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<Interview with Blake Ross, a lead developer of Firefox ⁄ >

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Hey guys,
I recently shot an email over to Blake Ross, one of the lead developers of Firefox and Mozilla, to see if he could answer a few questions for us, which he has kindly agreed to do. Blake started working for Netscape when he was 15 years old and played a major role in producing Firefox, which I know many of you use.

Anyways, the questions and answers are below for your enjoyment. Be sure to also check out his blog. He is currently working on Parakey, which promises to make transfering multi-media formats to the web much easier.

Enjoy and thanks again Blake!

How did you get started with programming? When did you know that this was something you wanted to do with your life?

Some kids are troublemakers, I was a "questionmaker"-I made up these mind-numbing questions and lobbed them at my parents in the car, over dinner, in the waiting room at the dentist. I always wanted to know how things worked and, especially, how we knew certain things to be true. I remember asking my dad, for instance, how we knew that the universe was infinite. What if we reached a certain point and discovered that it was all enclosed in glass, and there was nowhere else to go? I'm starting to worry that my kids will get this gene. I'm not sure I'll have the same patience my father did!

Anyhow, I think my interest in programming was a natural extension of this obnoxious curiosity. I was weaned on computers, starting with Reader Rabbit as a toddler, and at some point my questions began to cluster around this machine that took up all my time. So I began tinkering. My first "programs," if you can call them that, were a personal website and a word scrambling game that people played over AOL.

I stumbled on the open-source Mozilla project when I was 14, and that's when programming went from a curiosity to an obsession. My first fixes just reworded text and repositioned buttons, but it didn't matter: they were impacting over a million users, and that was exhilarating.

Even so, programming isn't necessary something I want to do "with my life." A lifetime is, knock on wood, a long time and I don't want to spend all of mine in front of a monitor. For my next act, I'd like to write novels and films.

How did you manage to get an internship for such a large company aged just 15?

The Netscape browser was based on Mozilla, so I was already working closely with the Netscape team when they decided to offer me an internship. The beauty of open source is that I didn't have to prove myself with a resume or an interview; Netscape knew what I could do because I was already doing it.

What was it like working for Netscape when you were just 15? Did your co-workers look at you and instantly treat you like a child? Did you have to prove yourself?

There was the occasional ribbing or awkward moment-I couldn't go to a bar with my coworkers and I needed rides everywhere. But for the most part, my age didn't play a part. Most of my colleagues were in their twenties, and as for proving myself, a software engineer has to prove himself to his team regardless of his age. That's just the nature of the engineering culture: it doesn't accept fakers.

How did you manage your time between going to school and working on Firefox?

It wasn't too difficult in high school. I kept up with the project during the day through study hall, and the homework generally wasn't difficult. Things got a bit more complicated when I moved cross-country to attend Stanford right as Firefox began to take off. I decided to take some time off from college last year to work on Firefox and my new project, Parakey, but I'll be back.

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