations. He is here today and happy to chat with you further about WebDINO and its plans. He is also our newest Mozilla Tech Speaker, and I’m very honoured that he will be part of this program. So, I hope you have a chance to hear him in the coming year speaking about tools, trends, and standards of the open web.

I hope you found something small and shiny here that you can apply to your own developer outreach plans. And I hope you’ll keep watching our program and our speakers. Mozilla Tech Speakers have something to say, I know we all do. So, thank you so much for your time and attention.

Photo Credit : Kansuke Nakai

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