The October open source hack night was a huge success, both as a community event and for the positive impact on the Midas project, providing a venue for our combined team to collaborate in person along with volunteers from the private sector and from inside government.

Midas is a marketplace of skill building opportunities which matches people to projects that they’re passionate about. The project fosters cross-team and cross-agency collaboration — you can think of it as “kickstarter for people’s time.” Not only does Midas help facilitate collaborative projects, it is all open source, which is critical to our success as three agencies (Health and Human Services, Government Accountability Office, and State Department) are working on separate deployments of the product and everyone is contributing resources to help it succeed.

More than 30 developers, designers, and government product leaders got together for an afternoon and evening of sketching, coding, writing and learning.

Positive impact

Thanks to the hack night, we had nine commits and 22 issues reported, seven of which were fixed within the week and integrated into the next release of the software. Some bugs were reported and fixed in the same evening! The usability testing confirmed some of our issues, but also offered some unexpected findings that informed future designs of the user interface. UX sketches were added to GitHub issues to resolve problems discovered in the usability testing. In addition to the direct contributions, the enthusiasm of the participants infused energy into our small team.

The event also had a positive impact on the participants themselves. Volunteers from the private sector learned about work across different agencies and new initiatives inside government.

“The Hackathon was great! I loved getting to quickly go from testing to creating a map of the issues. Then we modeled a potential solution and got practical feedback on it! We made a lot of progress in just one session! Everyone was really excited and open to the experience, and there were a lot of great ideas. I was so excited about the Hackathon that I told everyone at my office about it. I hope that we have more. Five Stars! Most fun day of work!” – Ken Ambrose, Health and Human Services

Government workers had the chance to meet people from other teams or other agencies who are doing similar work. Developers and designers using new technology and techniques sometimes feel isolated in their day-to-day work – making connections to others in the same field can be transformative. Usability testing and UX sketching was new to a lot of participants, and it was exciting to see the findings from the testing sessions so quickly transformed into new ideas.

How it worked

We split the room into two areas: on one side coding, the other side, user experience (UX). While the volunteer developers got their environments set up and worked on code or technical documentation improvements, the UX experience group worked with the Midas team to test different usage scenarios and identify a number of usability and design issues. The UX group even used the wall of the room to create a quick cluster map of the issues.

Midas contributors from across the country were on hand to answer questions and merge in pull requests, and there were even volunteers working remotely on both design and development. The hackathon was split into afternoon and evening sessions, and a core group stayed for the whole event. In between the sessions, we had inspiring presentations from two government leaders – Read Holman from Health and Human Services and Lisa Nelson from GSA – who talked about how Midas has the potential to drive positive change across government.

What’s next?

Midas development continues with everyone working collaboratively through open source. If you want to get involved, join our Google group and introduce yourself. As a developer, there are issues with the label “help wanted” that we think a new person would be able to dive in and tackle, though feel free to dig into any area that interests you.

We are looking forward to increasing engagement around our open source projects and bouncing ideas off of the greater designer and developer communities. Keep an eye on @18F on Twitter for an announcement of our next event.