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Firefox VP Departure Signals All's Not Well With Mozilla

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Maybe there's an acquisition brewing, maybe it's just personal burnout or fading passion to forge new innovations in the browser world, or maybe battling Google's Chrome is a fight Mozilla and its Firefox can't sustain and potentially win. One thing is for sure, something is definitely happening among Mozilla's leadership ranks as yet another longtime leader is departing.

Mozilla VP of Firefox Johnathan Nightingale is leaving his role as of March 31, citing he wants to spend more time with his family and get more involved in the Toronto technology sector. Mark Mayo will step into Nightingale's role. Mayo has led Mozilla's cloud services group and he'll remain in that role with a new title of VP and general manager of Firefox.

In a blog post announcing his departure, Nightingale, who joined the open source browser maker in 2007, acknowledges Mozilla had a rocky 2014 but that he's leaving for personal needs.

"No, I haven't been poached by Facebook. I don't actually know what my next thing will be," says Nightingale. "I want to take some time to catch up on what's happened in the world around me. I want to take some time with my kid before she finishes her too-fast sprint to adulthood. I want to plant deeper roots in Toronto tech, which is incredibly exciting right now and may be a place where I can help."

Nightingale urges employees not to misconstrue his leaving as a sign of doom.

"Predictable, and dead wrong; it misunderstands us completely," he posted. "When things looked really rough, at the beginning of 2014, say, and people wanted to write about rats and sinking ships, that's when I, and all of you, stayed."

Nightingale is just the latest Mozilla leader to walk out the door. Earlier this month Tristan Nitot, who had been with Mozilla nearly 20 years and led Mozilla Europe, left the company, stating he was embarking on a book project. Mozilla developer leader, Christian Heilmann, departed in January to take a job as senior program manager at Microsoft working on Web standards. Another two Mozilla tech visionaries took flight as well in the past year. Frederic Harper left in October 2014 for a leadership role at Mashape and Robert Nyman took a role overseeing developer relations for Nordic regions at Google.

In his leaving Nyman made a cryptic statement, according to a news report.

"Mozilla is going through a number of challenges at the moment, and to be honest, it's my belief that the upper management need to acknowledge and address these," he said.

Yet while it seems top leaders may not be happy, the employee community seems content. Mozilla's employees rate their employer nearly 30 percent higher than other company employees when it comes to compensation and benefits. Just yesterday an engineer who has been working at the open source technology company for five years posted the following at Glassdoor's Mozilla page: "I can't really imagine anywhere else I'd rather work."

But it may be the employee's second insight that may shed some light on why executives are leaving in a steady stream: "Heavily outgunned by competitors (though we still always seem to pull through)."

There is no denying that the year 2014 was tumultuous for Mozilla. Its CEO Brendan Eich came under fire in March for his stance against gay marriage and an ensuing Twitter backlash campaign resulted in Eich ultimately resigning in April, which set off another wave of controversy. Mozilla rehired Chris Beard, who at one time led Firefox marketing work, to take the CEO post.

Just about the same time Mozilla pulled the Metro version of Firefox for Windows 8. Then in August Mozilla found itself in the midst of explaining how an incident resulted in the release of thousands of email accounts and passwords.

In a statement regarding Nightingale's resignation CEO Beard stated Mozilla is focused on Firefox desktop and mobile browsers.

"Recently we have been exploring how we can integrate client software on desktops and mobile with cloud service approaches to evolve what Firefox can do for people. In an effort to support this vision, it's a great time to hand over leadership to someone deeply experienced in mobile and cloud services," he said.

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