Although Mozilla feels almost like a household name at this point, it is a relatively small organization - tiny, actually - compared to the companies that ship similar types of software . We must, however, have the impact of a much larger entity in order to ensure that the internet stays an open platform accessible to all.
Producing consumer software which influences the browser and smartphone OS markets in specific ways is how we make that impact. Shipping that software requires teams of people to design, build and test it, and all the countless other aspects of the release process. We can hire some of these people, but remember: we're relatively tiny. We cannot compete with multi-billion-dollar mega-companies while operating in traditional ways. Mozilla has to be far more than the sum of its paid-employee parts in order to accomplish audaciously ambitious things.
Open source code and open communication allow participation and contribution from people that are not employees. And this is where opportunities lie for both Mozilla and universities.
For universities, undergraduates can earn credit, get real world experience, and ship software to hundreds of millions of people. Graduate researchers can break ground in areas where their findings can be applied to real world problems, and where they can see the impact of their work in the hands of people around the world. And students of any kind can participate before, during and after any involvement that is formally part of their school program.
For Mozilla, we receive contributions that help move our products and projects forward, often in areas that aren't getting enough attention only because we don't have the resources to do so. We get an influx of new ideas and new directions. We gain awesome contributors and can educate tomorrow's technology workers about our mission.
I've been working with a few different programs recently to increase student involvement in the Firefox OS:
- Portland State University: The PSU CS Capstone program, run by Prof. Warren Harrison, has teams of students tackling projects for open source groups. The teams are responsible for all parts of the software life-cycle during the project. In the spring of 2013, a group of five students implemented an example messaging app using Persona and Firebase, documenting the challenges of Web platform development and the Firefox OS development/debugging workflow. This year's group will implement a feature inside Firefox OS itself.
- Facebook Open Academy: This is a program coordinated by Stanford and Facebook, that puts teams from multiple universities together to build something proposed by an existing open source project. The Firefox OS team includes students from Carnegie-Mellon, Purdue, Harvard, Columbia in the US, and Tampere UT in Finland. They're adding a new feature to Firefox OS which allows you to share apps directly between devices using NFC and Bluetooth. With 14 members across five universities, this team is collaborating via Github, Google Groups, IRC and weekly meetings for both the front-end and back-end parts, providing experience with remote working, group coordination and cross-team collaboration.
- University of Michigan: Prof. Z. Morley Mao's mobile research group has started looking at device and network performance in Firefox OS. They've got a stack of phones and SIM cards, and we're working with them to find ways to improve battery life and network efficiency on our devices. They've started a collection of focus areas and related research on the Mozilla wiki.
If you're at an academic institution and would like to learn more about how to get your department or your students involved, or if you're a Mozillian who wants to coordinate a project with your alma mater, email me!
1. Mozilla has ~1000 employees. According to Wikipedia, Google has ~50,000 employees, Apple ~80,000 and Microsoft ~100,000.