Yesterday was intense, and I expect nothing less today. Here’s what one day in the life of a CfA fellow looks like during month one.
8 a.m. -ish
Still trying to figure out the commute to my new headquarters for the year. Arrived a bit early so had time to invest in setting up some filters to manage the growing inbox. How do I get more email here from <40 people than my previous job where there were >60k people? It’s exciting to be part of such an active bunch!
Our first speaker for the day, Tom Steinberg, video conferenced in from the UK. He’s the architect of two popular apps, Fix My Street and What Do They Know? a Freedom of Information request site. He had a bit of advice for the 2013 fellow cohort.
- Do less…and try and get everyone around you do do less. Don’t boil the ocean.
- Speak out for the end users.
- Be prepared to navigate some big, cumbersome IT systems.
- Be the nicest, most empathetic person in the room.
Tom also requested that we collaborate as much as possible, and resist the urge to build things completely from scratch. Reuse and build products that are sustainable long after the fellowship ends.
Second set of speakers were from Government Digital Services, whose charter is to enable the UK government to “offer world-class digital products that meet people’s needs.”
Mike Bracken (Executive Director), Ben Terrett (Director of Design), and Emer Colman (Deputy Director) all talked about the importance of design in government. One of the more interesting success stories is the set of design principles, primary of which is “Start with needs — user needs, not government needs.” It’s fascinating to hear a government agency say that when a lot “hot” silicon valley startups/companies do not start with user needs.
One of the other success is visualizing data to drive design decisions. Their map of transactional data is a great example. It shows volume of intent, and helps focus effort.
12 p.m. -ish
Lunch. Catered sandwiches from ? Cookies were larger than the sandwiches for some reason. Caved. Going to have to make a more concerted effort to hit the gym if the tide of sweets doesn’t ebb.
Karl Fogel then gave the 2013 cohort a sort of “Open Source 101” class. A LOT of information, but one of my favorite take-aways was his suggestion to build out our projects at a “linear participation slope.” In essence, make minimal investments early with minimal payoffs. Grow and build, avoiding large step functions. This also helps to reduce barrier to entry for potential collaborators if not joining at the beginning.
Each city team is responsible for a completing a mini-project for the month of January. Mick Thompson, Code for America’s engineer in residence, set the stage and got us to start brainstorming projects. We will only get 20 person-hours for this project, so I’m curious to see what we can deliver.
Participated in an impromptu Git/GitHub learning session for those of us who have never used (including myself), facilitated by Ezra Spier. For the record, Git training videos have fresh and funky music.
5 p.m. -ish
Catch up time. Will leave soon to grab dinner and go to Xerox PARC to hear Cyd Harrell speak on “Fearless Mobile Research” at the monthly BayCHI symposium. Nothing like a full day of learning!
Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.