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Rachel Sterne is Chief Digital Officer for the City of New York, where she focuses on the City’s digital media strategy. You can follow her on Twitter @RachelSterne or follow the City @nycgov.

Today is the last day to sign up for Reinvent NYC.GOV, the City’s first-ever hackathon. Civic-minded designers and developers who want to help improve NYC government are encouraged to apply at: reinventnycgov.com.

Why have we decided to invite the best and brightest of NYC’s tech community to help us improve NYC.gov? Here’s the backstory.


Improving Our Digital Footprint


When we asked New Yorkers for their input on New York City’s “Road Map for the Digital City,” one of the biggest topics of feedback was NYC.gov, the City government’s main digital presence.

Some New Yorkers praised the scope of information offered and ability to pay bills and look up records online. Others suggested we had room for improvement. Comments included: “NYC.gov is a little hard to navigate/search,” “NYC.gov could use a refresh” and “NYC.gov is just too unwieldy.” The refrain was clear: The site was muddy, but we had an opportunity to make NYC.gov more cohesive and user-centric while integrating it with different communication channels in social media.

Last week, New York City Government and General Assembly announced Reinvent NYC.GOV, our first-ever hackathon to help solve this challenge in an open, transparent, participatory environment.

Taking place July 30 to 31 at entrepreneurship-focused community learning space General Assembly, it’s an important step in our our Road Map to realize NYC’s digital potential. Here are a few reasons why we’re doing it:


Why NYC Is Hosting a Hackathon


  • 1. It will bridge sectors and connect the government and technology communities around a shared challenge.
  • 2. It will encourage collaborative problem-solving and a more open government. We’ve invited developers to share their ideas for improving a major digital “public space.” NYC.gov has almost as many visitors each year as Central Park and should be similarly cared for.
  • 3. It will create a mechanism for the public to share feedback and ideas for a website that exists to serve them.
  • 4. It can serve as a model for other governments, helping to affect national and international change.
  • 5. It will introduce creative and innovative concepts that could help to evolve NYC.gov to be more efficient and effective in serving and empowering New Yorkers.
  • 6. It will provide both individuals and teams with face-to-face access to the City’s decision makers.
  • 7. It creates a precedent and platform for evolving government through open innovation and participation.
  • 8. It will serve as the first step in a transparent design process. We want to gather as much input as possible. This is a way to move quickly to achieve our goals.
  • 9. It helps remove subjectivity from the design process by clearly showing what the public wants and needs.
  • 10. It equips developers with the internal data they need to make user experience decisions, such as analytics, as well as support from our tech partners, including DonorsChoose, ExpertLabs, Facebook, Foursquare, Google, Meetup and YouTube.

We think this model is an important part of New York City’s digital Road Map and feel that it can be an effective piece for other cities, as well. What are your ideas for the future of NYC.gov? Tell us in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #reinventnycgov.


Image courtesy of Flickr, houyin

More About: dev, developer, government, hack, hackathon, new york, new york city, NYC, nyc.gov, Politics, Social Media

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Paula Hunter is the executive director of the Outercurve Foundation. With over two decades of open source experience, she has served in leadership roles at organizations such as Open Source Development Labs and United Linux. Follow her on Twitter @huntermkt.

Free and open source software (FOSS) is at the root of the most innovative products, technologies and services of our time. The Social Network may have taken some Hollywood liberties, but there’s still a big story to tell about today’s colleges as the hotbeds of innovation, much of it driven by FOSS.

Today’s top entrepreneurs are using FOSS as the building blocks for innovation. Instead of writing an entire solution from scratch, developers can assemble large parts of their solutions from liberally licensed FOSS projects, and focus their creative energies.

FOSS also serves as a training ground for new developers. Good developers have always known that the way to improve is by reading well-written programs. Good FOSS projects in dynamic communities provide a wealth of examples for students to read, understand, and work on.

Free and open source software isn’t just a good way to program — it’s giving students a leg up in their education and job prospects. Here’s how.


Skills


Working within a FOSS project community brings new benefits. First, there’s the real-world experience of participating in a distributed team. More and more of the world’s software projects are developed in highly connected developer communities around the globe, regardless of whether they are public and liberally licensed or closed and proprietary. The communications and social skills learned from an experience like this will be essential.

Development skills will also be honed. This is achieved through constructive feedback and the experience of working within a mature, well-run FOSS project team. This experience provides version control, configuration management tools, regular automated builds, and testing and packaging issues. These are essential professional software development skills that are seldom well-taught in formal school settings.


Experience and Networking


Job and career success often come through one’s professional connections. The broader network inherent in larger FOSS projects can yield big opportunities.

Companies want to know what job candidates can do. Participation in FOSS projects can generate a very public portfolio of practical work. This beats a resume any day. It also makes it easier to show your previous work to a potential employer. If you’ve coded for other companies, the work may be locked behind proprietary protections. But FOSS projects are free and easy for anyone to view.

For college student Eric Schultz, FOSS was a way of adding experience to his resume. Even though he said he didn’t know how to program complex projects, working with a team has helped him pick up skills and add samples to his portfolio. “It’s also a really great networking opportunity,” Schultz said. “I think that it’s helpful because you meet people who already are in bigger businesses — people who are at the top of their field — and all of a sudden, you’re on their radar. So purely from a networking standpoint, it’s really helpful.”

A number of universities are discovering the benefits students are gleaning from FOSS work. Rensselaer and Oregon State University have open source centers of expertise for students. UC Berkeley teaches a web-based course.

Employers aren’t ignorant of the relationship between students, FOSS projects and employment opportunities. Several years ago, Google set up the “Summer of Code” program, wherein FOSS project leaders propose summer work, and students bid for the positions, with Google paying $5,000 to each accepted student. Google continues to invest heavily in the program.


University students who actively participate in FOSS projects and communities can create their own job opportunities, whether it’s a summer internship, full time employment, or lining up a job for graduation next year. Companies hungry for new talent have much to gain by engaging with students that have participated in these endeavors.


Interested in more Dev & Design resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

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More About: design, dev, developer, education, education lists, foss, free and open source software, program, tech, technology

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LinkedIn has announced that it’s opening its developer platform, including its faster JavaScript APIs and customizable plugins, to all developers.

LinkedIn first released its original developer platform in 2009, complete with a set of APIs for letting third-party applications integrate aspects of LinkedIn in their apps. Still, its platform lacked certain features like OAuth 2.0 and advanced Javascript API support, something the company has been testing for the past few months.

The new LinkedIn Developer Platform and website make these APIs available to anyone who wants to use them. LinkedIn also opens its new platform for plug-ins, including the “Sign in with LinkedIn” button and the LinkedIn Share buttons you see on Mashable’s business and marketing stories. There are also plug-ins for member profiles, company profiles and a Recommend button that lets users recommend your products through their LinkedIn network.

The developer platform has also been overhauled with improvements under the hood. It includes a new Javascript framework that “loads significantly faster,” as well as support for SSL and improved support for OAuth. The website has also been simplified to make it easier to get started with LinkedIn’s APIs and plugins.

More About: api, developer, developers, javascript, linkedin, LinkedIn Developer PLatform, LinkedIn Platform, OAuth 2.0

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