Mozilla Layoffs - The Fallout
Written by Sue Gee   
Monday, 24 August 2020

Two weeks ago Mozilla announced 250 layoffs as part of a new strategy to ensure its financial stability. Gradually news is filtering out about the effects of the layouts on key projects.


In our initial report, Mozilla Layoffs and Change of Focus we noted that developers working on the company's experimental Servo browser-rendering engine were one group that had been axed. While some of the "best bits" from Servo, which pioneered the Rust language, had already been incorporated into Gecko, the engine responsible for Firefox, it does seem shortsighted that Mozilla has reduced its contribution to the Rust language, which even as an open-source language does have potential for generating revenue - which is a crucial part of Mozilla's new focus.


Rust itself seems to be shaken but not destroyed and in a blog post the Rust Core team reported:

There’s no denying the impact these layoffs have had on all members of the Rust community, particularly the folks who have lost their jobs in the middle of a global pandemic.
Notwithstanding the deep personal impact, the Rust project as a whole is very resilient to such events. We have leaders and contributors from a diverse set of different backgrounds and employers, and that diversity is a critical strength. Further, it is a common misconception that all of the Mozilla employees who participated in Rust leadership did so as a part of their employment. In fact, many Mozilla employees in Rust leadership contributed to Rust in their personal time, not as a part of their job. Finally, we would like to emphasize that membership in Rust teams is given to individuals and is not connected to one’s employer. Mozilla employees who are also members of the Rust teams continue to be members today, even if they were affected by the layoffs. Of course, some may choose to scale back their involvement.

The news the team shared in this post is progress towards the formation of an independent Rust Foundation:

Rust Core Team and Mozilla are happy to announce plans to create a Rust foundation. The Rust Core Team's goal is to have the first iteration of the foundation up and running by the end of the year.

Although Mozilla is included in this announcement, forming a Rust Foundation probably will have the effect of distancing the language from Mozilla. This seems short-sighted on the part of Mozilla. Rust is proving to be a very popular language and as it gains adoption this provides many opportunities for selling support services - thereby gaining a new source of revenue which is what Mozilla is so keen to do. 


We previously reported Mozilla Layoffs Include MDN Team which was perhaps overstating the situation and a post from Rina Jensen on Mozilla Hacks helps to clarify the situation:

First we want to be clear, MDN is not going away. The core engineering team will continue to run the MDN site and Mozilla will continue to develop the platform.

However, because of Mozilla’s restructuring, we have had to scale back our overall investment in developer outreach, including MDN. The other areas we have had to scale back on staffing and programs include: Mozilla developer programs, developer events and advocacy, and our MDN tech writing.

MDN was valuable because of the quality of the documentation it produced so laying off the Tech writing team, as reported in the previous news, is really regrettable - and Mozilla does seem to giving the message that developers, and what they do are not part of its new focus, as first indicated by Mitchell Baker on August 11th:

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 ...


Another of Mozilla's experimental projects that faces an uncertain future due is Mozilla Voice STT, its speech-to-text engine also known as DeepSpeech. In a post on the Mozilla Community forum over the weekend, Reuben Morais, a Mozilla employee based in Berlin admitted that as yet he didn't know what the impact the cuts would have:

We’re working to find out if the project will have a new home in the restructured Mozilla, and what changes would be necessary for a successful transition.

He goes on with positive news for the short term:

As many of you know, we were gearing up for our first stable release, version 1.0, in conjunction with announcing our plans for the future of voice projects at Mozilla. Most of the technical changes were already landed, and we see no reason not to ship it. We’ll be releasing 1.0 soon and encourage everyone to update their applications.

He then goes on to outline very good reasons for Mozilla to stick with this project:

In a world where more and more people prefer to interact with their devices using voice, it’s more important than ever to have open source, privacy preserving solutions that enable anyone to innovate in this space, outside of the control of the big cloud services players. DeepSpeech is a result of our effort to address this by building an easy-to-use, open source speech-to-text solution that can be easily integrated in many platforms, programming languages and types of applications. No other open source solution comes close to the accuracy, maturity and ease of use of our tools.

Mozilla would be extremely short-sighted not to make the most of having initiated this project as it certainly has the potential to be big - and bring in big business in the scramble to take advantage of speech interaction - which makes technology so much more accessible and provides so many new opportunities.

To quote from Mitchell Baker in her Dear Community post:

That future is important. Fixing the internet is a huge goal: it will take all of us and more. New products, new communities and a new mindset are key to Mozilla’s future. And we want Mozilla to be a key driver of a future where the internet and online life are healthier, accessible to more people, and bring new forms of opportunity.

Surely with this mindset Mozilla must continue to foster DeepSpeech.


More Information

Changing World, Changing Mozilla

An Update on MDN Web Docs

Laying the foundation for Rust's future

Future of DeepSpeech 


Related Articles

Introducing DeepSpeech

Mozilla Layoffs and Change of Focus

Mozilla Layoffs Raise Questions

Mozilla Remains Confident Despite Dip In Revenue 

Why Mozilla Matters 

Mozilla Funding - Crisis Averted For Now

Mozilla Turns Twenty Years Old 

The Perils Of Mozilla  

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Last Updated ( Monday, 24 August 2020 )