Ramblings of a Madman

General Ramblings About all things JavaScript and Browser Developer Tools

What is it like to work as an engineer at Mozilla?

Mike Ratcliffe's avatarMike Ratcliffe | August 03, 2012

This question popped up on Quora recently. I have been working on the Developer Tools Team at Mozilla for over a year now and would love to let you all know what is it like. To see this from my perspective I you will need to know a little about my background.

I have always enjoyed reverse engineering software just to see how it ticks. If you were in the habit of using pokes to gain invulnerability or infinite lives on a Commodore or Acorn computer then I probably helped you cheat. I used to obtain many of my games from magazines because they would send them to me so that I could send them pokes or explain how to complete the latest adventure games.

A few years later Netscape Communicator 4.0 was released and I was looking at the source. I discovered the about:mozilla page and was impressed by the attitude that they had to open source... after all, the web is the ultimate open platform. I desperately wanted to work for Mozilla but, unfortunately, I believed that Mozilla was an organization full of UNIX bearded academics each trying to show how clever they were. I am not sure where that image came from, but it was very common at the time.

Fast forward 5 years and I was regularly contributing add-ons and fixes to the osCommerce project. I had an online store and as I tweaked my store I shared my changes with the community. I really enjoyed the fact that I was helping make tens of thousands of online stores better every time I submitted a small fix or created an add-on. I made my money working as an admin for over 60,000 users covering hundreds of domains.

Fast forward 10 - 15 years and I had a problem with Firebug. I contacted Joe Hewitt and he said he would take a look. Weeks went by and, not being the patient type, I decided I would take a look myself. I fixed the problem and let Joe know about it... at this point I don't think that the Firebug Issue List existed but I was surprised how quickly it was fixed in the release version. From that point I contributed Firebug fixes on and off for a few years.

Eventually Rob Campbell started to hint that I should start working for Mozilla. Unfortunately, I still felt under-qualified... I was never very academic being able to learn things very quickly for myself but switching off the moment a professor starts a lecture. My dyslexia and ADD had a role to play in that, and besides, I didn't have a UNIX beard.

UNIX Beard

UNIX Beard

A year or two later the small company I was working for had cash flow issues and I was the only developer working full time so I was sacrificed to the financial gods in hope of helping keep the company afloat. Rob asked me to come to work at Mozilla again and I thought "I have been hacking since I was a kid so why the heck not?" Six months later and a number of rejected job offers later I started work with Mozilla.

What a fantastic choice it was... Mozilla is by far the most awesome company in the world, no other company has quite the philosophy about openness as I do and to my astonishment everybody there has the same attitude.

There are at least a gazillion reasons why I love working for Mozilla. I could list hundreds but if I had to pick a few.


  1. There are some people with UNIX beards but they are not academic in the way I had feared. Some academics have an encyclopaedic knowledge of memorized facts and really struggle to think for themselves... well, to think outside the box. It turns out that the people here are some of the most creative and intelligent people that I have met in my life.
  2. I really like the fact that Mozilla's Mission Statement is something that they believe in and live by. There are too many companies that say one thing and do another... not Mozilla.
  3. The people I work with truly are the cream of the crop. They are motivated and highly determined to make the Internet a better place. Everything they do every day helps them make it so. They are super smart and always happy to help anybody that has problems.
  4. Although each team works on separate parts of the browser we are free to fix problems as we find them. If I find a part of the browser that is not behaving properly then I can fix it without upsetting anybody, everybody is very flexible.
  5. In the last year the number of Mozilla employees has increased dramatically which has resulted in an incredible increase in creativity and output. It is incredibly humbling to be part of it... a day never goes by when I don't learn something important.
  6. The culture at Mozilla is amazing. Before I started working here I didn't really know anybody that thought the same way about open source as I do. Now I know hundreds of people that have the same drive and determination when it comes to openness as I do.
  7. Mozilla have a unique position in the browser market. They don't need to spy on you or buy advertising and tracking companies as they are not in the advertising market. In fact, we would love to prevent the gathering of user's browsing activities. Mozilla have no secret agenda and live by their mission statement - to make the internet a better place.
  8. You know that guy at your company that you don't like? Mozilla doesn't have anyone like that! Seriously, I have never met a Mozilla employee that I don't like.


  1. Because I work from home I sometimes don't shower until late afternoon.

That is about it for negatives, there are not many places I have worked where I can say that!

Mike Ratcliffe

Written by Mike Ratcliffe who lives and works in England building useful things.