The Sound of 2020

Jan 21, 2020

Hello, internet, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again. Not about visions softly creeping, leaving seeds while I was sleeping. No, I haven’t been sleeping – I’ve barely had time to, between all the work I was doing in 2019 and the number of times I listened to this Simon and Garfunkel album on repeat.1 It turns out I have a hard time saying no to interesting projects – and I’ve been focused more on doing than on writing about what I’ve been doing. Now, it’s time to reverse that trend, and disturb the sound of silence.2

2019, phew

I’ll start with my biggest news of all: In the fall, I moved to Washington, DC, to start a “tour of civic service” with the United States Digital Service (USDS). I’m working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to help fix some small part of the healthcare system through thoughtful interoperability and better, more “modern” gov tech. I’ll write more about this later, but in the meantime, check out one of the products I’m working on: Data at the Point of Care.

But what else was I up to in 2019? In roughly chronological order:

Early in the year, Programmable Web commissioned me to investigate the technical feasibility of turning away from that neon god we’ve made,3 Facebook, and taking your data with you– and then to figure out what your options are if you do manage to do that. I dove into the delightful, difficult world of the decentralized web and specifically standards and projects around decentralizing social networks.4

Around that time, the European Commission’s APIs4Dgov project brought together a group of researchers and writers, including myself, to prepare a report making recommendations to EU member states on developing their API strategies. I worked on the technical framework recommendations, and in June contributed to a day-long workshop at APIdays Helsinki for folks in gov tech to share knowledge and best practices for implementing government API products. Report to be published this year.

In May, we launched our first REST Fest in Poland, and in September we kicked off our tenth year of REST Fest in Greenville, SC. REST Fest is an unconference dedicated to APIs, hypermedia, and web architecture, and I’ve been involved in organizing it for the past few years. The core principle is that everyone talks, everyone listens, and the goal is to help foster a collaborative, non-intimidating environment to discuss and hack on tools for APIs.

Open Referral, an initiative pushing forward interoperability of health and human services data, has been gaining adoption and over 2019 launched multiple partnerships to implement their Human Services Data Specification (HSDS) and open source tools in different cities. Building on some work I started while mentoring students at HackIllinois (a 2 day college hackathon) in February, I helped code and deploy open source MVPs (minimum viable products) of tools to convert data from unstructured or miscellaneous formats to HSDS-compliant datasets.

So, 2020

I’m tempted to start this section with “Ain’t no rest for the wicked” but alas, that’s not within the song scope of this post. The sentiment, however, still applies.

While I continue full-time at USDS, I’m going to get back into writing here and speaking at conferences. Over my career I’ve done a lot of work adjacent to government – like volunteering with Code for America brigades, consulting for municipalities, and building products for government users – and now that I’m on the inside, I’ll have a lot to share about what I observe and learn.

Questions I’m thinking about right now:

  • What does “modernization” mean for government technology?
  • How do we build digital public infrastructure that lasts years or decades that is flexible, adaptive, and user-centered?
  • How does open source meet or not meet the needs of gov/civic tech?
  • How can we learn from decentralization to build more effective or more resilient public infrastructure?

I’d love to hear what questions you have too – reach out on Twitter or respond to my newsletter (sign up in the footer at the bottom of this page) to talk.

1 Yes, I got this album on vinyl, because I'm that cool.
2 I wish I could say that this is the last time I use a Simon and Garfunkel song as metaphorical fodder.
3 Okay, okay, I think this is the last Simon and Garfunkel reference in this post.