Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gov Developers v. Industry Developers

What do our private counterparts in the commercial world have as an advantage that we in government agencies don't? Flexibility, brains, money?

One of the reasons why open source development is so successful, is that self-employed developers or those that work for private, for-profit, organizations, tend to be more prone to sharing, especially if that minimizes the amount of work or maintenance they must perform. Having to deal with steep deadlines, market pressures and competition, perhaps, makes freelance and industry developers more resourceful in adopting and co-opting solutions.

On the other "side" - government is notorious for being slow, and immune to competitive forces, so a common reflex is to be distrusting of community-driven development... our knee-jerk reflex is either to build from scratch ourselves, or to buy something big, ready-made and expensive. What does this result in, in the end - the relative professional isolation of the government software developer.

Gov developers tend to mix less with their peers, their employing organization typically does not force them regularly to refresh their skills. On the contrary, most of the time the government worker needs to beg for training and participation and professional forums, and justify the expense, due to the lack of training and travel budgets. Or, training and learning is usually "silo-"ed -- provided by the companies that the government purchases software from - big names, we all know, that dominate the market, and that naturally favor their own solutions and their methods of development/integration/implementation.

Everyone knows, exposure to diversity contributes greatly to learning and boosts one’s skills. Are open-source technology communities the cure to the gov developer blues, sentenced to isolation and inertia by the bureaucratic environment in which she works?