Open Source Strategy Research Blog

Updating business strategy for a world embracing open source

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pitch to Mozilla for Role of Director, Webmaking Science Lab

Today I made a pitch to my friends at Mozilla for the role of Director of the Webmaking Science Lab.  Details of the position are posted here:

Here’s the pitch I made.  Feedback is welcome.  I hope they find it as interesting as I think it is! 🙂


To My Friends at Mozilla:

I am very excited to apply for the position of Director, Webmaking Science Lab.  I have always had my foot half in academia and half in the world of the open web and related technologies, and to date I have struggled to find a position that was a good match for my unique mix of skills and experience.  This position appears to fit the bill perfectly!  I believe I am well suited for the position for 3 reasons: 1) I have close connections to academia; 2) I have both technical and communication skills; and, 3) I’m passionate about the potential of the Web.  I’ll elaborate briefly on each.  I’ll then wrap up with a pitch that I hope you will find interesting and well-suited to the broader mandate of the position.

I have taken a somewhat unique path in academia, which makes me a surprisingly good fit for this role.  I have undergraduate degrees in computer systems engineering (and I’m a professional engineer) and psychology.  My Master’s degree is in technology and innovation management.  I’m currently completing my PhD in strategic management, focusing specifically on open source strategy (more on that in the pitch).  The benefit of this winding path is that I am familiar with the different ways research is done in different academic fields.  In engineering, research is often applied, focusing on modeling and experimentation.  Precision is everything and replicability for auditing and review is essential.  The tools used for research in engineering are often so sophisticated that they are custom-made by software companies that specialize in those niche areas.  Yet, I was always surprised when one of my advisors wasn’t familiar with basic things like versioning systems or databases or regexes.  They were often very impressed by my basic hacks in PERL (at the time!) that probably looked like something from the obfuscated PERL contest to their eyes.  So I recognize the gap in awareness of the tools out there even in the field of computer engineering.  In psychology research, the focus is very different.  Much research is done with human subjects and the tools needed are mostly for tracking and analyzing data.  Here matrix programming (with R, for example) becomes crucial.  I’ve been (peripherally) involved with some development of R modules for teaching and research.  Most psychology (and related field) researchers have a limited technical background and are often intimidated by complex tools. Here, the key is finding a teaching approach that promotes understanding and simplicity, focusing on particular tasks, rather than first principles and details (which the engineers love!).  Finally, my Master’s and PhD research has been on the business side.  Business schools house a unique brand of social science researcher that is focused on corporate phenomena, big data, surveys, and case studies.  There is as broad a difference in the research methods and associated tools used by sub-disciplines in business such as marketing, strategy, accounting, finance, and organizational behaviour, as there is between engineering and business.  I have conducted both qualitative and quantitative research in these areas and understand the restrictions and barriers to entry that these researchers face.  In summary, not only do I have tight-connections to academia, but I also have a broad cross-section of familiarity with different academic fields and the specific needs, constraints, and challenges of each one.

With regards to my skills, on the technical side, I have extensive industry experience, working for startups, large enterprise, government, and even founding my own companies.  I have done professional software development, systems administration, project management, web development and admin, and much more in Unix (HP-UX), Linux (many flavours), and Windows (many flavours) environments.  For my undergraduate project, I developed a real-time desktop versioning system using the rsync algorithm (looked a lot like what Dropbox is today, though this was nearly 10 years ago. :).  More details of my technical skills are in my resume.  But, all the technical skills in the world are of no use if one cannot communicate and teach.  I have focused much of my personal development effort over the past decade into communication and teaching skills.  I learned to teach at a young age teaching Taekwondo to students from the age of 5 to 75.  The principles of teaching kicks and punches in Korean to both children and adults alike, and having them understand the lessons, are not so different from teaching technical skills to those who are unfamiliar with, and sometimes intimidated by, technology.  This past year I also taught a class of undergraduates at the Schulich School of Business.  I received very positive reviews (available on request) from my students about the quality of my teaching.  They particularly liked my style of engaging and soliciting participation, rather than lecturing.  In summary, leadership requires more than technical chops.  It also requires communication skills.  I have a balance of both that fits really well with this role.  If you’d like to see a sample of my teaching style, I gave a presentation this past October at the 2012 Free Software and Open Source Symposium at Seneca College in Toronto on Open Entrepreneurship that was well received by the audience and colleagues ( ).

I have been passionate about the Web and its potential since it first caught my eye in 1995. I was connecting to BBSs on a 2400 baud dial-up modem and finding an open telnet relay that allowed you to use a Lynx text-based browser to view pages, well, that was unbelievable!  I followed closely as the web and web browsers developed in parallel.  The initial release of Netscape’s source code to form the Mozilla project was a very important moment.  I was working at Nortel Networks at the time, doing Apache web server administration, and I saw this move as an explosion of potential for the Web.  Not too long later, I attended the Mozilla 1.0 (not Firefox 1.0 🙂 release party in Ottawa and began meeting some of the talented minds behind the project.  Today, I’m fortunate to be friends with some of the brilliant people who continue to explore the potential of the open web, including employees of Mozilla, employees of other major projects like Ushahidi, Eclipse, and, and many entrepreneurs, programmers, and users in diverse open communities who continue to push the Web platform forward.  I have been involved in advocacy for copyright, privacy, and technology reform (spam, DRM, rootkits, telecom, wireless spectrum, etc.) with the Canadian government (I have great stories! 🙂 and have positioned my own research to help bridge the business and technical worlds so that businesses can better understand why the open web and open collaboration are not only the “right” thing to do, but are also good for business.  It would be a privilege and an honour to be able to work with the Mozilla Foundation (and Sloan Foundation) to help promote these goals by connecting to academic communities around the world and showing them how to unlock this potential.

We come now to the pitch.  Here’s what I propose:  I am currently planning out my dissertation work for my PhD.  My current research focus has been on Mozilla itself.  I have been interviewing employees of Mozilla and other participants in the open web ecosystem to learn more about what they do and how they do it.  I have also requested and received a dump of the entire Bugzilla database and am planning on analyzing it in order to better understand the nature of corporate contributions to Mozilla projects and how knowledge flows between companies.  You can read a bit about that project in the Bugzilla post (  A broader outline of that research plan can be found on my research blog (  So where am I going with this?  I propose to do my dissertation research in-vivo at Mozilla.  What better way to understand a company than by following ethnographic principles and learning from the inside?  As part of the Webmaking Science role, one of my major activities would be to carefully document exactly how I went about my research, what tools I used, what analysis techniques I selected and why, such that my experiences can be documented and leveraged by other researchers.  This idea occurred to me when I was chatting with friend at Mozilla about my Bugzilla database analysis and they were very curious about how I would go about analyzing the huge 8GB SQL file that I have.  It’s challenging to work these things out, for academics and practitioners alike.  I could provide a live, real-time model of all of the lessons that the Webmaking Science Center is trying to teach while conducting research on Mozilla itself from within.  I would be a living example in the organization of how to conduct academic research using all of the tools and skills that the Center is promoting to other researchers!  Mozilla has always been about walking the talk.  It selects employees who are living examples of the principles that it promotes.  I would fit that bill by being a representation of how academic research can be conducted using all of the Software Carpentry resources (and adding new ones along the way!).  Further, the outcomes of my research would be of even greater benefit to Mozilla and our open web goals as I am bound to uncover even more insights while collaborating with people as a member of the organization.  It is my hope that the outcomes of my research will eventually attract further grants to promote the activities of the Mozilla Foundation by tying them more closely with both academic research and business practice.  By working within Mozilla, I could steer my research as it evolves to remain continuously relevant to the organization while helping the Foundation select from the many paths it could follow as its mandate evolves.  My expertise in strategy and technology management combined with my research into the many layers of the organization and the ecosystem in which it is embedded are the right combination needed to drive the Mozilla Foundation’s mandate forward.  I hope you share my excitement and enthusiasm about the potential here!

To wrap up: I have a unique profile that balances a cross-section of academic background (engineering, psychology, technology, business, etc.), with technical skills from work experience (enterprise, government, entrepreneurship, etc.), and communication skills (from writing, teaching, conference presentations, etc.).  I have extensive experience liaising with academics and understand the motivations and constraints of several fields.  I have project management experience and know how to lead initiatives and build their success.  I am fluent in academic, technical, and business languages, and, perhaps most importantly, know how to translate between them!  My PhD research pitch provides a unique opportunity to have an in-vivo example of the Webmaking Science Lab activities, documented and developed over time to better understand Mozilla as an organization and shape and evolve its mandate, potentially attracting more funds and corporate interest in the future.  I have several friends in the Mozilla community and in other FLOSS communities in Toronto, Ottawa, and internationally, and would fit in well in the Mozilla Toronto office (I regularly hang out in the community space there anyways! :).

I hope you find me a curious and interesting candidate for the position!  I would be delighted to discuss these and many other ideas that I have for the program with you in more detail in person, on the phone, or over the web (I can be found in 8 different Mozilla IRC channels (#toronto primarily), on Twitter (@mekki), LinkedIn, Skype (mekkim), Facebook, and a dozen other web presences).  I can also provide you with references that can attest to my passion and suitability.

Thanks! ^_^



posted by Mekki at 4:17 pm  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Investigating Knowledge Flows in Meta-Organizations

Here’s the shape of my current dissertation plans.  Feedback welcome!

Is it good or bad for firms to participating in meta-organizations?  The literature has not yet resolved this issue and the objective of my research is to fill this gap by investigating how a firm’s participation in meta-organizations affects its ability to capture value from its knowledge resources. Meta-organizations, which “comprise networks of firms or individuals not bound by authority based on employment relationships” (Gulati, et al., 2012: 573) have received increased attention in the literature recently as they appear to be governed neither by market, nor hierarchy, nor network forces (Demil & Lecocq, 2006). This focus has brought old strategy debates on the boundaries of the firm (Coase, 1937; Williamson, 1975) back into the spotlight because the strategic interactions (Kuk, 2006) that take place between firms during participation inescapably lead to knowledge flowing both into and out of the participating firms. According to the knowledge-based view of the firm, which suggests that firms exist because they are better than other organizational forms at exploiting knowledge to produce useful outcomes (Grant, 1996), there are both incentives and disincentives to extending the knowledge boundaries of the firm by participating in meta-organizations.

On the one hand, extending firm knowledge boundaries can lead to knowledge spillovers to competitors (Dyer & Nobeoka, 2000), which undermine one of the cornerstones of competitive advantage by allowing imitation of the valuable knowledge resource (Barney, 1991; Peteraf, 1993). It may also be pointless to participate in meta-organizations if a firm cannot exploit the knowledge that it learns due to limited absorptive capacity (Szulanski, 1996), rigidities and values within the firm (Leonard-Barton, 1992), or the tacitness of the knowledge (Nonaka, 1994). On the other hand, extending firm knowledge boundaries can improve product development quality (Matusik, 2002) and improve a firm’s ability to internally transmit knowledge (Kogut & Zander, 1992). It may also give a firm access to knowledge that it might not have been able to create on its own (Goldman & Gabriel, 2005). Further, the value lost to competitors in knowledge spillovers might be smaller than the value that firms capture from participation, leading to a net value increase (Casadesus-Masanell & Llanes, 2011). In addition, the net value of participation may be determined by the complementariness of a firm’s resources and capabilities rather than the location of the knowledge boundaries of the firm (Dyer & Singh, 1998).

My research addresses this conflict in the literature by investigating three specific research questions: 1) Which characteristics of meta-organizations are optimal for the development and sustaining of knowledge-based competitive advantage by participating firms? 2) What governance forms and norms of interaction in meta-organizations promote optimal levels of knowledge-exchange between participants?  3) How long and in what ways must a firm participate in a meta-organization in order to generate valuable, exploitable knowledge resources?

The management literature has been unable to address these specific questions despite the availability of large databases that track open collaborations, which are a type of meta-organization comprising “any system of … production that relies on goal-oriented yet loosely coordinated participants who interact to create [something] of economic value, which is made available to contributors and non-contributors alike” (Levine & Prietula, 2012: 4). These databases are the ideal data source for exploring these research questions as the knowledge-sharing routines (Dyer & Singh, 1998) in open collaborations are different from those in traditional alliances and networks (Gulati, 1998) and direct inspection of all of the knowledge flows that take place during the collaborations is possible. Industry-standard databases such as COMPUSTAT only track financial performance and related data. There are no data about the specific knowledge-sharing activities of companies in particular collaborations. By contrast, the open collaboration databases that I have access to from the Mozilla Foundation (known for the Firefox web browser), the Eclipse Foundation (known for their suite of programming tools), and the Linux kernel (the core of the operating system run by over 90% of enterprises) collectively contain over 30 years’ worth of detailed interactions between some of the largest Fortune 500 companies (O’Mahony & Ferraro, 2007). There are more than 20 million unique data points that exhaustively codify all of the knowledge flows between both firm- and individual-level participants throughout the entirety of the collaborations and that have not previously been analyzed in management research. One possible reason that these databases have been overlooked is that they are technically complex and require expertise to access and interpret, resulting in previous research remaining mostly limited to the field of computer science. My unique combination of computer engineering, management and statistical analysis training enables me to access and analyze these extensive longitudinal panel data sources for management research.

This research will enable three important theoretical advancements. First, it will improve the accuracy of theoretical models of the relationship between knowledge creation and social forces, answering the call for such research by Nonaka and von Krogh (2009). Second, it will provide the first empirical investigation of lower-level knowledge sharing constructs in the context of governance mechanisms in meta-organizations, answering the call by Foss, et al., (2010). Third, it will improve the current limited understanding of the competitive implications of extending the knowledge-based boundaries of the firm (Lichtenthaler, 2011), answering the call by Bogers, et al., (2010).

This research will advance the practice of strategic management in three ways. First, it will enable managers to more accurately predict the outcomes of their firm’s participation in meta-organizations. Second, it will offer managers guidance on coordinating knowledge-sharing relationships with stakeholders outside traditional firm boundaries, in particular lead users (Dahlander & Frederiksen, 2012) and competitors (von Hippel & von Krogh, 2003). Third, it will improve the innovative potential of firms (Jacobides & Billinger, 2006) by demystifying an option for external collaboration that was impossible before the recent surge of novel meta-organizational forms (Benkler, 2002).

posted by Mekki at 3:12 pm  

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