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Large scale development culture change: Google and the U.S. government

As part of 18F’s mission to deliver effective, user-centric services focused on the interaction between government and the people and businesses it serves, we are also committed to demonstrating how Open Source and Agile-inspired methodologies are critical to an effective, efficient, modern delivery process. We believe these methods produce better software and services at lower cost than previous models, build trust and goodwill amongst citizens and the tech industry, and help to attract and retain technical talent.

However, driving adoption of these tools and practices throughout the federal government will require more than setting a good example: It will require a culture change, a fundamental shift in how people think about the development and delivery of software. Furthermore, such widespread culture change will require far more effort than 18F alone can provide.

I joined 18F on the basis of my experience driving adoption of automated testing practices at Google. As part of the all-volunteer Testing Grouplet, and later as a full-time member of the Test Mercenaries team, I helped lead the grassroots effort to spread automated testing practices throughout the company, which dovetailed with efforts to improve Google’s internal build-and-test systems. Working together over the course of five years, without any top-level corporate mandates, we effectively gave Google developers both the power and the knowledge they needed to perform effective automated testing at an unprecedented speed and scale.

In order to connect the dots between my Google experience and the challenges that lay ahead as part of my career with 18F, I produced a talk called Large Scale Development Culture Change: Google and the U.S. Government. The slides are freely available, as is the webinar video of my December 2, 2014 delivery of the talk at the General Services Administration Headquarters:

We at 18F hope that many of these ideas will resonate with like-minded “Instigators” throughout the federal IT community, as well as the broader tech industry. In the coming weeks, I will post more regarding tools and processes that we’re developing to improve our internal communications, and how we envision that widespread adoption of these tools and processes will help us cultivate knowledge and expertise throughout the federal government. By empowering developers and teams at the grassroots level to make incremental improvements in their own environments, we aim to effect lasting changes that improve the quality of services across all federal agencies, and ultimately the quality of life for American citizens.

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