Saturday, March 29, 2014

On Mozilla and the Brendan Eich hiring

Just about the only interesting thing that happened this week -

On Monday (Mar 24th) the Mozilla Foundation elevated Chief Technology Officer Brendan Eich was elevated to CEO. 30 seconds later a backlash began, based on a $1000 dollar donation that Eich made in 2008 in support of Proposition 8.  Directors are resigning, employees are complaining, and developers are pulling apps and everyone is pushing for Eich to be fired.  All within their rights, but is it the right thing to do?

In my opinion - No, for a couple reasons:

First, we don't know what Eich's actual stance on homosexuality and gays is.  He may be a homophobe, he may be general supportive of gay rights bust think marriage is a religious sacrament, like many do, he may support gay marriage but felt that supporting prop 8 was right for other political reasons, hell he may have donated before he actually knew what prop 8 was, although that is unlikely bust some people are that politically tuned out.  The point is there are a lot of reasons why he may have donated and only one of them (homophobia) is actually nefarious, the rest are differences of opinion and opinions can change.  Eichs himself addressed this when this donation came to light the first time back in 2012 saying:

 Second, the donation does not in itself constitute evidence of animosity. 

Not a very illuminating answer, but a denial of actual homophobia.  Personally I sympathize with the guy I have been on the same side of the "you're a hater" line as him.  back in 2006 / 2007 a high school friend and I linked up on facebook.  Unknown to me in the years since high school this friend had come out of the closet.  No biggie, I know a lot of gays and have a number of gay friends.  In general I feel the same way about their lifestyle as I do breeders- I don't want to see you swap spit in public, I don't care what you do in private - in short his being gay didn't bother me.  Over the course of a few months it became apparent that we disagreed on Prop 8.  While I support gay marriage, and think those who don't are wrong, I also am aware that there is a lot of cultural baggage associated with the concept of marriage, and I felt (wrongly it appears) that the tactics that were being adopted would end up causing a huge political rift and so I was supporting the idea of full civil unions.  Apparently that makes me a bigot and I was told flat out that I was  unworthy of friendship.  OK, I can live with that (in general I am scum unworthy of friendship but for many other reasons, not this one), but in my opinion my (former) friend was wrong and now he can't share in scintillating universe that is the life of Chad.  Anyway the actual point of this rambling aside is that without knowing the motivation behind the donation the donation it self may not mean what people think. If that's the case then Mozilla may be losing a very technically competent CEO for some very poor reasons

Second reason, this all smacks of political theater to me.  This isn't a newly originated charge.  The donation has been public record since 2008 and it originally came to light in 2012.  Why weren't people resigning then? I mean,  he was Chief Technology Officer, and due to his history with the company a very influential figure.  My personal theory and one that Eich advanced in 2012 is that this isn't really about him, it's about putting others on notice:

 First, I have been online for almost 30 years. I’ve led an open source project for 14 years. I speak regularly at conferences around the world, and socialize with members of the Mozilla, JavaScript, and other web developer communities. I challenge anyone to cite an incident where I displayed hatred, or ever treated someone less than respectfully because of group affinity or individual identity.
Second, the donation does not in itself constitute evidence of animosity. Those asserting this are not providing a reasoned argument, rather they are labeling dissenters to cast them out of polite society. To such assertions, I can only respond: “no”.

"Agree with us or else"  In my opinion giving in too demands like that is like negotiating with terrorists.  It only encourages other attacks.  If there were actual evidence of Eich acting in a discriminatory fashion then he should be fired.  If there is a history of hate filled speech he should be fired.  In short if he engaged in actual bad behavior he should be fired, but he shouldn't be fired just because he disagrees with a group on a political issue.

I said this a couple weeks ago but I am going to reiterate - at some point tech companies and tech workers have to start realizing what the point of a business is.  A lot of them seem to be missing it at this point in time.
Another aside here - If you haven't seen it already check out "Betas" om Amazon Instant Video.  They  do a good job of skewering some of the tech industries self-importance.
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