A DevTools Retrospective: Or, Fund Me Maybe

personal open-source

Laptop with Firefox and DevTools stickers.Cat chewing a house plant.
My 5 year old laptop, which won’t start up anymore; and my 1 year old son, who — to add insult to injury — ate through the charger cable.

So my laptop died a few months ago and I’ve made do with my work computer instead, but recently I’ve considered buying a new one to not depend on work equipment.

In the past 2 years, I’ve also spent a lot of my time — including time off from my day job — to work on Firefox DevTools as a volunteer contributor. As my involvement in this project is coming to a close, I’ve been looking back and thinking: what if I got a small something out of it, beyond a bit experience, as a thank you?

So I’ve decided: I am asking you, kind reader, to consider chipping in to help me pay for a new laptop. I’m targeting something like a Macbook Air (€1200 with VAT) or the cheapest Macbook Pro (€1500), or a similar laptop with Windows or Linux. I’ve set up a Ko-fi page with a €1350 goal, and you can give anything you want, if you appreciate the work I did.

To be clear, I’m not in any financial hardship. I could buy a laptop without help, but I’ll appreciate it if I can cover most or some of the cost this way. Read on if you want more context on why I’m asking for contributions.

What did I do as a contributor?

I started contributing to Firefox DevTools in Spring 2018, initially to work on small UI details and land CSS fixes for the Inspector, Console or Network Monitor. Over two years I have:

  1. Helped dozens of volunteers, Outreachy candidates and Google Summer of Code candidates get started with the DevTools codebase (usually over Bugzilla and Slack). I’ve also led or participated in code reviews.
  2. Fixed 106 bugs of various sizes (from a few hours to week-long efforts).
  3. Participated in many UX discussions to provide feedback and ideas.
  4. Led a few design projects, including an icon refresh (shipped) and a redesign of the Settings page (accepted but not implemented).

One example: if you’re using Firefox DevTools on Linux, your experience may have improved overnight thanks to this simple CSS patch that fixed a lot of issues with font sizes and icon alignments; it took just a few lines of code, but days of investigation and tests!

I’ve worked remotely with Victoria Wang, Patrick Brosset, Nicolas Chevobbe, Harald Kirschner (hire him as a product manager!), Micah Tigley, Jason Laster, David Walsh (looking for his next role too!), Yura Zenevich and many others.

I also participated in three Mozilla All Hands weeks, which were fun! (But they were also work, somewhat tiring, and it did require me to use up my job’s paid time off.1)

On the visible side, here are some of the design-y work I’ve done. Click through to to see full-size images.

Screenshot of my DevTools Figma project
An overview of design documents I’ve worked on in my Figma “DevTools” project. It’s mostly icon work and small mock-ups to explain ideas.
Exploration and final set of icons for the DevTools tabs.
A redesign of the DevTools tab icons, made to follow the 2017 Photon Design System guidelines. This was my most visible user-facing work.
Screenshots of a redesign of the DevTools Settings page.
I’ve worked on a redesign of the DevTools settings page, to break it up in more readable chunks. You can try out the HTML prototype (but do try it in Firefox, since it uses CSS Logical Properties not supported by Chrome and Safari at this time), and check out the repository.

Why am I asking for money?

Because I felt like it! 😁

Just to make it clear, I don’t think I’m entitled to money here. Nobody has to give me anything! (Though if I did feel entitled to actual pay for my DevTools work, at 1-2 days a week for something like 18 months straight, I wouldn’t be asking for $1.5k.)

Anyway, here’s how the story went.

I didn’t start contributing to DevTools with money in mind. I wanted to scratch some itches, and I was excited about having patches I wrote improving a UI used by hundreds of thousands. And I also wanted to help out so that we don’t end up in a Chrome monoculture for good.

But after 6-12 months of doing good work, I ended up thinking: I like the work and it seems to be useful, let’s get paid for it and do it full time!

Sadly I’m pretty bad at advocating for myself, and I never actually applied for a role. I did reach out to a few team members, but what I heard was that there was no budget for more people, beyond maybe short-term contracts (not an option for me at the time).

Then in the last year it became clear that Mozilla management didn’t see DevTools as a vital investment, and in 2020 reorgs and layoffs have strongly impacted DevTools.

So that was it. Combined with some frustrations about not being able to do or land some work on my side because I could not secure reviews or other help2, I mentally called it quits.

What prompted me to ask random people for money was this tweet:

If you're worried about the future of #Firefox, #Gecko, #MDN and other projects from #Mozilla there's one way you can help: contribute.

I always hang out in our #Introduction channel, so if you feel like coding and want to help just ping me.

@gabrielesvelto

I have some feelings about that.

We’re talking about doing free work here. If you want those projects to succeed, are worried they might not, and want to make an impact, that could mean a lot of free work. Is that work going to lead to burnout or an increased risk of burnout?

Meanwhile, this work is adding value to projects and products (especially Gecko and Firefox) that Mozilla Corporation derives money from. That money funds big compensations for the C-Suite, and salaries for engineers that surpass anything I ever earned myself3. That’s true for many other contributors too, of course, and is part of a wider criticism of open-source.

(And maybe talking about this just after the layoffs is ill-timed, but the layoffs are the reason why people are calling for a surge of contributions.)

Finally, as I replied on Twitter, if you want people to work for free you should provide some incentives, including psychological ones. For large projects like Gecko or Firefox, the technical complexity, specific processes and bureaucracy4 mean it’s hard to just “scratch an itch” and see results quickly. Instead, one incentive can be to ship fixes and features to tens of thousands or millions of users — an appeal that smaller projects can’t provide.

But to be able to do that and not waste your time, you will need support from the core team. So you need that team to not be fired, cut in half or otherwise scaled down. And you will need some confidence that once your efforts pane out and your work is ready to ship to users, the product will not have been discontinued (ahem, Firefox OS). And if we cannot guarantee that, because strategic decisions lie in the hands of unaccountable corporate management, should we really call for people to provide free work?

So I was thinking about all that, all those mixed feelings about open-source, and I ended up at: you know what, fuck it, I want some money too. My friends and family always tell me I’m super bad at valuing myself and asking for money, promotions or raises — so maybe I should break the circle.

I’m asking for money. A symbolic amount, really, compared to the work I did, but still an amount that I can use for something practical.

If it works out, great, and if it doesn’t… eh. 🤷‍♀️


  1. Mozilla shoulders all other costs of inviting volunteer to the Mozilla All Hands, including plane tickets, hotel rooms, catering, and expense stipends. I don’t have exact numbers, but the total cost for inviting a single volunteer three times is probably in the $10–15k range? 

  2. For example, for the Settings page implementation, I was motivated to do a lot of the work but would have required mentorship or timely help. One developer also had ongoing work on that panel that he could share with me, but he was moved from the DevTools team to the Firefox for Android project. 

  3. To be clear, I don’t have any issue with current or former Mozilla employees, especially the great people I’ve been lucky to work with. My point is that when taking a step back and looking at Mozilla or company-sponsored open-source projects in general, some people are getting compensated and others not, and maybe it should give us pause. 

  4. It seems largely similar in Chromium or WebKit; it comes with the scope of the project, not with Mozilla or Google being bad at it.