A guest commentary by Pina Sembill
Pina Sembill is a 14-year old student at a bilingual English and German secondary school in Berlin who completed a two-week internship at Mozilla from June 3-14, 2019.
When I first walked into the Mozilla office to begin my 9th grade internship two weeks ago, it wasn’t really the first time, because I have visited Mozilla twice before: Once, to visit the new Mozilla office in Kreuzberg, Berlin earlier this year, and once about two years ago, when Mozilla hosted a Girls’Day event in 2017 to introduce girls to jobs in industries that are mostly male.
This gave me the great idea of doing my internship at Mozilla. I knew I wanted to come back some day. I was so interested in all of the topics. I remember getting to know more about add-ons and looked at one in particular. It could replace words, selected by me, with their matching emoji. In addition, I learned about password security, and the basics of programming.
Besides this, I was so fascinated by the atmosphere in the office. Everybody was so friendly and open, and the fact that everybody ate lunch together really impressed me.
A journey across Mozilla
On the first morning of my internship, I was a bit nervous, but primarily full of excitement. I arrived and almost immediately afterwards we went on the balcony overlooking the river to do yoga. I was told to bring my yoga clothes, so I knew this would happen, but I didn’t expect it to be so hard, but still so enjoyable. We were just a few people (five, I think) stretching, sweating and groaning, but it was so much fun.
This time during my internship, I got the chance to dive into the wide range of different jobs at Mozilla more deeply. I conducted interviews with different people from different teams. I talked to Ola Gasidlo and learned about her job as a Senior Software Engineer for Mozilla Dev Tools, her engagement, her work with the OpenTechSchool and how programming works. I got to know Maya Richman, who is a Mozilla fellow and works with the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. She told me about her research and the security needs of LGBTQI groups on the internet, and how she helps LGBTQI groups by making sure that they have a network to trust and to reach out to for help.
Last but not least, I interviewed Andreas Wagner. Andreas introduced me to the world of Firefox add-ons and told me about how he works to combine the security and freedom of developers with maximum safety, and about how to recognize harmful add-ons. Each of these interviews was truly so interesting, and I learned so much. The list of experiences goes on.
I worked with the Internet Health Report Team (Solana Larsen, Kasia Odrozek and Stefan Baack) and attended a launch event of the German version of the Internet Health Report. Moreover, I helped Michelle Thorne with an evaluation for a project called “Reimagine Open”, with a survey that asks 19,000 people about the internet and its challenges nowadays.
If I could change one thing…
At the end of my interviews, I always asked the same question: “If you could change one thing about the internet nowadays, what would it be?” If I were to answer this question myself now, I would say, that I would try to change the centralization of control, because nowadays the internet is mostly controlled by big tech companies, who are not interested in your privacy but more likely want to sell your data.
I knew about this issue before, but especially after reading the survey responses, and understanding how other people view these issues –– and really thinking and talking about it with Michelle, I noticed how big of an impact this has, and how it affects the openness of the internet and the internet in general. This is just one thing that worries me about the internet. Another big problem is that all of these big companies that are trying to close the Web, are out to make profit for themselves and not to watch out for the health of their users.
Moreover, I learned about the online harassment female journalists have to deal with, especially if they are also people of color. This is not just a problem because harassment is indefensible, but also because it sends a wrong message that women and minorities have no right to a public voice.
Between all these problems there still are flickers of hope, thanks to non profit organisations including Mozilla, who try to keep the internet healthy and open.
An eye-opening experience
Mozilla really opened my eyes to how important it is for the internet to be healthy, fair, privacy-respecting, diverse, available to everyone in the world equally and especially open. It opened my eyes through talking to people working at Mozilla, reading the Internet Health Report, working on the survey “Reimagine Open” and reading the opinions of people all around the world.
All in all, looking back at the past two weeks, I can say that I have learned so much and gained so many new experiences and impressions. In addition, the internship was really inspiring, because the people I got to know, work so hard on their job and really stand for what they do. I noticed that they truly love their work, and that is something I really look up to.
Two years after my first introduction to Mozilla in Berlin, I can say that nothing has changed in my view. I mean, yes, Mozilla moved into a much bigger office and gained a lot of new staff members, but besides that everybody still eats together, the atmosphere in the office is still really relaxed and so nice, and most importantly, everybody is still so friendly, funny and open.
Thank you at Solana, Martin, Kasia and Michelle for putting so much effort and time into my internship. Thank you for organizing everything. Thank you Maya, Ola and Andreas for taking the time for my interviews and a big thank you to everyone being so nice and open to me and making this such a cool experience!