6 Ways Being a Mozilla Fellow Has Changed My Life

[Note: For the latest information about Mozilla Fellowships, visit https://foundation.mozilla.org/fellowships/]

On March 21st, Mozilla opened up applications for its 2018–2019 cohort of Fellows. Mozilla Fellowships are a unique opportunity for leaders interested in building a more humane digital world. Fellows spend 10 months working on individual projects, but also collaborating on cross-disciplinary solutions to the internet’s biggest challenges.

We spoke to three of Mozilla’s current Fellows: Chris Hartgerink, Carlos Guerra, and Linet Kwamboka, to hear what it’s been like as a participant in Mozilla’s Fellowship program.

Chris Hartgerink (Open Science Fellow)
Carlos Guerra (Open Web Fellow)
Linet Kwamboka (Tech Policy Fellow)

Describe your Fellowship experience in three words?

CH: Community, uplifting, facilitating.
CG: Grow, support, community.
LK: Intellectual, fun, motivating.

What drove you to apply to be a Mozilla Fellow?

CH: I’d been working on open science for several years and I started noticing that the connection with the open web was becoming increasingly important in order to make open science practical. A lot of the issues like selective publication, access to research, and confirmation bias had been clearly indicated, but practical ways of dealing with this for individuals is still difficult. I wanted to explore how we can break the system open without harming researcher’s career opportunities, and I thought a Mozilla Fellowship would be the ideal environment to do this. I have affirmed in this: I have received ample space to develop my ideas and have received much emotional and practical support in doing so.

CG: I have some experience in the field of information security and how its applied to human rights defenders and journalists, so I felt somehow related to this “NGO-ish” community from a local perspective. However, I felt that it was time to take the next step and become more involved in technical research and internet policy, as well as networking with people and organizations doing awesome work on those fields. So, applying to this fellowship was the perfect thing to do.

LK: I had decided to focus on working on the ideas around data protection and privacy in the global south, and the fellowship offered an amazing platform to do this at scale, within a global community and with great support.

Name one thing you’ve achieved whilst being a Fellow?

CH: I’ve been able to spend time connecting the dots between developments in open scientific practice and gain access to a larger mission that aligns with that of the open web. As a result, I’m especially proud of seeing a small but slowly increasing community gathering around this mission — because in the end nothing changes without people. Additionally, the fellowship has improved my community building skills by osmosis — being embedded within Mozilla as an organization has shown me how it can be done differently. Finally, I’ve had time to understand blockchain; my conclusion is that it’s horrible for science reform.

CG: Feeling part of a community of super commited and skilled people, that have various views about a safe and open Internet. I’m gaining more confidence about my potential and what can I add to this community every day.

LK: Being able to understand in-depth why people do not think as critically about data protection as they should.

How do you think this Fellowship experience will help you in your career?

CH: Mozilla takes a vastly different approach to building and running an organization and problem solving. There’s investment in people in the organization, and their approach of putting people first is very welcoming (coming from experience where an organization put me through substantial grief regarding my work, which contributed to suffering from depression). My fellowship at Mozilla has helped my personal resilience and has shown me the true value of investing in people…which has probably ruined my career, because I feel now that I can never work for a “traditional” kind of employer as I did before.

CG: Having know-how on open project management, which can be very different to the way projects are managed in the private sector or the academia. So, it’s a valuable skill to have in the future, if you want to develop more open projects and initiatives.

LK: I have been able to create a network and community of people interested in my work and interested in data protection and privacy. Through this, I will continue to push the envelope to create more awareness through content and interactions that will be a big push to new ideas and work.

Any tips for anyone thinking of applying?

CH: Consider whether you’re ready — when I applied I specifically felt like I was in the right place both personally and professionally to do a fellowship. In my experience as a science fellow, it pretty much comes down to you making your own plan for the year. This freedom can be intimidating, resulting in inertia. It can also be stimulating and rewarding. It all depends on how you work and whether you’re confident you can make it a success. I have shifted around the projects within my fellowship, so it also resulted in adapting to new ideas and allowing for a messy trajectory throughout the year.

CG: Go for it! It can feel a little bit intimidating at the beginning, but the reality is that the process is super friendly. Everyone involved are really warm; the host organizations are very open so your new perspectives, ideas, work and potential will be well used and recognized. Expect a flexible year as well as the possibility of reshaping your strategies along the way. And the most important tip: don’t let this opportunity pass you by!

LK: My advice is to come in with an open mind. Think of this as a big research project, your initial thoughts and ideas will be challenged, strengthened, motivated and hopefully, they will come out much stronger. The best part of it? You have a great community that is willing to help and challenge through every step of the process.

Can you share one story about being a Mozilla Fellow that sums up your experience?

CH: When I was at MozFest, we were invited for drinks where you could meet people, that kinda thing. Only later did I realize I met some pretty high up folks, without it feeling like I did. I thought that was particularly funny because Mozilla is an organization I really look up to. This is prototypical of the vibe during the fellowship: it feels really inclusive; everyone is approachable.

CG: I remember being terrified at a fellowship event, (because for logistical reasons I missed a couple of previous gatherings and everyone else had already met each other!). After almost freezing up during my presentation, it dawned on me that many people already knew me and my work. They wanted to know more and asked how they can help — they were super supportive! I laughed at myself after that and realized that even when we are doing important work not everything is high stakes, there is a lot of good people, secure and confortable spaces to grow, share and have fun in the whole process.

LK: For the past many months I have been focusing on talking to people about their data protection and why they should take privacy seriously. I have given a few talks on this and my main message has been “the biggest lie we tell on the internet — yes, I have read the terms and conditions of the service!” In the past few days, the story of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook has unfolded right in front of our eyes and seeing people start to think seriously about what parts of their lives they are allowing complete strangers to have access to and how that is being used to influence their thoughts and actions, is not only fun but very validating for the path I have chosen. There is a need for more user sensitization and education. In the end, if you keep at it, demand will meet you halfway.


You can apply to be a Mozilla Fellow here. Applications close on April 20th, 2018.