Mozilla Tech Speakers: Growing Skills for Developer Outreach

Mozilla Tech Speakers: Growing Skills for Developer Outreach

Presented on July 29, 2017, DevRelCon Tokyo
Havi Hoffman
(Slide design by Virginia Poltrack)
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In which I introduce the Mozilla Tech Speakers program, which I co-founded in 2015, and describe the principles, people, and future plans for this program.

Here is the script:

Hello. My name is Havi Hoffman.

I am not a seasoned public speaker. To be honest, I’m a newbie when it comes to public speaking. Yes, it's true I’ve worked in developer relations for many years, and I do all sorts of communicating with developers, designers, influencers and practitioners. But my work usually takes place out of the spotlight, and public speaking is way out of my comfort zone.

So it might surprise you to know that I have enabled hundreds of talks…delivered by scores of speakers, women and men, in dozens of countries. At prestigious tech events like Tech in Asia, JS Conf EU and O’Reilly Fluent. And these talks have reached thousands of developers, and have garnered tens of thousands of YouTube views.

I haven’t given a single one of those talks... but I’ve helped all of them happen through the training and funding we offer in the Mozilla Tech Speakers program.

You could say that everything I know about public speaking I learned from Mozilla Tech Speakers...

Today, I want to talk to you about the principles…people…and future possibilities of this program. We’re proud of the opportunities we offer for developing skills and growing influence, and we’re even more proud of the impact this team of volunteers is having around the world.

Everything I’ll talk about today can be modified and remixed. There are principles and program elements worth replicating for any size or kind of developer program or event.

And that’s what I’d like you to come away with - the idea that there’s something in this program and its principles that you can use in your developer strategy. And, I’ve saved time at the end for your questions.

[slide 8]

Let’s begin with our guiding principles. These three fundamentals have guided this program from the very beginning until today. They are why we’ve succeeded.

Our success can be replicated in a host of different types of organizations: small, medium, large. What matters is: having the mindset and the right intentions.

[Slide 9]

First principle -- open participation.

Open participation means working collaboratively and communicating openly in a decentralized environment. Usually across time zones and cultures. This approach includes all the participants - volunteers, paid staff, end users. We take the ecosystem point of view that the best ideas and the smartest people are likely to be found outside the walls your organization, no matter how big or how smart or how rich you are.

[slide 10]

Mozilla is an unusual organization. We are a non-profit, open source mission-driven company with a global network of volunteers. We make the Firefox web browser, used by 100s of millions of people. Volunteer Mozillians contribute code to all parts of the browser and the tooling that supports it. They participate in testing, infrastructure support, localization, marketing, evangelism, advocacy, event design, and more. Sometimes we hire volunteers as contractors or full-time staff…sometimes we invite them to own modules in the open source governance system. We fund grassroots web literacy and advocacy activities, and we fund Tech Speakers to give talks to developers at conferences and events like this one.

Some background: Designed in 2015 as a program to provide speaker training and a community of interest for volunteer technical evangelists, Mozilla Tech Speakers combines skill development with open participation. To launch this program, we first asked for input from volunteers we knew, who were already speaking about Firefox, Mozilla and the open web platform in regional communities worldwide.

The coaching we offered these 1st speakers empowered them to participate more actively, and extend our outreach. Today we support open participation in other ways through this program. Masterclasses on public speaking, and Tech Briefing materials produced for training are recorded and redistributed to support speakers no matter where in the world they are located. We add captions and transcripts to recorded materials to help the majority of our participants, who are not native speakers of English. We take notes collaboratively, share notes publicly, and limit use of proprietary, closed source tools. We cultivate cross-pollination (open exchange of ideas)…, we look for force multipliers (to amplify our influence).

All our work at Mozilla is rooted in an important core assumption: that the benefits of working open outweigh the challenges and risks. Working open can create strategic advantage when applied with intelligence, with flexibility, and a clear value proposition for everyone. There are many well-intentioned ways to get it wrong… and generate conflict, strife, burnout. We’ve seen that.

But there’s amazing upside in doing it right. Amazing upside: Here’s what happens: Volunteers who are supported to extend their skills, can achieve their own personal and professional goals. At the same time, they are better equipped to add more value and influence more developers on behalf of Mozilla and the web.

We extend our workforce. Volunteers extend their skills, access, experience. Everyone benefits.

Our second principle is psychological safety.

We are 100% committed to creating and maintaining an atmosphere of safety, for all participants in the Mozilla Tech Speakers program, always, on all channels. At the same time, we actively recruit for diversity along all axes, including gender, national origin, religion, years of experience, fields of expertise. This enriches the pool of ideas and gives us the opportunity to reach ever more far-flung communities. And it allows innovation and leadership to flow in two directions.

We make sure that people treat each other with respect, enforce the Mozilla Community Participation Guidelines in all interactions, and advise speakers to look for a posted Code of Conduct before accepting a conference invitation. We do not sponsor conferences that do not post a Code of Conduct, although we may send a speaker to test the waters.

The concept of psychological safety is very powerful.

From the very beginning of the program, when we first began practicing and exchanging feedback in a Vidyo meeting room, we made sure that feedback was specific and actionable. We took care to build a safe space.

Not long ago, Google’s people operations team did a lengthy study called Project Aristotle, with hundreds of interviews and hours of data-crunching -- to identify the characteristics of effective, productive happy teams. Guess what? It’s what the best managers understand instinctively: People thrive on teams where they are treated well. The best teams respect one another’s emotions and are mindful that all members contribute to the conversation equally.

We follow those principles. So we are vigilant about being nice, mindful of good manners and tone, and sharing equal time. And because of that, we’ve built 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 make their own network effects.

Our third principle can be described as minimum viable program design.

A vibrant program is a little like an organism, a living thing. Its needs and priorities, not to mention its activities, must change over time. It’s essential to stay responsive to serendipity and change.

[slide 13 It means the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. Serendipity. ]

Serendipity.

Some of the most interesting online services have emerged from serendipity. Twitter was born as the unexpected child of an unsuccessful podcast product. Slack emerged from an ailing Flash-based game called Glitch with a very sweet IRC-like experience built in. And recently, Glitch was reborn as a friendly hosting platform and community for building apps and bots, or sharing A-FrameVR demos.

Not long ago, a Tech Speaker from India traveled to a devfest in Siberia, in winter, to introduce WebVR and A-Frame, and met a Russian developer who was presenting Rust, and invited him to become a Tech Speaker. And now there are other Tech Speakers giving talks at GDG Devfests in Russia and Eastern Europe.

That's serendipity.

Scaling a program and keeping it lightweight is a 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 accessibility to staff while “automating” and depersonalizing some key points of contact. One way to maintain a personal touch as the program grows is by extending the mantle of ‘mentorship’ so that more experienced speakers can help train new speakers and facilitate new practice groups (Labs) as we grow.

One way to maintain and increase diversity in a program is to reach outside known networks. We build bridges to allies from adjacent tech communities, and fund opportunities for them to speak. Our program is sought-after because of the travel funding it provides -- we want to make sure the people we’re sending around the world reflect the diversity of our global audience.

Another more generalized way to maintain the health and relevance of a program as it grows, is to experiment, accept feedback, and welcome new ideas. We look for good ideas from communities that have figured stuff out already, like Wordpress, the open source CMS (content management system) that powers more than 25% of the web, and Rust, the next-gen systems programming language supported by Mozilla. Feedback and experimentation are key parts of “responsive program design.”

[slide 14]

Mozilla Tech Speakers would be nothing without its people. Let me share some of the people who are participating in this program.

[slide 16]
Ayah Soufan is a quality assurance engineer in Palestine, a co-founder of Palestine Tech Meetups, the vice president of Arab Women in Computing’s Palestine chapter, and a regional ambassador for the Technovation Challenge, in which small teams of more than 350 girls and mentors like Ayah built apps to address local needs and services.

[slide 17]
Gabriel Mičko is a front-end developer from Slovakia, working in Budapest. He took his first airplane journey ever as a substitute Speaker at the Rolling Scopes conference, in Belarus in 2016. He spoke about his favorite technology - WebRTC - and his live demo inspired the cartoon you see on screen.

[slide 18]
Srushtika Neelakantam, who’s from Bangalore, India, is a second-generation speaker who grew up watching her mom teach programming to undergrads. She’s a new computer science graduate herself, has just landed a dev advocacy job, and is co-author of a book called Learning Web-based Virtual Reality.

[slide 19]
Manel Rhaiem of Tunisia is currently on a data engineering internship in Hungary. Her twitter handle @manelbutterfly evokes the role she plays in the community, bringing people together. Manel chairs our monthly Tech Speaker meeting, and adds syntactic sugar to our communications.

[slide 20]
Daniele Scasciafratte likes to say “every conference is a community.” An active Mozillian, Daniele is also a leader in the Italian Wordpress community. Daniele’s Tech Speaker brigade is based in Italy, where he is also CTO, co-founder, and full stack developer at Codeat in Rome.
[Slide 21]

Finally, let me share some of the future possibilities for our Mozilla Tech Speakers program.

[slide 22]

This is a group that will never run out of things to speak about. For instance, the upcoming Firefox browser release on August 8, includes significant performance gains, as well as new and better developer tooling for debugging , for building web extensions, or 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, with its Rust internals.

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.

Overall we need to improve and shore up infrastructure, prioritize our content, find new ways to measure impact. We look out for ways to support our emerging leaders and most talented presenters, while continuing to empower and develop active speakers at all levels.

Want to know what’s next in the near term? Come find us at View Source, which will take place on Oct 27, in London, England. There’s sure to be a small group of Mozilla Tech Speakers there to support the event and attend the conference, a tradition that started this past September in Berlin. And after the LDN View Source, stick around for the Mozilla Festival, and it’s possible you may meet some tech speakers there, running workshops or demo stations.

In conclusion, there are many people I would like to thank. I am a big believer in thank yous. I especially want to mention my colleagues formerly from Mozilla Japan, it’s really because of their friendship and generosity that I’m here. My colleague “Chiko” Shimizu was the first Mozilla Tech Speaker in Japan. We were originally going to present this talk together, but the timing didn’t work out.

Today I’m here thanks to the support of WebDINO, a new entity that will continue the mission of Mozilla Japan under a new name, dedicated to Diversity Internationalization Neutrality Openness. Tomoya Asai, or Dynamis as he’s known on the web, is CTO of WebDINO and leads developer relations. He is here in the audience today, and happy to chat with you more about the new entity and its activities. He is our newest Mozilla Tech Speaker and I am honored that he will be part of this program. I hope you have a chance to hear him in the coming year, speaking about tools and trends on the open web.

I hope you’ll consider the relevant or compelling parts of what Mozilla Tech Speakers have been able to accomplish, and I hope you’ll keep watching our program -- and our speakers. Mozilla Tech Speakers have something to say. We all do!

And now I’m ready for any questions you may have… Thank you.

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havi hoffman

August 08, 2017
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