Walking in the footsteps of giants

Mike Beltzner and I had a neat experience today — we got to give a talk at Stanford’s CS547 class on how we do design at scale at Mozilla, with Firefox in particular. It was a nostalgic and humbling experience for me — revisiting a set of experiences that significantly changed my life. In the early 90s I was trying to figure out what I really loved; what I wanted to do with my life — and what I wanted to learn while I was at Stanford.

A friend, Sean White, kept telling me I should look at Human Computer Interaction — I eventually did, and got involved with the curriculum that Terry Winograd was creating at Stanford, I helped TA for Bill Verplank, read this article by Mitch Kapor, and just generally found the thing that I really, really loved to do, which was try to build computing systems that made sense to people and made them generally happier and more productive. These people are huge in my history, and in the field — they invented so much of what we think of now as software design — I feel incredibly lucky that Sean encouraged me to follow that path, and incredibly lucky to have been at Stanford at that time.

So when Professor Winograd asked if I’d like to give a talk at 547, I of course said yes. CS547 is a seminar course that has been a who’s who of people doing amazing work in design — the list of speakers over the past 15 is truly unbelievable — people who have made real and massive differences in making computing (and the Internet) more accessible, useful, and joyful for people around the world.

As we got closer to the event, I got more reflective on the path that I’ve taken from there to here; the choices that have led me to be more interested in how to help more people do design — to help more people participate and engage and change their world — and how Mozilla represents such a natural point on that path. And of course that made me more self-conscious than ever about speaking in this forum — it’s a small class, but the history and the implications are not.

I was touched that Bill Verplank came by — and happy to get a chance to talk with him, 15 years after being his teaching assistant. And I have to say that I was shocked as I heard myself talk — how many of the ideas that I use today, in 2009, I realized came out of our interactions back then.

Anyway, I was happy to get the chance to talk, in this storied forum, and extremely humbled. And very proud to give the talk with Mike Beltzner, one of my very favorite collaborators and co-thinkers on design. I’ll put the slides below, and you can see video of the talk as well (link is at the bottom of the page — sorry for the WMV!)


  1. Always love both of you presenting on your own. And, surprise surpise, two great tastes taste great together. A lovely listen in a big empty house at the end of a long week. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for stopping by! We’ll email about visiting/talking@ Moz Labs soon.


  3. Enjoyed the talk. And your posts about Stanford in general are great. Kinda influenced my decision to enroll there. Thanks.

    P.S. Seriously, Stanford is using .wmv to post up videos??