Better Know a WebDev: James Socol

Welcome back to our Better Know a WebDev series! This week, we’re looking at, well, me!

What do you do at Mozilla?

I’m the Community Platforms Manager. I’m here to help the people on the Support, MDN, and Community Tools engineering teams turn out great products and grow as engineers. Since I get to work with a number of different projects, I have the opportunity to look for ways these applications can work together and create a better experience for our users and better data for our engineers.

Any fun side projects you’re working on?

Lately I’ve been working with Django and MongoDB for fun, and trying to help out in that part of the Django ecosystem where I can. I also maintain a few libraries, like Bleach, and write useful—or useless—IRC bots from time to time.

James' favorite topic.

As a proud resident of New York City, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to push Mozilla further into the New York tech scene, mostly by giving talks on things like continuous deployment, building really large scale web apps, and even why Open Source Software is so great.

How did you get started in web development?

A friend of mine showed me his Geocities page, back when you still had neighbors on Geocities. I jumped in, found a tutorial and went from there. In college, I got a job doing some app development and maintenance that exposed me to a bunch of languages and working with a team, where I quickly learned the phrase “best practices.”

How did you get involved with Mozilla?

I started using Firefox when it was still Phoenix, and being a user was about the limit of my involvement until 2009, when I applied for a job here.

One of the things that initially surprised me was that all of our websites are Open Source, but then I realized there was no other way for web development at Mozilla to operate. In the past couple years, I think we’ve improved a lot here by being more outgoing members of the Django and Python communities, and we have some regular contributors now.

What’s a funny fail or mistake you’re willing to share?

Well, there was that one time I ran an UPDATE statement without a WHERE clause on a production database. I think we all have one like that.

At Mozilla, the most epic was probably the SUMO 2.0 release, which took a solid 12 hours, took down a cluster serving over a dozens sites, and—at around 4am, a few hours after we thought we were in the clear and had all gone to bed—fell over, requiring a roll back and for us to do it again a week later.

I learned a lot in that week. And now whenever someone in our IT group calls me, the ringtone sounds pretty urgent.

What’s one thing coming up that you’re excited about? What makes it exciting?

2012! Community Platforms is a new group, and Community Tools in particular is a new team, and I am really looking forward to seeing what we accomplish in 2012. Growing the Support and MDN teams and building the Tools team are going to be fun challenges. One of my goals is to start turning our siloed applications into platforms to empower our users and developers, and I can’t wait to see what new, innovative ideas our community builds on them.