philipp kewisch
Categories: staff profiles

Three “Boomerang” Mozillians on what brought them back

Tony Cinotto (Product Manager), Allie Mendelson (Contingent Workforce Program Manager), and Philipp Kewisch (Add-ons Operations Manager) work on three different teams at Mozilla. But they all have something in common: They left the company, then came back. Below, they each explain the reasons for their returns, discuss the projects and challenges they’re facing now, and share why they’re excited about the future—of their own careers, and of Mozilla itself.

First, what do each of you do at Mozilla?

Tony: I’m a product manager on our Security and Privacy team; it’s my job to define product requirements, take input from other functions, and then build out a strategy that takes into account both the business perspective and our customers’ needs. Right now my focus is on Firefox Relay, which is an email masking service, and on growing our VPN product. Our different subscription plans for VPN are really Mozilla’s first foray into offering additional protections through a premium offering.

Allie: I manage our contingent workforce program, which means I work with our contractors. When I started in this role a few months ago, there weren’t a lot of existing processes in place—so I’ve been looking over the program and identifying areas where we can make some changes. It was doing well before, but I do see some opportunities to make it leaner, implement some new processes, and just help it grow.

Philipp: I’m the operations manager for Firefox Add-ons where third-party developers create extensions that allow users to customize their Firefox experience. Essentially, it’s my job to keep the Add-ons ecosystem running, including community management and editorial as well as our security work. Our team tries to give developers the tools they need to succeed, but we’re balancing that with keeping bad actors out and keeping the platform safe. What’s best for the users is always a strong focus at Mozilla.

Tell us about your first stints at Mozilla and what brought you back.

Allie: I worked here in 2018 as a contractor on the Recruiting team, and I loved it. I never wanted to leave. It might sound cheesy, but I love the culture here. It feels like Mozilla’s mission of keeping the internet safe and free comes through in every interaction; the people are so open, welcoming, and kind. They’re amazing—just a pleasure to work with.

Unfortunately at the time, we didn’t have the headcount we would have needed to convert my position into a permanent role, so I ended up taking a full-time job elsewhere. But I kept in touch with my manager here and kept my eyes open for an opportunity to come back. I got a lot of experience with contingent workforce programs in that other job, so this role ended up being a perfect fit.

Philipp: I started volunteering for Mozilla in 2006, through a contest I saw on Slashdot—the person who verified the most bugs got a gift certificate to the Mozilla Gear Store. Then I ended up joining a company where I live in Hamburg that had been contributing to Mozilla projects, and eventually I became a contractor for Mozilla, working on Thunderbird. After that I spent four years at a company based in France, again on Mozilla-related projects.

One catalyst for joining as an employee was Mozilla’s strength as a distributed team. I wanted to get into management, but it was also important to me to stay in Hamburg long-term. And as many companies are learning now from the pandemic, remote work isn’t as simple as telling people to stay home and giving them laptops. You need to create specific programs and have certain processes—which, because we’ve been doing this for so long, Mozilla really understands. My team has members across the U.S., Costa Rica, Canada, England, the Netherlands, France, Serbia, and Germany, but it feels like they’re all just next door.

The other thing that gets a lot of folks excited, including me, is the sense of purpose here. As Allie said, the mission and vision definitely sets this team apart. Reconnecting with all the people I’d met over the years brought me so much joy; it felt like coming home.

Tony: Absolutely. I remember when I started here the first time, as a program manager, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I thought, “There’s no way people are this nice!” But they really are. Working in privacy and security always meant a lot to me, too, especially being gay. When I was younger, I practically lived in private browsing mode—it was a safe space where I could ask questions that I couldn’t in-person and learn. I want other people going through that experience to have the same comfortable environment.

I left in 2020, and honestly, it was because the layoffs we’d had scared me. I took a program management role in another company. But I really wanted to get into product management, and then a product manager role opened up here early this year. The hiring manager was someone I knew and wanted to work with again, so we started talking. The company’s financial situation was much better, which was reassuring. And because Mozilla had actually let me split my time between program management and product management when I was there before, I was now prepared and excited to take on a fully product management role. Plus, like Allie said, these are the best people in the world.

Tony Cinotto

Tony Cinotto

How would you describe the moment Mozilla is in right now?

Philipp: I think whenever you have a layoff, it’s important to think about what’s happened and where we’re going next—and something I really appreciated is how Mitchell, our CEO, was so frank and open in that conversation. It wasn’t sugar-coated business speak; it was real, like she was talking to friends. She took responsibility and explained what the leadership team was doing to get back on track.

They’ve also been realistic about the fact that when you lose people, you can’t just do more with less and expect the team to recover. Of course there are critical programs we need to keep up and running, but there’s also an acknowledgement that we need to take a different approach. It’s saying, “Okay, now that we’re going in this new direction, what are the things we can achieve?”

Tony: I really agree about Mitchell—she’s never reading a speech when she talks to us; she’s speaking from her heart and being vulnerable and honest. And I do think we’re becoming more strategic as a company and really working to diversify our product offering. Everyone knows Firefox, but Mozilla is more than that. Now we have these standalone products like VPN that we’ve been able to develop in parallel, and that can reach people even if they don’t use Firefox.

Before, we would put technology out and just sort of see how it did in the market. Now, we’re not afraid to talk about money—or about data. But everything is still done in a way that preserves users’ privacy and fuels that mission. We’re seeing revenue as a tool that enables us to keep going and protect more people.

Allie Mendelson

Allie Mendelson

What’s most challenging about your work?

Tony: I think privacy and security is just a challenging space, especially as you get into premium offerings. Most people care, but they still might not really understand—or even if they do, they might not be willing to take action. A lot of the solutions out there today take so much time and effort to use, and we want to solve for that. On the education front, we do a lot of work with the Engineering team, user experience team, and our partners in Research to figure out how to first help people learn about the benefits of our privacy and security products, and then give them steps they can take that are as seamless as possible. Rather than having to download a tool and configure a thing, it should be built into your experiences. If you want your email masked, for example, you just click a button.

I think our experience with Firefox Monitor, which helps users track data breaches, has been a great signal. We worked with a partner called Have I Been Pwned? that was very popular in tech but not well-known in general. We were able to use Mozilla’s brand to introduce it to more people, and we also translated it from English to 20 other languages. Now, millions of people are using it.

Allie: What’s been tricky for me is learning a new role while simultaneously figuring out what it’s going to look like—there was a lot of process in place at my previous company, and this role definitely didn’t come with a manual. But really, drawing on my prior experience is part of why I was brought in, and I’ve been given a lot of autonomy to set things up. For example, we were relying on a small group of staffing suppliers that Mozilla has worked with for a long time. But I know a ton of other options and have a pretty good idea of which companies excel in which areas, so I’ve started bringing in new vendors. I love that I have the opportunity to say, “I think this could be better. Let’s change it,” and I get so much support. It’s really cool to have that freedom.

Philipp: For me, resources can be a challenge. Mozilla competes with some very large companies, and we have to achieve similar things with fewer people. I think my team does a great job, but it’s tough sometimes to figure out how to scope our work properly and not get burned out. I will say, though, that Mozilla is a very data-driven organization. When a new director comes in and needs to understand what our team is about and why it’s important, we can show them the numbers to help explain the business impact. And I’ve noticed every time, leadership is genuinely interested in understanding our space. It’s not, “Well, you don’t have budget, so make do.” It’s, “Okay, let’s figure out why you don’t have budget and what you need.” They will happily do a deep dive to build that knowledge, which I really appreciate.

Philipp Kewisch

When you think about your career development, what’s most exciting to you?

Philipp: I’m looking forward to growing into a leadership role at some point. I like being in a position to remove roadblocks for my team, and I want to try managing people as well as resources. I just want to keep trying to be the best version of myself until I retire. Of course, moving into management when you’re remote has its challenges; in most companies, the leaders are sitting in a room together. But if there’s any company that can succeed with remote leadership, it’s Mozilla. So I’m hopeful that I can continue being home with my family, continue seeing my kid on my lunch break, and still fulfill that dream.

Tony: I’m excited to grow in this product management role and to keep learning and taking on new challenges. One thing that’s great about Mozilla is our education budget, which managers strongly encourage us to use. Every time I sit down with my manager, she’s asking about the next class I’m taking. People genuinely care about your growth, professionally and even personally.

Allie: I’m taking a course in contingent workforce program management soon, which I’m excited about. It’s virtual, but I’ll get to talk with people in similar roles at other companies and learn from what’s been successful for them, so I can bring it back here.

Beyond that, I’m excited to continue growing this program and collaborating with other teams: The Procurement team is helping us analyze where we can improve, and we’ve partnered with Talent Acquisition to see where we can help with some possible contract-to-hire options for hard-to-fill roles. As much as I didn’t want to leave after my first year at Mozilla, I think getting that outside perspective ended up being really helpful. And now that I’m back, I have the freedom to apply my experience and make us stronger.