Brendan Eich has chosen to step down as Mozilla's CEO, a position to which he was appointed two weeks ago, following objections from both inside and outside the company. Eich is also leaving Mozilla for an indeterminate amount of time.
Eich's appointment to helm Mozilla, known for its Firefox web browser and Firefox OS among other open-source projects, created a firestorm within the company and among the developer community upon which it depends. In 2008, Eich donated $1,000 in support of Proposition 8, a California law approved by voters that banned same-sex marriage and was subsequently found to be unconstitutional.
Eich is not the only tech executive to have taken that position: In 2010, prior to becoming CEO of HP, Meg Whitman supported Proposition 8. She subsequently reversed her stance on the issue, as she noted in a post published through LinkedIn last year. And outside the executive suite, plenty of technology professionals at Apple, Google, and Microsoft, to name but a few companies, made donations in support of Proposition 8. But Mozilla's unusual status as a for-profit, public-benefit company under the non-profit Mozilla Foundation appears to bring with it a different set of expectations.
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After being named CEO late last month, Eich took the opportunity to address doubts about his commitment to social equality and to express his "sorrow at having caused pain." In a blog post last week, he promised to support equality, to engage with the LGBT community and its supporters, and to uphold Mozilla's inclusive health benefits and its antidiscrimination policies.
But that failed to mollify critics. Last week, several Mozilla employees called via Twitter for Eich to step down, because they considered Eich's donation to be inconsistent with Mozilla's mission. The departure of three board members who did not support Eich's candidacy -- reportedly for reasons other than his support for Proposition 8 -- further weakened his position.
Mozilla executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker announced Eich's decision in a blog post and issued an apology for failing to uphold organizational standards and for fueling the discord through inaction.
"Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn't live up to it," she said. "We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it's because we haven't stayed true to ourselves. We didn't act like you'd expect Mozilla to act. We didn't move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We're sorry. We must do better."
That's the assessment offered by several purported Mozilla employees and managers on Glassdoor.com, a company review and employment website. Though Mozilla gets mostly positive reviews as a place to work, three recent posts (here, here, and here) lament the company's many executive departures, its leadership vacuum, and its insular culture.
In a discussion of Eich's departure on Hacker News, there's a similar mix of opinion, with some arguing that Eich shouldn't be punished for his political views. But others approve of the outcome. One person commenting under the username wtallis said, "Eich went beyond merely having and expressing an unpopular opinion. He took action to support the effort to have his opinion forced upon others by the government. He couldn't restrain himself to respectful disagreement, and that's why he's suffering more severe consequences."
Another possible consequence may be greater usage of shell companies and front organizations to shield political donors who may seek high-profile positions.
In a blog post Thursday afternoon, Eich said he is "leaving Mozilla to take a rest," to travel with his family, and to look at technical problems in a new light. He did not state explicitly whether his departure is permanent; he appears to have left the door open to continued involvement with Mozilla by noting, "I will be less visible online, but still around."
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