Mozilla Layoffs and Change of Focus
Written by Sue Gee   
Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Blaming the impact of COVID-19, CEO Mitchell Baker announced yesterday that Mozilla is laying off 250 employees, a quarter of its workforce, and shuttering operations in Taiwan. Another 60 Mozillians are changing roles. 


In the internal memo to employees Mitchell Baker refers to the fact Mozilla's previous plans for making significant changes to ensure its financial stability, saying:

But COVID-19 has accelerated the need and magnified the depth for these changes .... we need to reduce the size of our workforce.

At the start of the year Mozilla announced more than 70 layoffs so with a further 250 and the fact that it claimed around 1,000 employees at the end of 2018 it will have shrunk be around one third. Although no details were included in either Mitchell's internal memo or her subsequently outward-faclng blog post, it seems that the layoffs include Mozilla's threat management security team which, investigates security reports and performs incident response and the developers working on the company's experimental Servo browser engine.

Servo was Mozilla's project to create a Rust rendering engine and so one question raised by the team's disbandment is the impact on Rust, which was originally sponsored by Mozilla. A poster to the Rust sub-reddit asking "How do Mozilla layoffs affect Rust?" also noted that:

Rust has grown beyond just Mozilla but certainly still has close ties to it.

Hopefully other companies with step in to fill any gaps in core Rust development as a result of Mozilla's shrinkage. Conversely. as Rust grows in popularity this could have had a positive feedback for Mozilla, which perhaps it won't be as well positioned to enjoy.

For me the big question is whether Firefox will be able to survive, let alone thrive, as a result of changed priorities. Mitchell Baker does at least put two and two together in the conclusion to her blog post where she talks of "challenge and opportunities". The paragraph opens with:

We’re fortunate that Firefox and Mozilla retain a high degree of trust in the world.

Yes, I think there is trust, but this isn't reflected by widespread adoption. Only yesterday, my report on browser market share noted further decline for Firefox, leading me to speculate:

Could it be that in the future we will know Mozilla as something other than the home of Firefox as it dwindles away to zero market share?

Certainly Mozilla is not giving up on Firefox, but there is a shift of emphasis, spelled out in the internal memo: 

In order to refocus the Firefox organization on core browser growth through differentiated user experiences, we are reducing investment in some areas such as developer tools, internal tooling, and platform feature development, and transitioning adjacent security/privacy products to our New Products and Operations team.

Also in the memo to employees, Baker itemizes new products to further the aim of developing new revenue streams:

Our initial investments will be Pocket, Hubs, VPN, Web Assembly and security and privacy products. In addition, we are creating a new Design and UX team to support these products and a new applied Machine Learning team that will help our products include ML features.

In the blog post she expresses the strategy as:

We are also restructuring to put a crisper focus on new product development and go to market activities. In the long run, I am confident that the new organizational structure will serve our product and market impact goals well.

While continuing to embrace the mission of building a better Internet and the core values of:

"openness, decency, empowerment and common good"

Baker goes on to list five specific areas to focus on, leaving till last the one that is crucial for Mozilla to have a future role -  a new focus on economics. She expresses this as:

Recognizing that the old model where everything was free has consequences, means we must explore a range of different business opportunities and alternate value exchanges. ...  We must learn and expand different ways to support ourselves and build a business that isn’t what we see today. 

I sincerely hope that Mozilla comes through this stronger and fitter to champion the future of the Internet and stand up for the same values it has had so far.




More Information

Changing World, Changing Mozilla


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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 12 August 2020 )