Chris Riley
3 min readSep 22, 2020
My desk, with hundreds of conference badges (2005–2020).

It’s time to move on.

These badges mean a lot to me. For the past few years, I had the best badge game in Mozilla’s San Francisco office, all of these small pieces of plastic and paper displayed proudly on the side wall of my cubicle, layered over each other with the non-lanyard badges clipped together in long chains.

When you hire a policy person, you’re also hiring their network. Unlike many jobs, public policy is a thing we do together. Over the past 15 years (the oldest of these is from 2005) I’ve built an incredible network, and these events have been part of that process — typically not instrumental in building the networks (at least for me), but invaluable in feeding and sustaining them. These badges tell the story of that network. Many years of RightsCon and TechProm; high-profile international events of various forms; and workshops of all different styles and scales on every topic in the internet policy portfolio. I can speak competently about most internet policy issues, but I can also name several individuals who know any specific issue better than I do. More than likely, we spoke on panels together, with me sporting one of these very badges.

Personally, I’m proud of these badges because of the growth they represent for me. I often frame public policy work as combining two different baskets of skills, a subject matter expertise analytical skillset and a relationship, speaking, influence skillset. Many companies specialize for each of these baskets and even run separate teams to fill the two functions. That makes sense, up to a point; I find that most policy people gravitate towards one or the other, and the corporate form encourages specialization in its structure. But the best policy people are those who can do both, something I strive to imbue into my reports, and frequently convey in career mentoring conversations with students and junior policy professionals. These badges reflect my personal journey from an analysis-heavy education and early career towards the balanced strength I wield today.

But this is 2020, the Year that Everything Changed.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has shut down travel and in-person conferences, replacing them with countless Zoom and Google Meet virtual gatherings. Many believe that we’ll never go back to the way things were. For the sake of our climate, that’s probably for the best; plane travel is horrible for the environment. We’ll lose something as a result of the shift away from in-person events. But I don’t think we’ll lose quite as much as we thought we would, and we’ll gain something, too, particularly in equity of opportunity. Not everyone was as lucky and privileged as I was to get to travel to so many events. I had sufficient funding from my employers, and an incredibly supportive wife who for the past 5 years took great care of our children whenever I was gone.

The changes for me are even greater than my nonexistent travel schedule. In August, I was laid off from Mozilla, part of a large wave of cuts driven by a global economic contraction exacerbated by the pandemic. I would guess that 3/4 of the badges in this picture were acquired during my 6 years and 11.5 months employed by Mozilla. My career progressed through several levels of growth working for the same company, and I’m incredibly thankful for the privilege I had to work for a great organization for so long.

My collection of badges is now off the cubicle wall where it lived and grew for so many years. They live in my shed now in a bag, itself a token from a work event. I can’t quite bear to throw them away, but I don’t really need, or want, to put them on display any more. It’s September 2020, and in many ways, I’ve moved on.



Chris Riley

Disruptive internet policy engineer, beverage connoisseur, gregarious introvert, contrarian order Muppet, and proud husband & father. Not in order.