In the very near future I’m going to point dria.org at a brand-spankin’-new self-hosted wordpress instance, and leave this here as an archive of a previous life.
If you’re here and you’re looking for something more recent than my random 2014-and-earlier burblings, you should head over to there. If that’s still redirecting here (which it will be until probably sometime in March 2016), then it’s not ready yet. Hold yr horses!
My nerd story isn’t just about computers, but they do come in to play & fairly significantly in the later days. My story also involves a lot of books and comic books and games and cameras and a small number of very dear friends, most of whom remain unnamed.
So it began
One of my earliest memories was the first time I read a book out loud to my parents. I was young — I don’t remember how young, but it was well before I started school — and I had learned to read by following along as my parents read to me, which they did every night before sleep.
The first book I remember reading was “Miffy in the Snow”.
My parents were both teachers so it’s not really that odd that I learned to read as early as I did, but they were pretty excited about the whole thing and encouraged me to read anything I wanted, all of the time. So I did, and it was great, because I lived in a house full of books and there was a library right around the corner where I remember telling the Librarian I wanted to read every book they had, and so the librarians encouraged me as well. The result was that I read voraciously, spending long summers in the back on a lawn chair reading books and eating popsicles and pretty much doing nothing else.
So that’s the book thing: I read a lot and I started early and I’ve never really stopped.
The Birth of a Gamer
The next nerdy theme to enter my story involved games. There were other toys, of course (Lego mostly, and Star Wars action figures — nerdy unto themselves), but games of all sorts really ruled the day. It started with boardgames and puzzles, but quickly evolved to include hand-held electronic games and the (very) early console games.
Board games: Checkers and Chess and Monopoly and Scrabble. I played Chess semi-competitively through the latter stages of grade/middle school but am really, really terrible at it now. Not sure what happened there. Brain, I imagine.
Electronic hand-held: Merlin, Baseball, Football. Loved them. Killed hours on these things.
Consoles: Pong in all of its black and white bi-directional-paddley goodness. And an Atari 2600 that was mostly Adventure and Centipede and Defender and Pac-man and Space Invaders. I guess I played the Atari a lot, but it never really hooked me so much as the next stage of my gaming life: pencil & paper role playing games. The combination of games + reading was intoxicating.
Gamer Part II: RPGs
I’m not sure why (and unfortunately he died a few years ago, so I can’t ask him), but one day my Dad bought the original red box Dungeons & Dragons set. I expect he got it because my Dad was a huge, huge Tolkien nerd, and Tolkien pretty much laid the groundwork for D&D and it all sort of flowed together in a great and gloriously-nerdish blob which I was exposed to at so early an age that it all just became part of my normal.
Anyhow, I remember seeing my Dad’s D&D set and asking him what it was and if I could read it. And since I was allowed to read whatever I wanted, he let me and that lead to an abiding love of reading RPG rulebooks which continues to this day.
By then (grade 6, I think?) I had some nerdy friends, but we didn’t start to play D&D until grade 7 and 8. Regardless, some part of my brain latched on to those rulebooks and structures and logic and formulae and charts and tables and descriptions of monsters and dungeons and castles and I was pretty much a proper game nerd from that point on.
Confessional aside: I still buy and read the core rulebooks from each edition of Dungeons & Dragons, with no expectation of ever actually playing them. It’s just a thing I do, although I draw the line at any of the ridiculous expansions and extensions and other malarkey. Core rulebooks only. Learned that lesson with “Unearthed Arcana”, amirite?
this is a terrible book
And lo, the Computer Age
Shortly after I started reading RPG rulebooks for fun, I got my first computer. My folks offered to get me a grade 6 “graduation” present, and I asked for a Commodore Vic-20. I can’t remember why I wanted a computer, or even where I’d ever heard of one, but I got one and I learned enough about how to use it and program it that two years later (grade 8 graduation), I asked for a Commodore 64.
I learned a lot about computers from the “Bits and Bytes” TV series that we watched on TVO, but that was after we already had the Vic-20.
My Dad and I got pretty into the whole C=64 thing, and we ended up with two (!) disk drives, a hacked expansion slot, a hacked (like drilled & soldered-in) reset button, a drawing tablet (KoalaPad), a 300 baud coupler modem, and several hundred pirated disks. This was also my first exposure to the Internet — dialing in to Compuserve through Datapac. I don’t remember much about Compuserve other than it was insanely expensive and I never really got to use it, which was fine.
We were Commodore nerds enough that we belonged to the local users’ group (Track 36 User Group in Hamilton) and attended at least 2 or 3 of the World of Commodore expositions. During one of these, I saw the brand new Commodore Amiga system demoed which I desperately wanted but we couldn’t afford. Alas. I still have one or two of the WoC posters around somewhere, which I should really get framed.
Middle school: When “G&T” wasn’t a gin & tonic
In Grades 7 & 8 I was part of the local school’s “gifted and talented” class. The “gifted and talented” program, as far as I can tell, is what they did with all of the kids they weren’t sure what to do with otherwise, clumping us together and letting us do whatever the hell we wanted. In the first year, I read some 70-odd novels and wrote a bunch of essays and otherwise just played D&D and read comic books. I recall the next year being similar, but involving more D&D and comic books.
I wish I remembered more about those times, really, but maybe it’s for the best. It was a crucible in which were formed some pretty epic friendships, but it was equally great and terrible, and unfortunately did absolutely nothing to prepare me for highschool.
During this time I also picked up photography (again because of my Dad who was a huge photo nerd), buying my first used camera ($110 Fujica) which I used straight through the end of university. Photography is one of my less-nerdy hobbies, I guess, but is yet another of those learned-early-became-lifelong-love sort of things which I really should have paid more attention to at the time.
Later on I bought my first Nikon (FM2n) and a handful of second-hand lenses, and then I got into digital stuff and now I’m a full-blown photo nerd with a gear acquisition problem.
Then came highschool. In grade 9 I joined the D&D club. I think I was the only girl, but I didn’t really notice or care so that was mostly irrelevant. We played weekly after school for a while, then the core D&D crew decided I was cool enough (it’s a nerdy definition of cool, shut up) and invited me to join in their weekend games. I played RPGs with that crew until the end of highschool, including D&D, Call of Cthulhu, Villains & Vigilantes, Car Wars, GURPs, etc. If you’ve never played V&V you should give it a shot. It’s a great deal of ridiculous fun.
In highschool, I also did my first and only programming course in a classroom full of Commodore PETs. Unfortunately it was just one course and really didn’t make a huge difference in my life since I’d already learned all of that on my own. I had decided that I wanted to be a writer by then, anyhow, so I more or less turned my back on computers as a hobby until my 3rd year of university.
The Dropout Years
The rest of highschool is a bit of a blur – I liked the academics well enough but it wasn’t really challenging and I really disliked the social aspects. I hit my rebellious phase in grade 10, essentially morphing into Ally Sheedy from the Breakfast Club, and I finally dropped out part way through grade 13. I was 17, got a full time job working as a line cook, and soon moved in with my first serious boyfriend.
Three years later, I decided that the food service life wasn’t for me, moved back into my folks’ place long enough to finish my last year of highschool, and then I went to university as far away as I could manage.
At this point I still wanted to be a writer, and was still taking photos as often as I could afford film & processing. I owned an IBM 286 computer that I had been given by my Dad (“congrats on finally graduating highschool” present), and that was it other than an extensive collection of David Bowie, King Crimson & Peter Gabriel CDs.
Academics, the short version: I initially declared my major as English, then switched to Sociology, then switched back into a double-major of English and Soc, and eventually graduated with a B.A. Soc (Hons) & English with (un-official) minors in Philosophy and Comparative Religion.
The rest of university was about gaming and photography and my re-introduction to computers as a hobby.
Gaming: I had moved far enough away that I knew absolutely no one, but I managed to fall in with a friendly group of nerds almost immediately. There were RPGs (D&D, Shadowrun), the fancy new trading card games (Magic: The Gathering, for the most part), and video games (mostly Civ…lots and lots and lots of Civ). Gaming formed the core of my social life at university as it had in highschool.
Photography: I worked as photo editor for the campus paper for a while, which was great because it gave me unlimited access to a private photo processing & printing lab. That was fun and way, way cheaper than buying film by the roll and paying someone else to process & print. This was well before the advent of digital cameras.
Computers: As I mentioned before, I gave up computers as a hobby until my 3rd year of university. I was still using my computer regularly — upgrading it from a 286 to a 386 to a 486 and splurging madly on 4 whole megs of RAM, while moving up from a 2600 to a 14.4k baud modem — but I was only using it for word processing, video games, and what rudimentary internet we had in those days (IRC, elm, gopher, telnet, ytalk and the like).
Random aside: I was the 2nd arts student at our university to get a UNIX account. It was on a Solaris system where I learned to love elm and vi and IRC. I am still friends with my sys.admin buddy from those days (hi Hutt!) and I have been on IRC more or less every day since.
Random aside #2: The first time I logged into IRC I tried to get the nick “rael”, but it was taken, so quickly came up with “dria” as an alternative. It stuck.
Anyhow, I was just using my computer as a tool at that point, not really doing any hacking beyond the basics needed to keep the damn thing up and running. But then someone handed me a book about HTML and showed me my first web browser (no idea which it was, but probably Mosaic). And so I encountered the Web.
By the time I finished University, I helped develop an initial campus-wide online web-based courseware system and was teaching professors how to use the web and computers in their classrooms. It was great. We had our own computer lab where we hung out hacking all night and/or playing Diablo. We built a streaming radio station (max 5 listeners). I started writing (and getting paid for!) web site reviews for some previous incarnation of The Net magazine. I was introduced to Linux (slackware), and fell right down that rabbit hole for a few years. It was good, and I made some amazing friends, and we had a ridiculous amount of fun, and they paid us to do it — it was the best paying student job on campus.
Thesis, Graduation & gettin’ out of Dodge
When it came time to write my thesis, I wanted to do something related to the internet and the web, so I (as a Sociology student focusing on social theory) wrote “Towards a Theory of Information Technology, an Analysis of Opposing Perspectives” (or something equally dry….I need to dig up the actual title). It was interesting enough, and was intended to lay the groundwork for a Master’s thesis, but the internet and the web were already developing way too quickly and there were too many people writing too many things about it to ever really keep up. I lost interest in the theory side of things pretty quickly.
Anyhow, I graduated in 1997 and immediately applied & was accepted into the Masters Sociology program. I had done this out of sheer reflex, however, more than out of any real desire to continue on with my studies, so when a friend emailed asking if I wanted a job as a Tech Writer I decided that I was tired of being completely broke, said yes, and dropped everything to move to Ottawa two weeks later. (Dropping everything to move to places is sort of a thing I’ve done a few times.)
OmniMark: My first job out of school was a 2 year stint at a tech company where I spent most of my time learning and documenting a programming language that was focused on parsing and manipulating SGML documents. SGML fell out of favour as XML started to be a thing, so I learned all that, too.
Slashdot & Linuxchix
In my spare time I was still messing around with Linux and video games, learning PHP and MySQL. It was around this time (1998?) that I ran across a site called “Slashdot”. (My slashdot user # is 9758, which may be the nerdiest thing on my resume.) I already knew about open source and Linux, so Slashdot was sort of a natural place for me to hang out. But then one day I got tired of Slashdot commenters being complete asshats, so I started a Linux users group for women that I called “Linuxchix“.
Linuxchix started off as a mailing list and a website where everyone was welcome so long as they followed the general guidelines of: “Be polite. Be helpful.” It worked (in my opinion, although apparently not everyone agrees) and Linuxchix became a bit of a thing for a while, growing into a handful of more focused mailing lists and regional chapters all over the world.
Here’s the earliest version of the Linuxchix site on archive.org: Linuxchix, circa 1999 in all of its gorgeously orange and hand-coded glory.
Open Source Writers’ Group
Around the same time (1999) I decided that the state of open source documentation was a bit of a mess, so I started an organization that worked to match interested writers and editors with open source projects that needed their help. This was the Open Source Writers Group (OSWG) and, while it was a valiant effort and we did some good work, the project ultimately failed, primarily because I burned myself out trying to work a full-time job while running two open source projects.
Aside: In early 2000 I did an interview on Slashdot (sort of an early AMA) about the OSWG, during which I said, “There are a number of projects (Mozilla!) that I would really like to work on. Unfortunately, I just can’t take on any more work at the moment.” Little did I know…
The Puffin Group
Slashdot also lead to my first open source job. I read this story on Slashdot and the Wall Street Journal and realized that these “Puffin Group” people were located in Ottawa (where I was at the time).
I dug around their website for a bit and then emailed them asking for a job. Within a day or two I was contacted by one of the Puffin Group founders — a local fella by the name of Chris Beard. He and I (and Alex deVries) chatted over pints one afternoon, and they hired me as a technical writer to pen such epics as the PA-RISC/Linux Boot HOWTO.
I didn’t know then, but that one random email asking a total stranger for a job determined the course of my entire future career. The world is small, and the world of open source is even smaller. As part of The Puffin Group I ended up attending the first bunch of Ottawa Linux Symposia, through which I met a whole bunch of people who would become some of my closest friends and future colleagues: Mike Shaver, Phil Schwan, Zach Brown, Stuart Parmenter, Ryan Tilder, Chris Blizzard, and a jillion others. Those were good good times, indeed.
Linuxcare & Zero-Knowledge Systems
Anyhow, The Puffin Group was eventually acqui-hired by a company called Linuxcare and we all ended up working there for a while. Eventually (as happens) I got bored and started trying to figure out what I was going to do next. Shaver — who had recently started working at Zero-Knowledge Systems in Montreal — was in town for a visit and we went out for pints and (long story short) I was caught up in one of Shaver’s recruiting sweeps and moved to Montreal.
I worked at ZKS for 2 years where I did webby things with LAMP, and we collectively tried to build a thing on the internet that would help protect people’s privacy. Unfortunately, we were a decade or so ahead of our time.
In Montreal I met Graydon and Alice and Adam and Alex and Ian and Dov and Austin and a bunch of other brilliant and great people. I also learned a lot about food and how goddamned amazing it could be, so I started teaching myself how to cook but wasn’t very good at it for an awfully long time.
Then 9/11 happened and shit kinda went sideways. Most of the people I knew in Montreal had left or were leaving, I was bored as hell, and ZKS went through a round or two of layoffs. I was spending (literally) most of my time playing an early MMORPG (Asheron’s Call – Holtberg, represent), and the whole 9/11 thing made me really sad and really angry and really, really, really tired. I left ZKS before having another job lined up (the first and last time I’ve ever done that), but I managed to pretty quickly wrangle an interview and job offer from a place out west. I began prepping to move to Edmonton.
Remember that first sys.admin friend I had in university (hi Hutt!)? Yeah well he came to Montreal to visit me before I zoomed out west, and another friend of ours from university decided to crash the party. That party crasher was Rob Campbell. I’d met Rob in 2nd year university and we stayed in touch over the years via email and silly online chat boards and whatnot. Two weeks later I decided I wasn’t going to move to Edmonton after all, opting instead to move in with Rob in Ottawa. That was Nov 2001, and we’ve been together ever since. ❤
Back to Ottawa
Ok, so then I was unemployed for a while which sucked. I probably sent out 200 resumes and managed only to get two interviews – one with a contractor guy who wanted me to lie on RFPs to win government contracts (no, thanks), and another with the Tech Dept of the Canadian Real Estate Agency who were considering a switch to LAMP. I got the CREA job and worked there (not on LAMP, turns out) for 3 years or so. It wasn’t really my favourite gig (understatement), but it paid the bills and I learned a lot about real estate, which turns out to be useful in some pretty specific situations.
Then one day in late 2004, Shaver pinged me on IRC and asked if I would be interested in working at Mozilla. “In a heartbeat,” I responded, and so that all began. Shaver had been involved with Mozilla since the beginning of time, of course, and Chris Beard had joined Mozilla by then and was the hiring manager for the role in question. Many discussions and interviews and a holiday break later, and in Feb 2005 I started as Mozilla’s first full-time Canadian employee.
My first project at Mozilla was to create the first iteration of the Mozilla Developer Network, revamping the documentation system and doing something with the old Netscape DevEdge content which had recently been licensed to Mozilla. It genuinely delighted me that I was tasked with doing something useful with the very content I had used to learn how to hack the Web years before. That was really special and rather a lot of fun.
I think the most important decision I made in those first months at Mozilla was to make MDN a wiki, rather than continuing with the cvs-based doc system we had been using. I think the impact of that decision is obvious now, as the work of thousands of contributors has turned it into the best source of web technology documentation currently available. I haven’t been involved in MDN for some time, having handed it off to Eric Shepherd years ago, but I remain deeply proud of what it has become.
So here we are some 9 years later.
I’m now 42 years old. I still play games a lot – mostly video games (mostly Skyrim), and some boardgames. I am still a photographer, and I still read a lot, including comic books. I still love cooking, and I think I’m pretty good at it now.
And I still work at Mozilla, having been through a bunch of projects and departments, watching Mozilla grow from 30-odd people to the 950 or so we have today. My current role is as one of the Product Managers for Firefox for Android, where I have the privilege of working with a really amazing, fun, brilliant, creative and crazy bunch of folk. I still love this job and am incredibly proud of what Mozilla does and what Mozilla represents.
The end. I can’t believe you read the whole thing.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the Firefox for Android UX & Product folk are embarking on a new experiment towards streamlining how we define and design new features.
One of the new things we’re doing is collaboratively developing a “creative brief” which the UX team can then use for focused brainstorming and exploration. Ian Barlow — Firefox for Android’s exceedingly awesome UX lead — and I put together the following framework for this.
Overview & goals
A few sentences (as few as one) that outline the overarching goals and purpose of this project/feature.
What is this feature/project?
What are we hoping to accomplish?
This section is technically optional, but it’s often useful to think about and explicitly state what you’re not trying to do.
The flipside — what is this feature/project not?
What specific aspects are we not interested in exploring or expanding into?
Who is this for?
Defining our target audience.
Who is this for?
What specific demographics/groups/sorts of people are we trying to help?
Which of the Firefox “user types” are included?
Why are we doing this?
What triggers lead to this initiative? This could be one or any combination of the following, and more.
Demonstrated/observed user problems
Other specific problems that need to be solved
What elements could/should we use as inspiration when we start thinking/brainstorming about this project? The “inspiration board” for the project.
What examples of this idea/feature already exist?
What design elements from elsewhere do we think could be interesting and useful?
Any other inspirational images, links, articles, etc.
Any background studies we have done or can find about our target users.
Links to any relevant user studies we’ve done ourselves either directly or peripherally related to this feature, project, or users.
“Literature review” results — external articles, studies, etc. that we believe would be helpful when working on this feature/project.
User stories & use cases
These are not intended to be final user stories for this project, but rather a handful of stories and use cases that provide a starting point and further inspiration & understanding about how the Product team is thinking about this project/feature.
Criteria for success
What do our victory conditions look like? How will we know we have succeeded? What metrics do we think we’ll use to make these victory conditions measurable and concrete?
And that’s about that. We’re in the process of fleshing out the creative brief for our first project experiment, and when we have that in a more complete state, I’ll post about it here.
As always, questions & feedback are welcome, and you can always find the Firefox for Android team hanging out in the #mobile IRC channel.
The Firefox for Android team is embarking on a new experiment towards improving our already-pretty-great integration of UX design & innovation into our product development process.
We’re doing this by introducing a couple of new & slightly more formal steps to the beginning of our feature definition process:
Brief: collaboratively develop a creative brief (Product & UX)
Brainstorm: create and flesh out a couple of design concepts (UX)
Refine: expand upon & fine-tune those design concepts (UX & Product)
Pitch: present those concepts to the team as a whole to see which concept (or parts of the concepts) we want to explore further (UX & Product)
At this point, we’re back into our regular feature definition & development process, where Product, UX, and Engineering work together to flesh out, iterate on, and build the selected design concepts.
We’re doing this experiment for a couple of reasons.
First, it will simplify and clarify the interaction between Product and UX — UX will always have a solid idea of what Product is looking for in terms of feature innovation and design work, and it will make it easier for Product to clearly provide that direction.
Second, it will make our feature pipeline more efficient — using this expanded process, we believe that we’ll be able to have more features ready for engineering more quickly, so there will always be a healthy and curated backlog of new and interesting projects that both paid and volunteer contributors can pick up and start hacking on.
For now, we’re going start with this experiment with one longer-term feature (exploring the idea of a kid-friendly “flavour” of Firefox for Android), and a few smaller more focused features (TBD). We’re all pretty excited about trying something new around this, and we’ll be blogging our progress and results so you can all follow along.
As always, you can find the Firefox for Android team in the #mobile IRC channel if you have any questions or just want to chat & hang out.
Next post: What our creative brief is going to look like!
I’ve been actively involved in open source projects since around 1997, and as part of Mozilla since 2005. During that time I’ve noticed that successful projects usually make do with a short list of relatively simple tools. These are:
A version control & source code management system
A bug tracker
A mailing list (for asynchronous discussion)
An IRC channel (for synchronous discussion)
A wiki (for documentation, designs, meeting notes, and so on)
An etherpad install (for collaborative note taking & a host of other things)
That’s really it. There are more elaborate tools, and there are more elaborate processes that can be built around them, but I have seen it proven time and again that if you have these tools and a good group of smart and dedicated people, you can literally change the world.
I haven’t posted anything to any of my non-tumblr blogs since March 2012. That’s really silly. Now I have a thing I want to blog, but I need to update my feed on ye olde Planet. This is a post that will let me use a new tag that will let me create a new feed, since I don’t want my old work posts to accidentally get spammed all over Planet, confusing everyone.
Mozilla is going to explore developing a Code of Conduct for our community and contributors, using the Ubuntu project Code of Conduct and supporting documents as an initial template. We’re looking to create something aspirational rather than proscriptive, and the Ubuntu documents provide a tried and proven starting point.
The next step is to look at those documents and see what we need to do to adapt them to work for the Mozilla project. For this, I need your help.
We’re going to close the survey down TOMORROW, and we need to get as many responses as we can. The survey should only take 5-8 minutes to fill out, and we’d really appreciate all the feedback we can get.
We’re going to close the survey down at the end of January, and we need to get as many responses as we can. The survey should only take 5-8 minutes to fill out, and we’d really appreciate all the feedback we can get.
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