Software & Web Development

David Bryant: Mozilla and the age of the tinkerer

“There have always been people tinkering in their basements,” says David Bryant, Interim CTO and Vice President of Platform Engineering at Mozilla. “Now that proclivity can be applied to computing at a very small scale.”

“It is a great time to be a tinkerer…”

We’re sitting in what appears to be the only quiet area of the Mozilla Festival in east London. Across nine floors the building is a frenetic hive of activity, with 1700 global developers, designers, journalists, students and educators running workshops, training groups and hands-on geek sessions. Many of these are part of a thriving community of tinkerers from around the world.  

Bryant joined Mozilla, from Nokia, back in March and currently holds the post of Vice President of Platform Engineering and CTO in the interim. They are “actively” looking for someone to fill this CTO position which includes running the research team that looks into the tech of the future. While the job he was hired to do entails managing the horizontal platform on which everything runs.

“I am an engineer because I’m wired that way,” says Bryant. “I have been tinkering during evenings and weekends throughout my career.” Now the whole ‘maker movement’ has made this interest in electronic experimentation more accessible and mainstream.

There are more pre-built products available, more sophisticated components and universal connectivity has brought people’s creations out of their sheds and into the open. “Connectivity means it is now a lot less about me in my garage by myself,” says Bryant.

In a lifetime of successful and less-successful home projects Bryant describes his personal favourite as the compact field gear he built in 1986 to photograph Halley’s Comet in Australia. And it is this lifelong love of tinkering that is one of the factors that finally brought Bryant to Mozilla.

“My career was on the commercial product side,” he says. “You can build products to solve problems. But however awesome the technology was, it was always moderated by salespeople. At Mozilla we don’t have that. Instead of constraints being commercial, constraints are about the mission. I like building products - it is an opportunity and a challenge.”

So, how come Bryant didn’t join an organisation like this before? In the past tech tended to be quite siloed, explains Bryant. You could get into a particular domain but it wasn’t a broadly pervasive thing. The tech community was “horizontal” rather than “widespread”.   

A lot has changed over the last few years and it’s brought more technology into the hands of ordinary people. This has been a transformation in itself. But what will surprise people about the web in future? “I’m loathe to predict the future of the web,” he says. However he does highlight some factors that he feels are significant.

He lists these as “privacy, security and control,” – which are of course the main tenants of Mozilla’s mission statement. “Many actors are not putting the user first,” he says “which presents a significant opportunity for us.”

“We’re mindful that the web is a place where commerce happens,” he adds. “We need to meet the needs of the web as a place to do business and make it consistent across devices.”  

“Web VR unlocks a lot of potential,” he continues. “It is a lot of hype until you try it. But as the platform guy it is useful because it pushes the platform.”

“We’re accelerating the evolution of the web driven by use cases people find compelling,” he concludes. And all this is likely to be supported by the huge Mozilla community who are all busy tinkering away at home in their sheds, basements and garages around the world.


Also read:

Moz Fest 2015: Righteous hippies… or the future of the web?

Grassroots Programmers: Love vs. Money


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