The challenge of contributing to Mozilla

The last community meet-up was a success, attendance was higher than expected and everyone was excited to join Mozilla and start contributing.

Discussions involved translating the browser, building a custom B2G phone, working on addons and growing the community. Everyone seemed interested in taking on a particular functional area.

Fast forward a few months later and the story is very different.
Only one of the people who attended that meetup has managed to contribute meaningfully to the project. Christabel took up Firefox translation and at the time of this writing, she has translated about a thousand strings(7%) and continues to make good progress. In Harare, Blessing (who casually contributes to Desktop QA) has managed to get a Firefox Club setup  at the Harare Institute of Technology and the club has ten Student Ambassadors.

From the above it can be seen that there are 3 active contributors in the community at the present moment. I took some time to reflect on why the community has not grown as much as I had anticipated. I will discuss my thoughts below.

#1 Internet access
#2 School/work
#3 Loss of interest
#4 No obvious/apparent gain/benefits of contributing to the     project
#5 Lack of skill

Internet Access

To contribute effectively to the Mozilla project, you need a decent connection to the Internet. Most functional areas that contributors are interested in  require that they have constant access to the Internet in order to 1, communicate with project leads, attend meetings, get real-time mentorship, download or view project resources etc.

Internet access is expensive in Zimbabwe and most people (myself included) use the Internet when they are at work or at schools and universities. This limits the amount of time that they can dedicate to contributing to Mozilla.

This is a big challenge as it means that a potential SUMO (Mozilla Support Team) contributor cannot contribute to SUMO if they can only access the Internet on their mobile phone (notice I said mobile phone, not smart phone).

This affects most contributors. Those that have access to the Internet have to divide their time between school, work, personal business AND contributing to Mozilla.


Work and school take up at least 8 hours of a person’s time and after getting home, the contributor has to cook, do homework, take care of house chores and this leaves her very tired.
This is a challenge that every volunteer faces, choosing how much time to dedicate to the volunteer cause while not letting that affect your work or studies.

I am a student and I know how hard it can be to dedicate time to studies and Mozilla. Fortunately, I am a final year student and my schedule isn’t hectic, so that gives me more time than the other contributors.

Loss of Interest

When I joined the Reps program, there was a lot of interest among my friends and peers about Mozilla. I saw in them a community ready to be supported. The meetup we had in June really motivated me because the interest ran high.

This has changed however, it seems people are more interested in being fans than putting in the work required to be contributors.

Lack of immediate financial benefits

Whenever I talk about contributing to Mozilla, the question of how one benefits from the project always comes up. I have found that once you mention that there are no immediate financial rewards, I end up talking to myself most of the time.

Most of the people in my circles are more interested in tangible benefits like money, recognition and status. Because of this, very few people are willing to give back to the OpenSource cause and create an Open Web.

Lack of Skill

This is one of the biggest challenges that new contributors face. Some functional areas require well defined skill sets and if you have no experience in that particular field, it can be almost impossible to contribute. Examples include the Security team, Visual design, Automation and Web Development. Joining these teams requires that you first learn the tools and technologies they use and this can take lots of time.


Contributing to an OpenSource project requires time, skill, motivation and access to the Internet. My goal as a community builder from now on is to help lower entry barriers. My hope is to onboard contributors to a project that does not require a lot of technical skills, constant access to the Internet and that gives the contributor a feeling of contentment. This may not be exactly what the contributor may be interested in, but the good thing about this is that a person will learn to use Mozilla tools and resources such as bugzilla, the wiki and other systems that they’ll need for whichever functional area they choose to join. Contributing to a project will also give them the opportunity to build relationships and get mentored.

The Webmaker and Localisation look like good candidates. I plan to focus my efforts in encouraging contributors to join these functional areas. Christabel and I have set up a localisation project for Ndebele and it has started to gather contributors. Next year, I plan to run webmaker events at high schools near me.