Wyoming Team Earns First Place in Google GovDev Challenge

Our GovDev Challenge Prototype

Update:

Google’s own post about the challenge, with video, is now up on their Enterprise blog.

The GovDev Challenge

This past weekend, I had the fun and honor of participating in the first-ever Google GovDev Challenge. The 24-hour coding competition was created to explore ways modern technology could be used to transform government’s interaction with its citizens. It was a blast. And, oh BTW, my team earned first place in one of the challenges!

The competition was co-sponsored by the states of Wyoming and Colorado, both of which have active partnerships with Google in many areas. In fact, the state of Wyoming was the first state to ever convert its whole IT infrastructure to Google Apps. The three challenges focused on state-specific issues. Two were posed by Colorado, seeking better ways to help citizens in the event of another disaster of the magnitude of last fall’s Boulder floods.

Wyoming posed a Budget Transparency challenge. The state wants to make state budgeting and spending data available to all citizens and, in fact, has existing web interfaces available that do just that. But the current interfaces generally share the problem that the data is available but not very consumable — that is, the resulting grid-of-rows is hard to understand and digest.

Our Team
L to R: Kail, Gunn, Thoney, Fagan

L to R: Kail, Gunn, Thoney, Fagan

I was privileged to be on a team that drew from across the state and across three companies: Mark Thoney (Sheridan / Wyolution, LLC), Jared Kail, (Lander / Wyolution, LLC),  Tighe Fagan (Cheyenne / Gannett Peak Technical Services, and me, Anne Gunn, (Sheridan /Sheridan Programmers Guild). We had 24 hours to craft our solution and 3 minutes to present it to a panel of judges and our fellow developers. Guess which part was less fun.

It was easy for us to select the Budget Transparency project to work on. Governmental transparency is critical for for government accountability and citizen oversight, but, as data gets more complex, that transparency gets harder to achieve. Our solution was intended to help solve one part of the problem by letting users quickly visualize where state vendor dollars actually get spent. After all, the money comes from all of us and we should know where it goes.

We came together as a team for the first time just for this event and were really, really pleased with the results. We knew, starting out, that we would not be the fastest coders in the room. But we did hope that the strengths we bring to our clients in our day jobs would turn out to be helpful in the Challenge and they were. We tried to demonstrate: a laser focus on the goal at hand, a pragmatic approach to the trade-offs we needed to make as we went along, the technical chops to make great things happen in a short amount of time, no ego, and a sense of humor that can turn even the tense moments into an opportunity for a laugh.

We each brought specific skills and background knowledge to our team. Each of us had to let go, at least once, of some technical feature we were trying to pull into the project, in order to work on something else and keep the whole team moving forward. Each of us had a couple of moments where we got to turn to a teammate and say, “Really? You can do that and it’s that easy?” For programmers, who learn for a living, that is the definition of a good time.

I was proud of Wyoming this weekend. We were joined by a handful of other energetic, engaged Wyoming teams, all there to solve difficult technical problems facing Wyoming and Colorado. In the end, Wyoming teams earned one first, one second, and one third across two different challenges.

The importance of showing up

I also think the great results produced by the teams from both states demonstrates one of the core principals of success: sometimes the most important thing you can do is put your heart in your hands, stuff your ego in your pocket, show up, and concentrate on finding out what you have to contribute.

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