Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fitting People Into The Open-Source Equation: Observing Drupal4Gov 2013, Day 1

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." 
Ferris Bueller

I wanted to try and write this while the experience was still fresh in my mind. So I hope that you'll forgive me if the words seem raw and unpolished. It's my way of respecting what is going on in the world of government, technology, and open data: Everything I thought I knew is not-so-slowly going by the wayside.

There isn't a big crowd here this year. I'm actually surprised that there aren't more people (especially when you consider that there is free food). It's probably because we're in Bethesda at the NIH, rather than in midtown DC like last year (at Commerce). But the energy level is very high. It's like a drumbeat charging slowly and steadily throughout the place.

Not only that. The geekery is truly amazing. I like to think that I am geeky. In the normal world this is true. But observing the interchange here is something else. The banter is just going to a whole other level. I can follow it conceptually. But the speed at which people seem to be thinking and conversing back and forth is much faster than even last year. Something is happening.

It's about the meta-conversation. 

Take one talk, "White House API Standards," with Bryan Hirsch. It was critical subject matter but for me the essence was not the subject matter. It was the President joking "What the heck is an API?" and then making the White House a platform for throwing open the gates to even the most seemingly esoteric computer wizardry.

Nobody owns this house, but everybody owns it. Once you open the gates, you can't close them up again. The people have the power.

Another talk, "Growing Communities Around Your Code," featured GitHub's Ben Balter talking about how to foster growth rather than "manage" it (i.e. shut people down). Everything about the discussion showed how far and how fast we have come in such a very short time. Old-fashioned blogs are so uncool just like telling people what to do is. 

We have to figure out how to grow people. There are new challenges associated with a work environment where some people get paid to do open-source work during the day while others are laboring deep into the night for not a cent, just contributing. And all the variations of work arrangements in between.

There are no models for these discussions, at least not that I am aware of. 

(You can see the whole thing online here in Prezi and I encourage you to check it out.)

Everyone seemed pretty happy here today. I felt good just being around this vibe. It made me want to learn more, and I truly felt my age and my ignorance. I don't mind admitting to being a beginner of sorts in this brave new world. I'd rather admit it, start from where I am, embark on an unpredictable new journey.

* All opinions are my own.