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Browsing the career of Mozilla CEO John Lilly

January 3, 2009 | 12:00 pm

Mozilla CEO John Lilly

Check out how John Lilly made it.

The Stanford University-trained computer scientist is chief executive of Mozilla, maker of the Firefox Web browser, which broke Microsoft's hold on the market so it couldn't dominate the Internet the way it does computer operating systems. About 95% of Web surfers used Microsoft's Internet Explorer in 2004; now 20% use Firefox, and other companies are offering browsers that are smarter and faster than ever before.

Lilly grew up playing with technology. Lilly's father, a physics major and Air Force officer, built the family's first television and computer from kits and taught him binary and hexidecimal numeric systems. Lilly's grandfather was a rocket engineer. While in college, he got his first real job, working on an atom smasher. Being a short-order cook for a Chinese fast-food restaurant and a game monitor at a playground didn't help him figure out what the world was made of in quite the same way.

With 200 employees and a $50-million budget, Mozilla is the for-profit subsidiary of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation. Firefox is "open source," meaning users everywhere are encouraged to improve it. Its success depends largely on thousands of devoted, unpaid volunteers -- 40% of the code is written by people who don't clock in.

"If people participate in the construction of the Web," Lilly says, "it will be better and more robust." He says consumers appreciate the Mozilla mission. "It's like organic food. When you tell people about the values that go into building the product, it builds loyalty."

Read the full story here.

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Mozilla CEO John Lilly. Credit: Randi Lynn Beach / For the Los Angeles Times

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