A Touch of Class


On Brendan Eich and the Separation of Concerns

I suppose it takes awhile to write something good, so it's fair that for all the noise, there was nothing worth pointing to earlier. Here is what I consider required reading for the matter of Brendan Eich as Mozilla Corporation CEO:

  1. The Tragedy of Mozilla
  2. Get Right with Difference
  3. Speech and Consequences
  4. FAQ on CEO Resignation

For extra fun, you can read:

  1. The Hypocrisy Of Sam Yagan & OkCupid

All right, all done? Because what I have to say is not nearly as important. Feel free to skip the rest of this post: the $100 is above. :) I only have 2 cents below.

Ryan quoted this bit from the Mozilla Code of Conduct:

(i) Inclusion and Diversity

The Mozilla Project welcomes and encourages participation by everyone. It doesn’t matter how you identify yourself or how others perceive you: we welcome you. We welcome contributions from everyone as long as they interact constructively with our community, including, but not limited to people of varied age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views.

Mozilla-based activities should be inclusive and should support such diversity.

Some Mozillians may identify with activities or organizations that do not support the same inclusion and diversity standards as Mozilla. When this is the case:

(a) support for exclusionary practices must not be carried into Mozilla activities.

(b) support for exclusionary practices in non-Mozilla activities should not be expressed in Mozilla spaces.

(c) when if (a) and (b) are met, other Mozillians should treat this as a private matter, not a Mozilla issue.

An important thing to note is that this is not merely a prescriptive code of conduct. It is also a descriptive code of conduct. It wasn't written to create how the Mozilla project should become. It was written to explain how the Mozilla project is and should continue to be. You can see the community trying to create it originally here on mozilla.governance. It is not merely an aspirational document—it is in practice how Mozilla operates.

The ability to keep separate concerns separate isn't new. It was built into the founding charter of Mozilla, way back in 1998. At that time, Brendan Eich was the technical lead in the group that had the trickiest hat-swapping requirements of all: staff@mozilla.org, a group of (originally all) Netscape employees who were tasked with the stewardship of Mozilla and the responsibility to make decisions in its best interest—regardless of the interests of Netscape. Jamie Zawinski described the requirements very clearly: when representing your Mozilla role, you must take your Netscape (or other employer) hat off, and put your Mozilla hat on.

Employee vs. contributor was a radical distinction for its time, but that your Mozilla hat displaced any other hats you wore didn't even need to be said: it just happened. For more than a decade Mozilla operated that way without even articulating the practice. Gerv and Hixie could very well disrespect each others’ religious perspectives, and have that not affect their ability to collaborate at all.

This ability to separate concerns is subtle, but it's a core part of Mozilla's culture. Unfortunately, it's something that the media—the regular media, the blogotwitosphere, and Mozilla's PR team—failed to notice and relevantly explain.

And maybe it's too subtle for the media. But for a community who adamantly wants to describe gender identification on an N-dimensional graph, it shouldn't be too subtle, to understand how a Mozillan can choose the identity from which he makes decisions for the project; and to disrespect his sociopolitical views while respecting his technical and organizational leadership.