Harry Smith is a youth leader, a committed Mozilla volunteer, and a student in Lancaster, UK. Harry is one of the youngest Mozilla community members and has already been a contributor for many years. His work is invaluable in creating connections between youth and science. He is currently a Mozilla Rep and a mentor for Mozilla Open Leaders. He helped deliver the Youth Zone Program at MozFest in 2015, teaching young people how to read, write, and participate online. As a long-time MozFest volunteer, he has contributed to the success of the festival over the years. He is a passionate youth advocate, and his encouragement is leading other young people to become contributors to the internet health movement, tools and programs.
Can you start by telling me a bit about what you do.
I’m currently a university student at the University of Lancaster. I only, just recently, entered my second year. There, I do a course called Natural Sciences, which is a course where you got to pick from a wide range of modules from across the whole university and all of the courses provided by it, and mostly specializing in science but you can choose a few non-science ones.
From there, I decided that in the future I want to do quantum computing at a theoretical level. I decided that I would take physics and mathematics modules. Because I’d already had a clear mind of that, I’d taken just purely from those two areas and then have used extracurricular stuff to expand on that.
The biggest extracurricular thing I do is I do music at my university. We have societies which are basically clubs, and that takes up virtually all my time bar when I’m actually at lectures, which is good.
I also happen to help out Mozilla in a lot of manners, and not really one consistent version. I got involved with Mozilla through a project they run with a charity called the NCS Trust, where they got 40 young people who had taken part in some sessions and schemes which the NCS Trust had already run.
They took 40 of them and brought them to London to meet Mozilla, and to teach them how to Teach the Web, as Mozilla says. Which is essentially teaching people how to not just be passive participants in the work, but also be active and be able to create stuff.
From that, I got involved with Mozilla more. I came and helped out at MozFest two years ago. That involved hosting, helping host sessions. A lot of it was based in the EU zone, which was a up-and-coming zone in the festival at that time, and just volunteering there.
I also managed to volunteer throughout the whole festival as a usual volunteer. Since then, my involvement with Mozilla have been, as I said, very spread out and inconsistently.
I’ve space-wrangled at MozFest, in the YouthZone, and it was a lot of curating, the space itself, and choosing what sessions we had, and helping the facilitators of those sessions as best we could to make sure that their sessions went as well as they wanted, but also that they actually enjoyed the festival themselves, which is something which I think any facilitator at MozFest should be enabled to do.
I did that last year and since then I’ve got actively involved in the Open Science group of Mozilla, with which I’ve set up a science club at my university, which lasted for a while and then the end of the year at uni here a lot of the people in it left.
Currently, I’m looking at doing the same concept but moving it towards Campus Clubs. Campus Clubs are a scheme which been run across the whole of Mozilla and is incorporating a lot of the different schemes we had before which ran in universities. It opens up the floor a bit more to what we can include there.
I’m wondering if you could just get a little more specific about what the initiatives are that are included in Campus Clubs.
Mozilla has had initiatives which have been focused towards universities a lot. We had Mozilla Student Ambassadors which was essentially — we got individuals involved who would then advocate Mozilla and Mozilla’s message about openness, inclusivity, and stuff like that.
That was one scheme which then, because it was focused more on an individual level, was shifted more towards Mozilla clubs which still exists outside of universities. Any people who want to host a club which teaches tech or teaches the web in some way, they can do it under that branding.
We give them help with it. It doesn’t have to be completely under that branding. They can use their own and we just say, “You can also say that you’re involved with Mozilla.” Those are the two main ones I’ve been involved with and been around when I’ve been involved with Mozilla.
There have been a few more which I won’t go into because, obviously, I don’t know that much about them. We decided that we’d gone through a lot of changes and we wanted to make it into one thing, so we made Campus Clubs, which is what I was talking about earlier.
I went to a meeting in Berlin last September, which was a discussion about the European Community. That is where I stepped onboard trying to help out the campus club movement. I am currently doing the training to become a Campus Clubs Captain.
What that is, is you facilitate other people hosting clubs on campuses as opposed to doing them yourselves, and you are kind of the link to the rest of Mozilla for those people and try and give them guidance as much as possible.
That meeting in Berlin was also, as I said, about the EU Community because there’s a lot of pressures about it and it’s died down a bit, recently. One of the other things we’re currently trying to do is we’re trying to see how we can facilitate the creation of a UK community again, and help that grow and become a diverse place, which then will feed into things like MozFest and all of the old hubs. That’s most of the things I do with Mozilla.
Can you give me an example, hone in on a specific anecdote where you’ve really felt a sense of success?
The one which jumps to mind is a recent one we did in my music society, which was in Lancaster, which is where my uni is. We happen to have a festival which is hosted at the beginning of the academic year. It’s been going on for around eight years.
They’ve been making that into their own special thing and made their own holiday about it. They’re currently running the phrase, “Take Monday off,” when it’s not a national holiday.
My society’s been trying to get involved in that a lot in the past few years, but we actually managed to facilitate that going this year, where we had four of the bands from the university take part after only two weeks of rehearsal, and got really amazing feedback from the festival and the attendees of the festival. That has led to an agreement between us and the festival staff. We want to be back next year and they want us back.
It’s good to hear that we’ve managed to achieve something which my predecessors wanted to, but we hadn’t been able to manage properly, and also doing it in such a way that it will keep recurring and leaving that legacy of this is probably going to be a consistent thing we do throughout the next 5 or 10 years. That’s probably the biggest thing which comes to mind.
How about an example of a challenge?
A lot of my challenges come when I’m trying to organize my own individual clubs or things which are techie, or trying to introduce people to things which are kind of big issues at the moment in the world, so becoming active users of the web or stuff like the copyright reforms in the EU which are occurring at the moment.
A lot of people around where I live and a lot of people I’ve tried to get involved over the years have been very not interested, is probably the best term. When it’s something you feel is very important and you’re like, “We really should do this. Can we do this?” When people aren’t interested, that leaves you a bit deflated.
You do your first session as a club, or your first session as a study group, which is what the Open Science movement at universities is called. You do that, and nobody comes to the first session, or you only get one or two people, and you’re just like, “No, no. Why is this occurring?” I’ve tried my hardest to get as many people to come as possible.
You do that, and it’s a bit upsetting. But the thing you always need to remember when you’re doing those is that’s what happens with a lot of people, and it’s assistance which actually gets you through those sort of things. So you keep doing it and you look at what you did before and is there anything you missed, and you do the things you missed.
You encourage the people who did come, if any came, to encourage their friends to come, and you try and build up slowly. A lot of the things, especially in modern society, a lot of people are like, “It must happen now.” I’m guilty of that. Sometimes you have to take a difficult decision and step back and go, “No, this will take a while to actually take hold.”
You already answered my next question, which was, “How have you approached solving this challenge?” Is there anything other you want to add to what you said?
Sometimes a lot of it is also you actually try to find a core group of people who are as interested as you, and you get that core group to help you. There is a phrase which is, “Two heads are better than one.” I personally don’t believe in the other phrase, which is, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”
That’s only the case if you don’t manage it correctly, in most situations. If the people there don’t actually manage to communicate properly or there’s issues or politics going on behind the scenes, that’s when too many heads spoil the broth.
But the more people who are passionate and actually interested and advocate with you, the easier it is to do stuff like that. Because they have their own connections, and they have their own ideas and thoughts. And if you take those on board, you’re going to access a wider range of options.
Turning to the broadest issue in the Mozilla universe, keeping the web open and free. What, for you, is the open internet?
For me, the open internet is a place where you can share and meet people. A lot of that is, anybody can share and anybody can meet people. Those people, you may not agree with, and those people may be quite horrid people. But the only way to keep the web open is if you allow that in some ways.
To me, the open web is this kind of melting pot. It’s something where you take the good and the bad and everything, and even with all of that, you get a lot of good stuff come out. You get stuff like Mozilla, you get stuff like a lot of the open communities which we have, GitHub, the Pi Foundation. Those kind of groups are something which is from the open web, and the open web is something which facilitates that.
For me, the open web is just the sharing of ideas. It’s not the physical electronic things, it is a connection. It’s something which connects people and is a structure to build stuff on. Very much like a spider’s web, as it’s named after.
Can you tell me about a time when these open aspects have been important to you?
Yeah. When you try to meet people, or when you’re looking for people with common interests as you, especially when they’re kind of a bit niche, like quantum computing or gaming, for example, I’m a big gamer myself.
The open web in that kind of openness about discussion is actually what facilitates you meeting people, as opposed to just sitting there in your own little corner with nobody else to talk to, or nobody else to share your ideas with because nobody around you in the physical world is actually interested.
The open web has helped me meet people who are actually interested in those things, and it’s helped me meet all of the amazing people I’ve met at MozFest, all of the really great people who I consistently come back to meet again. That’s what the open web has allowed me to do. It’s actually allowed me to meet people and come up with new ideas about the future and what I want to do with myself.
Now I’d like to turn to how you got involved with Mozilla. You already touched on this. Do you have anything to add? What has it been like for you to be involved with Mozilla?
I think I went over the main points about how I got involved with Mozilla. There is the other point, which everybody complains at me for bringing up, is that I call what happened there a failed experiment on both sides [Mozilla and the NCS]. There was miscommunication between them both…
Please refresh my memory about what happened…
The NCS’s group of people who deal with between 16- and 18-year-olds and is coming of age, is focused around people growing up from being a child to being an adult, and growing into independence. They contacted Mozilla in regards to a set of skills they wanted to teach people from their charity — which was teach open web.
Mozilla at the time were doing something called MakerParties, which is, at that time, teaching people web literacy and how to use the web. It didn’t have to be that you taught people specifically about that. You could choose something you were interested in, for example, if you’re interested in photography, you teach people how you made a website to teach people how to do photography and stuff like that.
That was the session which was ran. But the NCS had a feeling that that was for non-techie people, and that Mozilla would go into the tech side of things, whereas Mozilla was looking for people who were techie but needed leadership training.
Out of the 40 people who got involved, all of them went on to do amazing things for charities for social activism, yet most of them did not manage to organize MakerParties. They didn’t even manage to start looking into organizing them.
You mean, the participants who received leadership training?
Yeah, the people who got the training. The return rate was there were 40 people, roughly, who went. From what I know, only two of us managed to start organizing things. That was because the two of us lived right next door to each other in the same town. I’m the only one who’s still working with Mozilla at this point.
I called it a failed experiment because there was a success rate of one in 40 – well, two in 40 – so a 5 percent success rate, which is all right. I managed to get involved with Mozilla with that, which is nice. But because of the way I got involved with Mozilla, I feel, a lot of the time, I’m a bit sporadic in what I’m doing.
As I said earlier, I’m doing various different things and keep switching between different parts of Mozilla I help out. My involvement with Mozilla is just I do stuff that needs to be done, but I don’t do it for any particular team. I don’t do it with any particular group of people. I help out consistently on a volunteer level, at least. My involvement is kind of as an outsider who is there to help in the moment. I’m trying to get more involved and with more consistency. Then I could say, “This is what I do with Mozilla,” which currently is very difficult to explain.
Given the involvement you’ve had over the last while with Mozilla, how would you describe the impacts of the changes? Is there anything different about you from before you got involved with Mozilla to after that you say, “Yeah, this is a result of my involvement?”
Yeah, I would say so. I’m much more in tune to the policies in tech. I’m much more in tune to the changes in copyright policy, for example. I would have been interested in that before I joined Mozilla, but Mozilla enabled me to learn in depth about these issues — and to have people to talk to who are interested in them as well.
Being involved with Mozilla has allowed me to mature my ideas in that regard, through conversing with people and working with them. It’s what Mozilla’s allowed me to do. It’s also grown me in regards to consistently having this one thing I go to every year. There are other people in there who I get along with well. There’s probably more changes but it takes a while to realize what they are.
I’m wondering if the way you organized the music festival, the success that you talked about, if any of what lead to that success comes from the leadership or just the practice you did organizing and facilitating gatherings for Mozilla.
Yeah, it probably has given me some of these key skills there. My society has a committee which is the governing body over it, I’m currently part of that. My role in it is organizing a lot of small groups. A small group at my society is any band or group of musicians who are not large enough to have their own part and just solely look after them, of which we have seven in the society. I organize band-related stuff by those seven groups or facilitate those groups to exist.
I guess that’s very similar to running a space at MozFest. You work with the people who arrange these bands and the people who are entrusted in that particular style of music or that particular interest. You help them create a group and create a space in which they can explore those. That’s very similar to wrangling a space in MozFest and helping facilitators of individual sessions to run their sessions, explore what they do, and organize it in a way where everybody has the time and the space to be able to do what they want within the time they need to do it. A lot of my skills have come from my work with Mozilla.
Do you have anything to add in terms of feedback or a time Mozilla didn’t meet your expectations or things that could be done better?
I’ve touched on this before: I don’t have my own space in Mozilla — an area where I have people who do the same stuff as me. I can’t go to other people within Mozilla and say, “Hey, this is what I do.” That’s one time where Mozilla has failed to meet my expectations: In facilitating my involvement with Mozilla.
Recently, that’s changed a lot. I’ve gotten involved with the Open Science group and my getting involved with Campus Clubs. Campus Clubs is something that is very “me” going to university — something very good to be involved with at a personal level. I can now say, “Yes, I am a Campus Club Captain. I have an official title.”
There have been other times when Mozilla has not met expectations, but they’re also very good at progressively changing that and overcoming the times when they fall short.
Have you given specific feedback?
Yeah. I’m close friends with a guy from the participation team. He’s told me, “Yeah, I don’t know where to place you in Mozilla. Your skill set is just weird.” I have an open dialogue with him and he will, obviously, bring up if it’s relevant to other people. He’s the person who invited me to Berlin in September for the EU Community stuff. I do converse and I do have open dialogue with a lot of people.
That sounds positive — because then Mozilla folks are able to understand challenges and get quick feedback.
I don’t feel bad for telling these people, “Oh, yeah. Guys, come on.” The way we chat comes up as part of the conversation and it’s not me deliberately going, “Oh, this is really bad. Don’t do this.” No.
It’s more a conversation where it comes up and we’re just chatting about, “Oh, what have you been doing recently?” and hence, that comes up.
I feel comfortable giving feedback, whether it’s negative or positive. They also don’t feel like I’m just complaining sillily, or I feel like they don’t, which is why it feels like a safe space for me to do that.
How might these stories we’re collecting be helpful to you, if at all?
It would be nice to hear about other people and their involvement with Mozilla — because not all of them are going to be techie people, which is good because my skill set is not a techie skill set. It’s more of a leadership, doing-what-needs-doing skill set. It would be good to read other people’s stories and consider I would have reacted in that situation, or how I could use that to get more involved in Mozilla, or it might influence how I suggest my involvement with those groups. That would be good.
Also, you said that you interviewed science people. It would be interesting to see how I might learn from and use those stories. I actually want to go into research myself – and I’m quite young. I want to learn more about writing CVs and applications and submitting journal articles.
Is there anything more you want to tell me or ask me?
No, I feel like I’ve probably gone off topic quite a few times :)