digi peeps hunt open source chief

First among penguins

The British government’s Digital Service is looking for a chief penguin to head up open source.

GDS has created a brand-new position for an individual to conduct open source technology projects, adoption and working practices for the government's IT arm.

Moreover, the chosen candidate will be charged with forging relationships with individuals and projects outside government in the open-source community.

Until now, GDS had a number of people working in different roles taking the lead on open source. The new individual will be nestled in GDS’s technical architecture team.

The job description posted on LinkedIn stated:

“We now want to build on that work with a more concerted approach to open source (and “inner source”), building collaboration and reuse internally and making higher impact contributions to the wider open source community.”

GDS, Whitehall and government departments and wider agencies have been making increasing use of open source in the last five years.

The Cabinet Office made it mandatory for civil servants to include an open-source element in IT project proposals in order to seek funding. Projects that didn’t got kicked back. uses Linux, Apache, ngix, MySQL, Postgres and MongoDB plus all the standard languages, such as PHP and Ruby.

Government coders perform what’s become known as “coding in the open” – that is, building and releasing code under an open source license to Github.

UK gov is eager that the standard benefits of open source technology and culture rub off on official projects; that code is easier and cheaper to maintain; the software costs less; and can be developed collaboratively based on needs.

But there’s been a growing undercurrent that GDS could, and should, be doing more - but with relatively small development teams in house, GDS could include more external contributors working on fixes and new features.

Also, with government code being open source it should be easier and cheaper to extend and modify.

One of the key responsibilities of the new GDS post, therefore, will be to “Steer involvement and recognition of the open source program internally.”

The new open source chief will also be asked to encourage greater code re-use across government itself, and to "work alongside product and departmental leadership to integrate Open Source goals with GDS and wider government goals, including showing how open source practices can continue to shape the way we work.”

Another responsbility will be to “Lead and streamline all aspects of the outgoing open source process. This encompasses people processes to tooling automation.”

That will become more important as GDS’s work transitions away from the webbier projects that have captured headlines to target the decades’ old, proprietary and expensive back-office systems running the guts of government, things that some senior sources inside government call the “digital filing cabinet.”

There’s a suggestion, too, the new open source hire will also work with lawyers on the release of government code to open source.

This is something the private sector has had to tackle; code built by engineers on company time on company machines is owned by that company and cannot be simply offered to the community. It takes a change in company rules and culture to change this and permit code to be “given away.” ®

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