A long time ago, on a computer far far away…

Six years ago, I started contributing to Mozilla.

The startup I was working for ran out of money and everyone was let go, so while I was doing some freelance work I found myself with some spare time between tasks and thought I could use it, along with my programming skills, to make the world (and my life) a little bit better. You see, I had been using email for around 16 years by that point, and during that time had accidentally twice sent personal replies to mailing lists, because the mailing list administrators had set the Reply-To header to point to the list instead of leaving it pointing to the original person. Fortunately both of them were embarassing rather than catastrophic, but the sense of embarassment was acute and remained with me for a long time. Changing the Reply-To header in this way is obviously wrong (citation 1, citation 2 ;) but one of the more common excuses I hear from mailing-list adminstrators is that it makes it easier for people to reply to the list if the header is changed. To help counter that at 9:15pm (EST) on February 27th, 2009, I added a reply-to-list button to Thunderbird. To be fair, all the back-end code to implement the feature was already there, but the person who wrote those patches gave up on the front-end because of UI-bikeshedding. I remember thinking that if I added the button, even if it didn’t do the right thing, then at least we would have something concrete to improve upon.

Fourteen minutes later, I posted the first patch (of twenty-four)! I hope that it’s inspiring to novice programmers to realize that even after 17 years of programming professionally it still took me 24 attempts to get a patch that was landable, not because I’m particularly stupid, but because programming is difficult, and you need to stick with it to get stuff done.

A little while after that, and perhaps in part because of the work I did with other contributors on that bug, I was hired at Mozilla Messaging, to work on Thunderbird’s front-end code. First as a contractor and then later as a full-time employee. It was an exciting time, and I got to work with a lot of amazing people on some interesting old bugs and new features.

It took another five months after that patch before I got my first code into mozilla-central (the repository that Firefox is built from). I noticed that we had a bug in Thunderbird that was caused by a semicolon at the end of an if-statement, and I thought that if that kind of easily-overlooked bug could creep into Thunderbird, it could probably creep into Firefox, too. So I searched through the code in mozilla-central, patched the couple of occurrences that I found that could be a problem, and filed a bug letting people know about the potential problems and the patch. Soon thereafter the bug got a very positive comment from none other than Brendan Eich, and after a quick review by Dietrich, the patch was landed. Did it fix any visible problems? After five years, I’m still not sure, but the code definitely wasn’t doing what we thought it was, and now it is, so I think it was a good fix.

A couple of years later Mozilla Messaging was merged back into Mozilla Corporation, and when we decided to transition Thunderbird to community- leadership I took the opportunity to move over to the Firefox UX Team as a Design Engineer, where I continue making tools, prototyping designs, and helping the community to this day. My journey with Mozilla has been a long and enjoyable trip so far, and I’m excited to see what the future brings!

Addendum - To be totally honest, that wasn’t actually my first bugzilla interaction. The day before that I reported a crash in Shredder (now known as “Daily”). It turned out that it had been fixed about 24 hours earlier.


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