Yesterday I was granted the rare and spectacular privilege of receiving an honorary degree at Seneca College. It was an amazing affair, flawlessly and warmly executed, at least until the guy giving the convocation address started blubbering at the mic.

It’s a cliché that it’s an incredible honour to be recognized this way, but it’s no less true for being clichéd — and perhaps more for me than for most recipients because I’ve had the opportunity to work with Seneca students. One of the many wonderful opportunities accorded an honorary degree recipient (at Seneca at least) is being part of the barrage of professors and board-of-governors members and faculty who congratulate each graduate. Being able to congratulate some of the students I’ve worked with over the past few years was fantastic, and an unexpected treat.

I wrote some things down before, and then said them — more or less — on the day. They appear below. There is a video of it as well, and because people seem quite interested in watching a grown man cry, I will probably post it once I make it smaller than 100MB.

Thanks to Johnathan Nightingale, who helped me tweak the words, and to everyone at Seneca who listened to them quite politely. And also, of course, to everyone who’s contributed to Mozilla and our work with Seneca.

Thank you Dr. Miner, Professor Humphrey, fellow Senecans.

This is a tremendous and humbling honour; through my own work with Seneca, I’ve come to know first-hand how hard Seneca’s students, faculty and administration work to learn, teach, and make a difference, and I’m very flattered and proud to be counted among you.

“College is for people who do“; Professor Dave Humphrey taught me that, and that certainly describes the Seneca that I’ve come to know and love over the past years. My own Seneca education, if you will, began with some students working on a project with Prof. Humphrey. They wanted to change Firefox, and while there are many schools and classes around the world that undertake such projects every year, it was obvious from the first meeting that there was something qualitatively different going on here. These students were collaborating with industry to make sure that their work was grounded in reality and had practical applications — and it was really interesting work! Long before Apple’s iPhone demonstrated how a touch-based interface could work well with the web, students here at Seneca were making it happen for a small local company. I was hooked; they were about doing.

The more I got to know the students and staff at Seneca, the more I got to see creative, passionate work being nurtured, and people learning at break-neck speed. Not just fundamentals from a textbook, but often things that had probably never been learned or taught in quite this way before. As I remarked several times to my colleagues, it was a good thing that nobody told them that this work was too hard for students! These days, the Mozilla community is virtually littered with Seneca contributions and contributors, and Senecans — some of whom are graduating with us here today — have already affected the lives of hundreds of millions of people; there’s no sign of that great work slowing down. Today the programme of practical academic collaboration that Seneca and Mozilla began together a little over two years is expanding to include even more open source projects, and that programme is the envy of schools around the world. I consider myself incredibly privileged to have witnessed Seneca’s growth into an open source powerhouse, and I will always, always cherish the lessons I’ve learned and experiences I’ve shared as part of it. I’ve had the opportunity to make friends, make mistakes, make software. I’m a better software developer, teacher, and student myself for that time, and I owe a tremendous debt.

But of course college is also for people who learn, and you’re now coming to the end of the most intensive period of that since you learned not to eat Legos. There’s a pretty fun little exercise you can do, just making a list of all the things you know how to do. Bake a cake, normalize a database, skin a model. Then go back over that list and put a star next to the things you’ve learned in the last year or two; your lists right now would have a lot of stars on them, which is as it should be. I do this every few years — I’d do it more often, but I’m pretty absentminded — and it helps me decide when I need to seek out something new to play with.

Many of you will leave here today looking ahead to new jobs and opportunities, and while the workplace has many things going for it (money, for example, which can be exchanged for goods and services), many workplaces make it too easy for us to forget to learn. You’ll tend to be given work that you already know how to do, which is generally good economics and management, but it means that you’ll have to be much more intentional and deliberate about your own learning. You’ll need to seek out projects that provide an opportunity to do new things, and to seek out mentors and peers to help you learn from the new things you try. And you’ll want to find opportunities to teach as well — a truth that has been proven out dozens of times in my own experiences, especially at Seneca, is that teaching and learning run in both directions when they’re being done well. While my daughter is learning to crawl, she’s also teaching me to never start a game that I am not willing to play for an hour, for example. One of the most wonderful things about working with classes here at Seneca is watching the students teach each other, and share in the joy of each other’s success and discovery. You will certainly use and build on the specific skills and knowledge you’ve learned in your time at Seneca; please also prize and build on the feeling that you should be learning. Remember to learn, remember to teach, and remember to do things that can fail, and you will be on a path to making a difference in the world around you. A bumpy path at times, a path with poor markings to be sure, but I believe the only path that’s worth being on.

Congratulations, graduates, and thank you again to Seneca for this incredible honour.

honoris causa

Tomorrow, a tremendous honour will be bestowed upon me by Seneca College. I’m grateful and flattered to the point of speechlessness, which may pose a problem as I deliver the convocation address tomorrow.

Thanks are due to many people for the wonderful time I’ve had working with Seneca, but one person stands out even in that sea of achievement and dedication: Dave Humphrey, without whom there would truly be no Mozilla@Seneca, and who is a great friend in addition to the best teacher I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching in action.

keynote video available

The video of my Seneca keynote is up now, in both regular and wide formats, it seems. They are somewhat large (394 and 270 megabytes respectively), so govern yourself accordingly.

You’ll need DivX (at least the codec) to view them, I believe.

adrenaline withdrawal

Between the frantic reskinning of AMO, the general hubbub of the Firefox 2 release, and then preparing for and delivering my FSOSS keynote, last week was pretty much non-stop adrenaline. I was completely exhausted by Thursday night, to the extent that I actually stayed on campus rather than try to get up Friday morning in time to defeat Toronto traffic for a 9AM keynote slot back up at the Seneca@York campus, but the conference itself was enough of a source of energy that I managed to keep rolling until relatively late in the evening.

Saturday was spent sleeping and traipsing about the city as part of Madhava‘s bachelor party, which was not exactly a meditative exercise itself. Ridiculous fun, of course.

So today I’m feeling pretty weird, I have to say. I’ve been quietly working through my backlog of “deal with this later” stuff — mostly context, but some of it perilously close to core — and letting the novel and welcome sensation of choosing my own next steps wash over and around me. I will readily admit, to the surprise of nobody, that I enjoy the rush of execution and the feeling of making decisions “live”, but I’m really looking forward to spending a few days taking a fresh look at the paths I was on before the explosion of the last 2 weeks. If nothing else, it’ll be nice to have “am I forgetting something important?” downgrade from “certainly” to “possibly” for a while.

And I should do some laundry, too.

I’ll probably — hopefully? — be less present/active in my usual interrupt-driven communication environments for a bit, but if you need me I’m sure you can reach me without too much trouble…

Show time

I’m waiting in the audience in the gym at Seneca right now, for people to finish registering and the introductory ceremonies to start — then I get to give my keynote, and put everyone back to sleep.

I’ve written this talk 3 times now in the last few days, trying to find a balance between talking about the things I want to talk about, and not being too philosophical for a 9AM keynote. I don’t know that I’ve succeeded, really, but my laptop’s up on stage now so I’ve run out of time to tweak it. I hope people don’t all boo and leave halfway through — especially my friends.

Oop, intros are done. Here we go!

[tags]speaking, seneca, mozilla[/tags]

the kids are alright

[Because I am a big dork, this has been sitting in my drafts for a long time, since apparently I clicked "Save" instead of "Publish" or something. What fun!]

A little less than a year ago, beltzner and I met with a few people at Seneca College about a project that some students were about to undertake. The details of the project are themselves pretty interesting, but the really valuable takeaway for me turned out to be a connection with Prof. Dave Humphrey and others at Seneca who are interested in really baking open source work, technology, communities and principles into the educational experience.

Since that fateful day, we’ve embarked on a number of pretty exciting projects with Seneca, such as their hosting of hardware for development of MDC and AMO work, test environments, some pretty awesome buildbot hacking, multi-compiler support for distcc, and APNG support.

And, of course, the most excellently righteous “Topics in Open Source” course, which Dave is teaching for the first time this term, and in which I have been joined by several Mozilla compatriots in miseducating eager students about topics many and varied. As with most interesting things, it has not been all flowers and roses — entering our community can be daunting for even the most intrepid of newbies — but I think that some great stuff has and will come of it. The amount of energy and enthusiasm there is just ridiculous, and as a wiser man would have predicted I’m having a hard time keeping up with the students. Ah, to be young again.

A little more than a week from now, on October 26th and 27th, Mozilla is co-sponsoring Seneca’s Free Software and Open Source Symposium. A generous handful of Mozillians will be in attendance or speaking, and I predict ample opportunity to talk with Dave and his fellow crazy people about what they’re doing, what’s working so far, what we could try next, and how to get involved in whatever way strikes your fancy. The lineup of speakers looks pretty great, present company excepted of course, and it’s hard to imagine a better way to spend $20 of your open-source-self-education budget. Hope to see you there!