Being a part of the Mozilla community.

It would be appropriate to start by saying that this is my baby step, the first step in trying to contribute back to the Mozilla community for all the effort that they have put in in order to connect people around the world and make amazing products. To be quite frank, I used to have an impression (as is my impression about all things amazing) that all this talk about “community” and “contribution” were only meant for the elite and masters of technology out there, two of whom I know being Sajjad and Nigel, two hardcore techies.

Now I know am wrong.

This realization came about due to two reasons, which I will come to later.

I started using Firefox almost 7 years back, when I first got my computer, about which I have written here. Chrome was not there then. As mentioned in that post, I was quite new to computers and my understanding of browsers was that they were what people referred to as the “Internet”. So I went on using “Internet”, unaware of the fact that I was using Firefox for about a year. Thinking about it now, I am not quite sure when I started understanding about browsers for what they were, but since then, till the December of 2012, I continued using the same.

I was employed by this time and the pressure of having to learn and understand technology was on me. In my journey of understanding more about computers, I used to do the online courses at Udacity and Coursera now and then. However, one day during the course, the video classes started to crash with a message, “An error occurred”. A reload used to solve that, but this kept on happening until one day, I just could not watch any of the videos.

I got irritated. Showed it to my colleague who tried opening up the same video link in his Chrome browser. It worked. I switched.

For the past 10 months I’ve been using Chromium, until recently, after I shifted my career to becoming an Engineer, when I found out my RAM was being eaten up by Chromium. I tweeted out saying this and without further delay switched to using Firefox. I would have been happy using it and simply going forward, if not for Firefox’s response. It was not too much of a big deal, but I was touched. At that instant, I felt I was a part of something bigger.

This was one of the reasons why I had the realization that I mentioned earlier. I came back home and started looking for opportunities so as to how I could get involved even further. I landed up on their contributions page. I filled up my email id, chose my area of interest as “Documentation and writing” since I was more confident in my writing skills than my coding skills at the moment, and submitted the form.

This is when the second reason for the realization hit me. My friend Haseeb. He was passionate about the Urdu language as well as about community development. Both these combined led him to take part actively in translating Mozilla to Urdu. His contributions were not at all gone unnoticed when he received an invitation to be a part of the Mozilla Summit in the U.S. a couple of months back. So have an open mind to contribute, with whatever you know and whatever you are passionate about. Hence, here I am, having reached the point where I had submitted my volunteer form.

All this was done in that adrenaline rush, which I knew had happened to me more than once before. However, nothing of the sort would continue as all would end up in a couple of automated emails that I would receive asking me to act. The same happened here as well. Though things would have continued like that, even before I had the adrenaline rush die down, I received one more email. This time from a certain human being who goes by the name of Janet Swisher.

Even though she told me that technical documentation was where they were best setup to bring in new writing contributions, she did not discourage me on what I had pointed out saying I was better off as a story teller or a biographer than a technical writer when it came to writing. With the promise of passing on my remarks to their creative team and reading my blog posts to provide her feedback, she ended the mail.

That part where it conveyed it was not just about them and what they wanted, but also it being a part of what I was and what I could do, was quite heart warming. I replied and we exchanged a couple of emails where she pointed me to a couple of links as well as read a few blog posts that I had already written, complementing me on them. It was her suggestion to take the first step by writing a personal blog on what Mozilla means to me.

At this point, more than just thinking in terms of Firefox, I was inclined to think of a bunch of nice people trying to strengthen human relationships across the globe around technology. Hence, I was inspired to write about how touched I was with their effort to actually take the time to reach out to a complete stranger and offering to help him out. And here I have written about it. May this be the first step in a journey of  a thousand miles.

A year at Bangalore, a year with HasGeek.

“This is official huh?”, I asked.

“Yep. Hop in”, replied my brother as I got into his car.

This conversation happened a year ago. A year ago when a certain ambitious lad landed in the Silicon Valley of India. A lad who would skulk away from a conversation happening in English, a lad who had only seen two places outside of his state in his life. A lad who had not been on a flight since he started remembering things, a lad who knew only his brother’s home and the home bound bus boarding stop in Bangalore. A lad who was afraid of smartphones, who was allergic to social networking, who did not have a bank account and did not even know how to use an ATM.

Well, things definitely have changed. Yep, they really have.

Although October 8th, 2012 was my “Official” joining date at HasGeek, since my brother was coordinating volunteers for Droidcon India 2012, both of us decided to drop by CIS office in the afternoon on 7th itself to have a talk. Someone passed by us when we reached there on the bike and I was asked to go and meet him. Apparently, this was the jovial and cool Mr. Kracekumar whom I know so well today.

My first time at CIS. I had heard a lot about the place and I had pictured it to be a glass building with a huge lawn, fancy tables and chairs, with a lot of atmosphere. Suffice to say I was surprised when my brother walked me into a home.

We went up the stairs. And there they were! Among many others, two of my bosses. My mind’s fuse was blown.

“Oh my God, what are so many people doing here? And do they all speak in English? I can’t talk to all of them! I should have just come here tomorrow and met with Kiran and Zainab alone. Then at least I would be shown my desk to sit and work at so that I would not have to talk to too many people just yet. Hey, isn’t that Anu whom I met for last year’s Droidcon? And where is Sajjad? God, what should I do now? Since I don’t know the rest of them, maybe I should not care. I will just say Hi Kiran sir and Zainab ma’am. But is that what I should be calling them? Or should I just use their names? Gosh, Zainab looks different than the last time I met her and is this the office that I was dreaming about for so long? This is just a house, isn’t it? Maybe I have gotten something wrong here”

And thus went the thoughts. I don’t know if anyone there including Ashwan, Anu, Krace, Zainab, Kiran or my brother noticed how uncomfortable I was. I let the introductions be made and just shook hands saying “Hi”. I was asked to sit down while they discussed about the volunteer training and coordination.

My heart was beating fast. “Is this an interview? They told me not to bring my resume, so what are they going to ask me? And I have to speak in English!? Maybe my brother will talk to them and I can just get by with a couple of yes’s and no’s”

“Haris, would you like to come and sit over here?”. My heart burst. Well, not literally. It was none other than Mr. Kiran Jonnalagadda himself. There was a big chair on the other side of the table, which, I had made up my mind about, was for one of the bosses to sit on. It was this chair that was given to me. I felt totally out of place, uncomfortable and what not.

By this time Praseetha also reached the office. She was much more composed and I just could not understand what was wrong with me.

“So Haris”, said Zainab, pulling a chair and sitting next to me. “What are your expectations in working here?”

“Gulp”, I pulled myself together.

“I, ummm, I don’t exactly know how things are done here. But I can help you with whatever I can. Logistics, management, your blog and you can mentor me to learn how to write code”.

I had no clue what “logistics” meant back then. The only thing I could say with confidence was that I could help them with their blog. I was wondering what kind of stories they would have me write.

“Do you know Inkscape?”, interrupted Kiran.

“Not really, no”, said I.

I remember him having a “Then you can’t help me much right now” look on his face. However, Zainab picked up the conversation.

“Well, here is how things are. Kiran needs a lot of documentation to be done. With the events and the code. However, we will need to sit and discuss about it. So we will get to that. But for now, since JSFoo and Droidcon are close by, there are a lot of tasks that needs to be done. I’ll brief you about it over email, alright?”

“Alright”, said I.

Once we were done there and about to leave, I felt incomplete about one thing. “Gosh, I did not ask about the office timings!”

“Zainab”, I called out. I guess I had made up my mind about ma’am and sir by then. She turned around. “Umm, so by what time should I reach office?”

She let out a hearty laugh.

“There is nothing like office timings. Frankly, I don’t think any of us are going to be here tomorrow. And I don’t mind wherever you work from as long as you get things done.”

I was baffled. Thoughts rushed in. “No office timing? What am I supposed to do? Where is my seat? No cubicle? So how do I talk with all of you?”

She was gone by then. My brother and I went back to his home.

Thus it started.

It has been a nice ride all along.

I should say that Bangalore is an awesome place in terms of finding and meeting people. It is a networking person’s dream come true. The fact that educated people from various parts of the country have accumulated in a certain place gives a platform for people with niche interests to easily find and meetup with each other. In my case, it was writing.

I went to my first ever writing workshop which was hosted by Gaurav and Nisha, both former Tehelka writers. It was brought to my attention by Ashwan, someone whom I have been terribly missing. I’ve already written about my team here, and he is one of them. It is nice to think of those days where he would sit with google maps on the wide screen monitor and would walk me through the entire world, sharing stories and histories related to many a place.

I have  had my fair share of experience planning and organizing events while being at HasGeek. One of the things that I have realized is that the amount of ground work and grunt work that goes into producing the kind of events that HasGeek does, no matter how excellent and smooth it looks to participants attending, is tremendous. To keep up the spirit for that kind of work during each and every event is just amazing. I guess my colleagues are made of sterner stuff. All of them.

Kiran had always been this person with a strong and silent personality. Quite frankly, someone whom I was afraid of to talk to and be heard from. During the very rare occasions when he would say “Good job”, the feeling of happiness was so strong that I would text my brother at the very instant saying, “Kiran said I did a good job!”.

I still remember the first time my throat going dry when Kiran talked to me about how it was completely wrong dealing with people in a fire and forget manner. I am not sure if I was able to understand and implement that lesson during my time at HasGeek, but I guess I have done a not too bad job at it. I hope so.

In contrast, Zainab was this lady with a cheerful and open character that you could, without thinking twice, share whatever you had on your mind with. I am not sure how I would have made it through the first couple of months if she had not patiently sat and listened to what all I had in my mind. Sometimes even taking the time to go out for a chai to talk things over. Impressive how she could find time for all that despite being overburdened with work.

I am not sure career wise how much the work I was doing has helped me. All the people whom I have talked to has told me that at some point in my life, I will look back and realize how much valuable the things are that I have done. I guess I haven’t reached so far down the road yet in order to look back and feel like that. At least, not yet.

However, life wise, it has been just amazing. How much I have learnt and experienced! Starting from eating food stuff, fruits and vegetables that I had never eaten in my life before to travelling around India all the way from South to the North. I mean, trekking and working on the Himalayas? How often do you get to do that? Apart from Triund, Mcleod, Dharamsala, Delhi, Mumbai, Hampi, Pune (my first flight), Goa (my first scooter ride) and of course, exploring Bangalore.

All through these journeys as well as through my entire one year, I have to say that Kiran is the most selfless man I have ever seen. Making sure we know what he knows all along the way. For all the whining that I have done saying that I have never had a good mentor in my life, I would be lying if I said I did not find Kiran to be a really good one.

I hope to document these travels at some point. I have already written about my volunteer management experience during The Fifth Elephant over here.

This post would not be complete without mentioning the rest of the people in our team.

Jamna, who joined us around January. She and I were the ones who actually worked as a team most of the time since both of us were involved in handling the workshops at HasGeek. A lady who transformed from her shy self to one who does public speaking, organizes and manages geeks as well as takes up initiative to bring order to the whatever chaos she finds around her, within a span of less than a year. Both if us have learnt a lot form each other and I must say I’m truly inspired by her sheer amount of sincerity and dedication.

Supreeth, the quick witted, well traveled young man who always had a joke or story up his sleeve. I haven’t found anyone as skillful as him when it came to getting through to a person. He would be able to find some anecdote or experience that the other person would be interested in and then, he starts weaving his web. One who is well read as well, he has always been there to correct my English whenever I have made a dumb mistake or been there to help whenever I have been at a loss for words.

Nimisha, the illustrator who joined us from the North East. A very cheerful character who just love pets, of all kinds. Rabbits, cats, dogs and I wouldn’t be surprised if I found a baby dinosaur in her home! A really good company whenever you feel like talking to, always ready for some fun, a die hard coffee addict, you can behold her drawing skills if you visit the HasGeek event websites and Flickr photo streams since Fifth Elephant 2013.

I have to mention Mitesh and Devi as well. However, they have been involved in the tech side of things mostly. Working remotely or from the Microsoft Accelerator. That reminds me, towards the last few months, we had three offices! One at CIS, one at the bakery, which we shared with the amazing team of TripThirsty comprising of Sundar, Kingsley, Sandeep and Anenth, and the wonderful (and extremely mouth watering) cup cake factory of BiteMe run by Kingsley and his wife Divya, and last but not the least, one office at the Microsoft Accelerator

If I were to write down the names of people whom I have come to know and love over the past year, that is going to be pretty long list. I will refrain from doing that and just say that I will keep in touch with all of you because I want to.

I have moved on now. With valuable lessons learned and interesting observations. I work at Eventifier now along with three awesome guys namely Jazeel, Nazim and Saud. I was a geek herder. Now I call myself the Python tamer. Things are looking bright.

Here is to the future!