Leaving Mozilla

John Karahalis
Aug 18 · 4 min read

I was laid off last week. Officially, I was impacted by “significant restructuring.” I never expected to become so conversant with corporate lingo. It’s one of the lesser skills I acquired during my 8 years at the company, mostly after Firefox OS was announced as a priority. Another lesson: companies change.

Driven by COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn, the layoffs affected fully 25% of all employees, including long-time teammates and friends. As in the previous round of layoffs, some of the people affected were among the most passionate and talented people I have ever known. It’s unfortunate that they could not all be retained.

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Me on the final day of my Mozilla internship in 2011

We were each given the opportunity to share contact information and some parting words, which I appreciated. It was a nice excuse to write up my story, which I have decided to republish here:

I fired up Firefox 1.0 for the first time when I was 15 years old. A friend had suggested it to me. If nothing else, I figured that my personal website should be compatible with it.

I was amazed. I had no idea software could be so good. A user of Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6, I had assumed that all software was cold, callous, and utilitarian. To my surprise, Firefox was fast, fun, and customizable. I looked at the title bar, to the left of the word “Firefox,” and decided at that moment that I wanted to work for Mozilla.

In the years that followed, I pursued courses and job opportunities that would help me apply for an internship. I worked for an open-source research and development lab at my university. I remained at school one summer to take a C++ course that was not being offered at any other time. I spent countless hours working on my résumé and cover letter at a local coffee shop, eating slices of pizza between job summaries and exercises from Learn You a Haskell. (Not an obvious connection to Mozilla, but as it turns out, it truly helped me to understand JavaScript.)

I became an intern the next year, in 2011, awestruck and grateful beyond words. I have been working for Mozilla ever since. The feeling almost never left me.

All these years later, I am very content to be moving on. I think it’s time for a change. Please reach out to me by email or by Signal message. I have become a conscientious objector to social media, so you will not find me there.

I’m disappointed to have forgotten an important detail: Spread Firefox. I was a volunteer with the grassroots campaign in my late high school years. My crowning achievement was running a contest which encouraged community members to post Firefox flyers in notable locations. I participated, of course. I was awarded with a Spread Firefox volunteer spotlight for my work. At the time, no trophy could have possibly meant more.

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A flyer I posted in 2007 near the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New York City to promote Firefox

All these years later, after my layoff, I am cautiously optimistic about the future of Mozilla. It goes without saying that many truly exceptional technologists remain at the company, even though many equally extraordinary employees were let go. The current situation simply lends itself to a smaller workforce. (More corporate obscurantism.)

The employee badge for John Karahalis resting against his jeans

I even harbor some optimism about high-level leadership. Blasphemous, I know, but I actually mean it. I am genuinely impressed with Adam Seligman, Dan McKinley, and Roxi Wen. Adam (COO) brings a product mindset that has been desperately needed at Mozilla for years. Dan (Senior Director, Data) brings a wealth of practical experience that will help Mozilla to make good, ethical use of data. Roxi (CFO) brings a financial discipline that is crucial at this moment, even if it did contribute to my demise.

I don’t know what’s next for me, aside from a brief vacation to the countryside and lots of dedicated self-care. I am interested in finding a job that aligns with my passions, like usability and user experience, my experience, including JavaScript, React, Svelte, Node, and Linux, and my unexplored interests, like Deno, blockchain, the decentralized web, and programming language design. I may be interested in a smaller role which includes more variety than my role at Mozilla allowed. I’m somewhat committed to staying in Rochester, NY. I would very much like to work in an office as it has been my observation that nothing beats in-person communication. (That’s partly why I’m leaving social media.) Having said that, I do have nearly 10 years of experience working from home. I am accidentally very well-prepared for this pandemic.

It has been a dream to work for Mozilla. I will miss my incredible colleagues. I will miss the inside jokes that nobody else understands, like the quips about bread that left me and David laughing uncontrollably more than once. (People glared at us.) I will miss the mixed blessing of feeling like the least intelligent person in the room: fuel for improvement, but also self-criticism.

When traveling with Mozilla, I would often find myself deeply emotional, wondering who I should thank for the incredible experience. I still do not know the answer. I’m just glad to have been part of it.

John Karahalis holding a sign with the Mozilla logo on it

Reflections

Thoughts on software development

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