As a developer and a citizen, I am excited about open source in the US Government. I recently joined 18F, a new digital services delivery team within the federal government, part of our General Services Administration (GSA). Last week, we announced our open source policy where our source code is developed in the open from day one as public domain (CCO).

As a citizen, I believe open source makes best use of our tax dollars:

  • Leveraging open source tools & libraries is not just about saving licensing costs, it saves time. We can evaluate a library or tool by actually using it, without up-front analysis and a time-consuming procurement process.
  • New contractors can pick up a project easily, which will drive competition and reduce switching costs.
  • Different agencies in federal, state and local governments can easily leverage each other’s code through coder social networks like github. This happened recently with the 18F Answers platform, based on Honolulu Answers, developed by Code for America, and now being leveraged to improve the immigration experience (USCIS).

As a developer, open source encourages me to apply best practices: effectively communicating the impact of the code I write making choices that will yield high quality, secure code, and embracing volunteer contributions that are aligned with the project’s mission.

On a personal level, it is an amazing professional development opportunity. A long time ago, a conversation with Rob Savoy, forever changed how I thought about the personal impact of developing open source software. He said that, with rare exception, all the code he had written was available to him in any future project. Imagine if that were true for me… if the source code of After Effects, Flash video, and Shockwave (or their open source equivalents in a parallel universe) were available on my next project.

This is even more compelling for the now-defunct proprietary software I’ve create. Adobe ScreenReady turned any document into a high quality image with anti-aliasing and alpha channel (turning the “paper” into transparency). PACo/QuickPICS enabled long-format synchronized audio-video off CD-ROM (which at that time had a comparable bandwidth to a 14.4 modem). Both these products didn’t make sense to continue from a business perspective, but had passionate customers and could have evolved into powerful tools or libraries accelerating innovation in both private and public sectors.

At 18F the software we develop is for the people and by the people. Open source gives us a firm foundation to make a lasting impact for our country and for the world.

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