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GitHub Government Evangelist visits NGA

By Paul Frommelt
NGA Office of Corporate Communications


The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency welcomed GitHub Government Evangelist Ben Balter to its Springfield, Virginia headquarters, May 20, to discuss the benefits of government agencies utilizing open source in software development.

“Open source is already here,” Balter said, during his presentation to NGA employees. “It’s not the next big thing.”

Balter, who was instrumental in drafting the President’s Digital Strategy and Open Data Policy, used the beginning of his presentation to debunk many old and outdated criticisms of open source software: namely that it is hard to use, full of bugs and insecure.

“Open source used to be really bad and that still permeates in everybody’s mind,” he said. But according to Balter, the open source community has greatly improved, so much so that technology giants like Microsoft, Twitter and Netflix are utilizing open source to improve their products.

Even the White House has jumped onto the open source bandwagon.

“We believe in using and contributing back to open source software as a way of making it easier for the government to share data, improve tools and services, and return value to taxpayers,” reads the White House developers site.

NGA, in particular, has been a pioneer in using open source to share its products. In April 2014, the agency created its own GitHub site, which now hosts more than 15 projects enabling access to the agency’s cutting-edge geospatial tools. NGA is the first intelligence agency to utilize GitHub, the world’s largest software development network. According to Balter, NGA has dramatically increased the number of skilled developers who can contribute to its mission by putting its projects on GitHub.

“There are really intelligent people working at this agency, I’m sure some of the best developers in the world,” said Balter. “But just by logical definition, there is going to be at least one person out there who can’t work here for whatever reason, who has the ability to contribute to a product.

“You can expand the scope of potential contributors, not just people on your payroll, but to the best developers in the world.”

For more from Ben Balter, listen to him on Geointeresting, the official podcast of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.