AMA with Ryan Watson and Kamil Jozwiak

by | Dec 13, 2018 | Community

Welcome to the tenth post in our series of BAT Community-run AMAs.

The ongoing AMA series on Reddit is a seven-month-long event that features various guests from the Brave and BAT teams. The goal of the series is twofold: to give fans of the project an opportunity to interact directly with team members, and to give team members—especially those who operate largely behind the scenes—a chance to share their insights and offer the community a window into their work.

The most recent AMA took place on December 12th and featured Ryan Watson, IT & Operations Manager, and Kamil Jozwiak, QA Lead at Brave. The pair fielded both pre-submitted and live questions from Redditors concerning a variety of topics, like what makes them feel accomplished and the toughest part of their jobs. They spoke of the demands of software development and of their latest major feat: migrating a segment of Brave’s users from its old, Muon-based browser to its new Chromium-based architecture, known as “Brave Core”—a process that was not without its challenges.

Ryan and Kamil admitted that preparing for a major release and letting people down are some of the things that keep them awake at night. They also take user feedback very seriously. According to Kamil, “When we’re getting near a release, it’s not uncommon that I wake up around 9:30 am and work till about 5 am. Repeat that for a few days until the release goes out.” Yet, “A simple ‘Thank You’ can go a long way and the team really does appreciate those ‘Thank You’s’ when we receive them.”

Highlights can be found below, with a link to the full AMA at the bottom of this post.

The next AMA will take place on Wednesday, January 16th, and will feature Tom Lowenthal, Brave’s Privacy & Security Product Manager.

For the full list of upcoming BAT Community AMAs through March 2019, see below.

@exodu_ZZ from Twitter: What's the project's number one priority at the moment, and what is the biggest challenge?

Kamil: From a QA/Support perspective: right now the #1 priority for us is to complete the migration from the Muon browser (old) to the new browser (Core) and help/fix anyone that ran into issues while they migrated over. We did the first phase last Friday and enabled updates for ~2hrs and migrated ~30-35k users. We received a lot of good feedback over the weekend from those users and are now addressing those concerns/issues. Once we fix some of the main problems/gaps, we'll enable updates again and migrate over some more users and see how that goes.

It's pretty challenging because there's a lot of edge cases there that we can't even imagine. Corrupted profiles, weird bookmark states that the browser doesn't understand, some folks haven't updated Brave in over a year and are still using BTC wallets and not BAT wallets. So there's a lot of challenges and the team has been working really hard to address all these issues. Everyone in the company has basically been helping with support and making sure that users who might not have migrated correctly are getting help!

After we handle migration and get our user base from `muon` to the new browser, other top priorities include Sync, Ads, Improving Rewards and adding tips via "Like" buttons.

Ryan: That’s a tough question to answer. We have a lot of teams working on a lot of different things. I personally think progression on ads, sync and moving the remaining users from our old muon base to the new browser are key. The biggest challenge I hope to hit is making BAT so easy and rewarding to use that everyone will want it.

u/hericcoleric: Hi Kamil and Ryan, When BAT project (hopefully) goes viral, there will be lots of more users that may eventually need customer support. Do you expect to increase your staff to be able to manage the potential wave of service requests?

Ryan: Yes. I’m not sure if you noticed, but Brendan (our CEO) is very responsive to user input. He’ll respond to feedback on Twitter, email and any thread he sees. Not only does he respond, but he also follows up and brings this feedback to our attention internally. This is pretty great for my team; it means we are heavily user focused. I fully believe that when we grow, we’ll get the bandwidth necessary to hire more staff. For now, Matt /u/brave_support is doing a great job hitting all the questions coming in from community, Reddit and email.

Kamil: We're definitely planning on eventually adding more support staff as we get more users using the various Brave products. As u/brave_w0ts0n mentioned above, Brave encourages everyone to help when it comes to support, even our CEO and CTO can be seen on the various platforms helping out with support. We really do care what users have to say and take the feedback seriously. From a QA perspective, my team tries to spend at least an hour or so a day answering support issues and converting those into issues that developers can start working on.

u/streetride: Kamil, have you heard a lot of feedback regarding the tab windows? I can't remember the exact verbiage, but there were basically pages after you had 10-15 tabs open. I'm a tab hoarder, and I resisted the chromium move for the longest time because I have so many tabs all the time.

Kamil: Yup, we've definitely heard the feedback from the community regarding the window tabs and are planning on re-adding that feature as "opt-in". I can't give an exact timeline but it's definitely something that we're going to re-add as the community has been very clear that this is something they really liked in the older browser that's now missing. We take community feedback seriously and it's pretty obvious that folks want this back.

Brave_Support: Hi Guys!

For Kamil: Given Brave's recent transition to Brave Core, the number of large projects on the board, and smaller (but still important!) features in the queue, users can sometimes feel out of the loop as far as what to expect in the future. How does Brave plan to better/further communicate when a feature will become available or why it won't be implemented (if that is the case)? What kind of expectations are realistic for users to have at this time in development?

For Ryan: How come you love Microsoft Office products so much?

Ryan: In my early career, I had to support mostly MS Office and Windows server 2003. It was enough to make the most loyal Microsoft user cry.

Kamil: We've definitely been looking into ways to improve our communication in terms of what's coming down the pipeline. Some of the things that we've been looking into improving are:

  • Improving the release notes so they call out specific features that have been added/removed etc..
  • Improving the visibility of release notes and where they're added (Example: actually adding them to our website)
  • Having some type of page that lists each channel and where a feature is currently sitting. This way, users can follow features as they move through dev --> beta --> release
  • Do a better job explaining our release channels to the community
  • Possibly having more frequent updates/announcements on Reddit/Brave Community regarding the current progress of certain features and when they're planned on being released
  • It's not perfect, but we're definitely looking into ways we can improve. If anyone has any suggestions in ways we can make things more visible in terms of what's coming down the pipeline, definitely let me know!
  • If you're a bit more technical, you can always go through the GitHub milestones and see what issues/features are inside each one. This should give you a better idea of what's coming down the pipeline and when: https://github.com/brave/brave-browser/milestones.

u/CasualFox: Hi Ryan and Kamil, You have a working product - and arguably one that works incredibly well. However, you're trying to tackle a market dominated by well-established giants, particularly Chrome and Firefox. Granted Brendan Eich has experience in building a popular browser, but how do you plan to encourage adoption beyond the stages of early adopters and enthusiasts successfully? Especially when accounting for the fact that established services (including Mozilla) are already seeing success with pushing their own privacy-focused browsers which reduces some of the impetus to move over to a new browser?

Ryan: Make cool shit. Honestly just making stuff that is compelling to users and make a kickass browser. We aren’t restrained by advertisers, search deals and a massive organization with an agenda. There are so many cool features we can pivot into quickly if needed and I believe in Brendan and team’s vision.

u/bat-chriscat: What are some things you wish users could understand about delivering software like Brave?

Ryan: Software is hard. Browsers are even harder. I can find it very disheartening when I see posts like “it’s basically a copy of Chrome” when our developers have written insane amounts of code, worked very late hours and pushed everything through to make deadlines. I think that’s just browsers though. I saw the same thing when Mozilla switched to Australis: https://www.ghacks.net/2013/11/23/80-unhappy-firefoxs-australis-interface-mozilla-report-states/.

Kamil: As u/brave_w0ts0n mentioned, browsers are very, very complex. I remember watching one of John Carmack's Oculus keynotes and he basically said something along the lines of "I thought game code bases were large until I started looking at the Chromium codebase". Something along those lines.

It takes a lot of time, a lot of hours (late nights) to get something out to users. We're not always going to catch everything. We're going to try our hardest, that's a given, but we can't catch every single edge case/situation. Everyone's browsing habits differ. One user might run into a particular issue every single time and another might never even run into it.

Sometimes I wish the above was better understood. Don't get me wrong, when we screw something up, we want to hear from the community and we'll make sure it gets fixed. Sometimes even the next day. Sometimes it takes time to actually investigate the issue and nail down the fix. Unfortunately, sometimes an issue isn't really a priority.

Balancing all the above is really, really hard. You're not going to make everyone happy.

u/bat-chriscat: What is the toughest part of your job?

Kamil: hmmm that's a good question. Personally, it's probably 3-4 days before a major release. This is when everyone is on edge, hard decisions need to be made regarding what makes it into a build, what doesn't make it into a build. Which issues are we okay with releasing, which issues need to be addressed before we even think about releasing. As QA, we need to ensure that the issues that have been closed have all been verified, sometimes it could be up to ~100 different issues which need to be checked on Win, Linux, and macOS.

So it's definitely a stressful time and probably the toughest part of my job. Once the release date approaches, things always ramp up.

Another tough part is probably hotfixes. If we release a build that includes something we missed, we usually need to release a hotfix. Which basically means getting it out ASAP right after a major release which doesn't give you any breathing room till the next release. You basically need to get the hotfix out and the next release is right around the corner. So hotfixes are always tough.

Ryan: Letting people down. Sometimes things slip or there just isn't enough time to get everything done. I'm not sure I really answered that question well. But it keeps me awake sometimes.

Kamil: Yup, it definitely keeps me awake! Especially when we release something new and wait for the feedback to start flooding in via the various channels. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn't.

@malabastor from Twitter: Are you guys looking for any QA testers?

Kamil: Unfortunately we're not looking/hiring any QA right now but I'm sure as we get bigger, we'll need to expand the current team so definitely keep an eye out https://brave.com/jobs/. If you're interested in the project and would like to help, I would suggest reaching out to either myself or someone else on the QA team. Who knows, it might eventually lead to a job! Historically, it's easier to hire someone that's been involved for a while, knows the process, etc. The only difference is that you'll get paid for it now 🙂

So if you're really interested in QAing at Brave, I would suggest getting involved and start contributing! Or you can wait till a position opens and apply.

u/bat-chriscat: What makes you feel that you’ve done a good job?

Kamil: Personally, whenever we either release something that the community really likes and when we fix an issue for a particular subset of users that have been waiting for a fix for a while. A simple "Thank You" can go a long way and the team really does appreciate those "Thank You's" when we receive them. We're all human behind these monitors, sometimes folks forget that.

Ryan: Hitting goals and exceeding expectations.

@wearebelka from Twitter: how large are the coffee cups at your office?

Kamil: I actually work remotely from home (Toronto), but I tend to drink about 2-3 XL Tim Hortons coffees a day! I believe an XL is 24oz. I have a Nespresso machine so sometimes I'll make an espresso here and there between the XL's.

Read the full AMA here.  

Read Alex Wykoff’s AMA from November 28th, 2018 here.  

Follow the BAT Community’s Updates here: https://www.reddit.com/r/BATProject/

Upcoming BAT Community AMAs:

January 2019
Joel Reis and Sergey Zhukovsky, Senior Software Engineers

February 2019
Holli Bohren, Chief Financial Officer
Ben Livshits, Chief Scientist

March 2019
Marshall Rose, Senior Software Engineer
Catherine Corre, Head of Communications

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