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In a world of rapid technological advances, however, those schooled in software development find the process to be practical, productive, and even exhilarating.
“When you work on an open source project you’ve got lots of eyes on it,” said Sam Ellis, a solution architect with Trinity Technology Group in Sacramento. “That means the code quality and its security quality are high. There are even robots on open source sites that crawl around looking for security vulnerabilities and tell you about them.”
The initial bottom line is a methodology where many unpaid reviewers make the finished product more effective, more beneficial to all.
But, what about the rogue or simply mischievous developer whose intent is to derail the project? Interestingly, some suggest that creative people, working collaboratively on complicated materials, seem to have a uniform synergy – even if they remain anonymous or unrewarded – in an open source setting.
“Economists say it’s overwhelmingly clear – challenge and mastery, along with making a contribution (move people toward) a purpose motive,” says lawyer Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In his book, he asserts that positive human motivation is largely intrinsic, and that old models of motivation, such as rewards or fear of punishment, often repel innovation.
“Why are these technically sophisticated, highly skilled people – who have jobs – doing equally, if not more technically sophisticated work – not for their employer, but for someone else – for free?” Pink asks rhetorically, and then answers his own question. “’Cause it’s fun and you get better at it. And that’s satisfying.”
Sam Ellis agrees. “From a software development perspective, if you have an open source project where people are intrinsically motivated to develop a good product and work on it together collaboratively, you’re going to get really good stuff.”
And because by design the open source product is freely available for anyone to use, Ellis says its development is a boon to government agencies.
“Government IT departments are not typically a software development shop first and foremost. Their broad user base steers their focus toward connectivity, contract management, and customer service,” said Ellis. “If you’re focused on making operations as smooth as possible, there isn’t a whole lot of time left to focus on the latest progress in software development.”
California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, believes government is rife with this institutionalized behavior. While serving as Lt. Governor, he authored Citizenville, his vision on, as the book states, “how Americans can transform their government…in today’s networked age.”
“Government’s delay in implementing new technologies is a big problem, but not a new one,” Newsom writes. “The sad truth is that the history of government is a history of technophobia.”
At minimum, Newsom suggests configuring the mindset within public agencies so interaction with constituents will be consistent. “One-way (communication) is dead. Two-way is the future.”
This, he believes, will afford government access to technological advances. “The future is sharing – open data, open participation, open source, open everything.”
Ellis believes that if government can develop a core competency of evaluating open source projects and determining which ones will have long-term support, then the adoption of the concept could really take off.
“Open source is a huge benefit to the State because their IT departments can have access to a library of really good software that people are building, maintaining and testing, and they care about its security protocols. And the State can just use it for free!”