May 15, 2013 - 12:14 pm
By Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer, and Eric Spry, Deputy GIO | Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis

We recently experimented with a new idea at FCC: giving a small team 24 hours to create something new on their own. We called this DevEx Day (referred to as either DevEx or FedEx Day). The name is a play on the brand name FedEx, where products need to be delivered in 24 hours, combined with a developer day. This innovative approach arose from the tech industry and has expanded into other sectors. The idea is that for 24 hours, participants work on something new and different from their normal work. It is a focused day of learning new skills or honing existing ones, guided only by the participant’s interest. The day starts with each team member explaining his or her project to the group. The next day, members present their finished products, which are reviewed by the group. And like its original namesake delivery company, participants must absolutely positively deliver overnight.

This approach forces participants to focus intensively. Collegial competition adds the impetus to “deliver”. During the DevEx Day, no meetings are scheduled, no calls are taken, and email stays closed for the team.

The results were terrific. Each member of the entire team delivered working software code, and nearly all published this code on the site, using free and open source tools. Several of these projects have already guided larger projects at FCC, and all have inspired new ideas from team members and reignited creative spark. Too rarely do the people writing the code have a say in the complete “stack” of the environment they are working with. DevEx Day puts them in the driver seat; we can learn a lot from where each driver takes us.

In light of the recently released Federal Open Data Policy, all developers need to find new and creative ways to innovate. Events like DevEx Days can allow developers to experiment with new tools, learn, and return what has been learned to the larger open community. In fact, one of our DevEx Day projects, esri2open is now part of the tools section in Project Open Data. The system works! Many more of these projects will migrate into the FCC GitHub site and into future projects.

DevEx Day not only motivates our team, but provides continuous learning and growth that makes us a more nimble agency, moving away from monolithic system architectures to portable, changeable, flexible products largely based on open source tools. This not only makes us capable of utilizing cutting edge development, but allows us to contribute to the larger community of open government.

At the conclusion of our first DevEx Day, the thing that most participants wanted to know was when the next one will be!

To learn more about FedEx Days, read about what Atlassian now calls ShipIt Days. You can also watch this TED Talk by Daniel Pink on the origins and impact of this concept.