WordPress, Communities, Web & stuff

by Juan Hernando

My #MozFest (Mozilla Festival) 2019 experience

“How did you find out about the MozFest?” asked everyone.

Last weekend I had a great time at the Mozilla Festival 2019, its 10th edition, that happened at Ravensbourne University in London, UK. I went there as a volunteer (more about this later), and I wasn’t sure I was going to be there till the last moment, because the previous weeks of my life (holidays included) had been real chaos with clients and work in general.

It seemed like a great idea to go to London when I bought everything (plane + hotel) at the end of August. It was.

One of the questions I answered the most was about how I found out about the event. Understandable, as it’s been my first time there and to be honest, I didn’t know many people around, and there weren’t many Spanish people either. Imagine how few people I knew that I answered this question with “God, I’ve answered this a million times…” when I was asked by… Mark Surman, the executive director of the Mozilla Foundation. I didn’t know him either; you’re a really nice person, Mark.

I think I found about the event in the Mozilla official blog. Or maybe on Twitter. Wherever it was, I liked what I read about it, and I wanted to be part of the community.

“Hey Juan, welcome!” said Robby and Elena at the Welcome Desk.

A little background for all of you that don’t know me: I’m a web developer that works with design studios or freelancers to create websites for small and medium businesses. I’m very active in the Spanish WordPress Community (open source for the win!), and I co-organize the monthly meetup and the annual WordCamp in my city, Pontevedra (~300 people). I also give talks from time to time, half of them about my day to day job. The other half is about stuff that worries me, for example, the future of the open web, where our data goes, or how vital every decision we make, or we don’t, is, even as individuals, to make the world a better place for everyone.

Every time I welcome a new member to one of our communities, we talk about the importance of going to events and how great it is to go as a volunteer. It’s the easiest way to meet new people, to make friends, to understand the conference from backstage. So this time, I was just eating my own dog food.

The volunteer team organizers had everything under control (or so it seemed). I had some shifts to do (they only ask you for 4 hours during the whole weekend), and I asked them to make me work a little more. Even with that, I ended up doing as many hours as I could. In a big event, there are always things to do and people to help.

I arrived on Friday morning at the University, and there it was Robby saying ‘Hi’ with a big smile. I didn’t remember him, but I knew him because I had read his blog post about the MozFest Volunteer experience in the past. So inspiring. People were already going up and down, welcoming the Facilitators and other volunteers. Elena gave me my blue volunteer T-shirt, and I was ready to help. During that morning, I also met David Ross, an experienced volunteer at the MozFest that shared with me a lot of handy tips. People were friendly, and although I was a bit lost in a nine floors building, it seems I was finding my place. 

The decentralisation floor was probably my favourite (Photo by Alia ElKattan)

“I want six bean bags,” said Philo at the Supply Room.

I read in English every day. I write in it from time to time. But I think I hadn’t spoken in English more than «one of this, one of those» for years. So I was a bit nervous about what was going to happen during the weekend.

I was assigned on Friday to the Supply Room, and the fun started. Csilla and some of the Ravensbourne students had to deal with me trying to assist. I helped Facilitators (the people that run the sessions and spaces) to get paper, pens, sticky notes, and much other stuff. But many of them came for tape. Csilla handed me a box full of tapes and innocently hoped that everything was going to be alright.

Do you know there’s a Wikipedia page in English named “List of adhesive tapes“? I didn’t. I’m not a handyman, and all I knew was that there’s ‘normal tape’ and what we call in Spain ‘American tape’ (which now I know it’s just ‘Duct tape’). Since last week I’m almost an expert in electrical tape, double-sided tape, Gaffer tape, Gorilla tape, floor marking tape, Scotch tape…

This was mainly the most significant challenge I had with the language until someone asked me about six bean bags. Do you remember at school when they told you the difference between [ˈbiːn] and [ˈbɪn]? Now I do. In my defense, we call that ‘puff,’ so I thought that was like an international thing because it’s not a very Spanish word either.

So I survived quite well the whole weekend. Apart from the supply room and some problems while getting names and surnames right at the Welcome Desk on Saturday and Sunday morning (thanks, Pia, Michael, Ethan, and the rest for your help and conversation!). Oh, and some answers that you may have found absurd whenever you talked to me (sorry for all these).

“If it’s ok for you to be photographed, this is your black lanyard and your badge,” said hundreds of times while welcoming everybody.

On Saturday morning, I met Dan from the A/V team (yeah, that team I try to avoid entirely at any WordCamp). I helped them to set up all the screens, laptops, cables, adapters, and everything in need (thanks to Amy for explaining to me almost everything and tell me where to go). After that, I was nearly two hours at the Welcome Desk. Then I went to support the catering team and tried to help people to get their food in an orderly manner. I even had lunch (yeah, Kelsey, I know… but it counts). And on Sunday it was almost the same: Welcome Desk to fill some empties, catering team, info desk at level 8 for an hour and a half… and finally when the event was finishing, the tear everything down part.

I’m not going to go through every detail, but I want to thank all the volunteers’ team. Thanks for the briefings on how to do stuff to Ziggy, Tom, and Fuzzy. Thanks for the chill-out room next to the coffee station. Thanks for making the event an incredible experience where everything ran smoothly. Thanks to all the volunteers I spoke to, and I don’t remember their names. Thanks to all the ones I didn’t have the chance to meet as they were on other floors or at different times.

I hope to see you all next year at the 11th edition of the MozFest. Now you have a new member in the family, hope you don’t mind!

People during a session (Photo by Mozilla Festival)

“All sessions must be collaborative and generative, with a pre-planned way to continue the work post-festival. Straightforward presentations are discouraged,” says Sarah Allen in the fantastic MozFest book, page 136.

Ok, so I’ve been talking about the volunteers for a thousand words, but what about the event? Did I attend any talk? Did I learn? Was it interesting? Was it worth the trip? Am I going to try to emulate something in our WordCamps?

About the last question, probably yes. I’d love to. But this will go in my Spanish blog later and will share it with my organizing teammates with a good beer. Badges, coffee, food, the book, the communication, the spaces, the wranglers, the style of the events on every floor, the facilitators… Lots to learn.

The Mozilla Festival wasn’t like any of the events I usually go to.

I’ve had the luck to go to this edition, where they’ve given for free an incredible book telling the story of the ten years of the festival. It’s impressive to read the journey they’ve had to be where they are now.

There were different spaces on each floor about different themes that Mozilla and the community care about: web literacy, openness, digital inclusion, decentralization, privacy & security, youth zone, queering, and neurodiversity. In each space, a team of wranglers set up different activities, dialogues, sessions, conversations with the facilitators for the whole weekend.

Everything that happened wasn’t a teacher-student kind of master talk. The goal of every session wasn’t to have the 1.800 people that were walking around to listen to you. The goal was to share opinions and conversations with people wanting to do stuff about something they care too. To explain things and listen to other points of view. To excite attendees about something and guide them on the next steps they can take. To get people involved in projects or initiatives.

Most of the time, to change the world, you only need twenty motivated people doing things instead of twenty thousand giving you one like in a social network. In the MozFest, you can find that community you need. I’m sure.

I even went to a talk that didn’t happen, as the facilitator couldn’t arrive on time. So what people did? They just started talking about the topic (decentralization and the fediverse), and we all learned from their expertise.

I had the chance to speak to the people working on Solid (and Inrupt), I met again Pepe Borrás (more than five years after I lived in Valencia) and found out about his great conference (see you there next year). I talked with some Spanish journalists that were also exploring the whole MozFest experience. I met many people that tried to speak Spanish to me (¡hola a todos!), and I learned about projects, about new things to worry and care about, and more stuff that I can’t just remember. Yeah, next year I will go with a notebook everywhere, so I don’t forget about all (I’m an old school guy for this). So many interesting people. So many young people. So many diverse people… And so many people I didn’t get the chance to talk with!

The MozFest was really inspiring.

Amazing projects… and drawings! (Photo of Lars Wannemacher)

“It’s not very inclusive when everyone sings so incredibly well,” I told Cansu at the Saturday’s Party.

I was exhausted (I’m not that young anymore, sigh) but, on Saturday evening, I went straight from the venue to the party at The Fable. And I’m glad I did. I had heard during the weekend great things about Mozilla parties, but when you’re out of your zone with people you’ve just met, you never know.

I stayed there enough to meet Cansu, one of the conference speakers (a thing that, as everything this weekend, I didn’t know at first). She’s working on an incredibly important field (Ethics and AI), but we weren’t there to save the world (maybe she was and did it later, I was there for the free food and drinks). Great conversations and a tour all over the party: there was a space for karaoke (sorry, band-aoke), a space for table games, and a quieter space with a silent disco (sorry, I don’t buy this, I’m too old, and I don’t need the discos to be disrupted, trust me).

And what we thought was going to be a session of talking about ‘oh my gosh, look at these people trying to sing on the stage, let’s laugh‘ quickly became a session of ‘so, we didn’t know that for working at Mozilla you have to be an amazing singer.’ It was the typical karaoke but with a band playing live the songs. And as Ria from the production team told me later… yeah… next year they should organize an audition for the UK Got Talent or The Voice instead. Great night, great people. And no, I didn’t sing anything. Next year maybe…

Me ‘working’. Thanks to Brian for the photo and the quiz where all the answers were famous Irish people.

“Thanks for eating the last apple,” I told someone at the Info Guru Desk, floor 8.

Great things happen when you go with an open mind to a place full of people willing to make stuff, to create better projects, and to help each other to make a better world. I told at the beginning of this post that I went to the MozFest without knowing anyone there. So I talked with everyone openly, being just me. And from what I saw, everybody did the same.

On Sunday, there was a woman that came while I was at the Info Desk and asked me if she could get the last apple of a plate I had there. I thanked her for doing that. It seemed like no one wanted to leave the plate empty, but I didn’t want to carry that apple back to somewhere. It’s funny because during the ‘Goodbye speech,’ the man on the stage thanked that same woman for being the one that created the MozFest ten years ago. So, yeah, thank you, Michelle, for creating this incredible conference TOO. And thank you Sarah and Marc for making this one possible.

What I want to share with all these inconnected stories, anecdotes, and names that I’m probably getting wrong, is that when you put in the same place people from all over the world with the same attitude, wanting to create a better, more fair and inclusive society, great things can happen. I know this is why this event keeps happening and growing every year. And I know that I love becoming part of it. So wait for me, MozFest 2020, wherever you are located. I promise to keep helping and also to be part of more conversations, of more projects, of more action. You’ve helped me understand that every step counts. And we should be running to the right places. Come on, let’s go!

Thank you London, thank you MozFest