Intro to Product and open source

I’m Gray Brooks. I work on the Product team, focusing on APIs and open source.

So, I wear a couple hats formally and then a number of other hats informally. Right now, I’d like to talk about the Product Team and open source, but I’m also deeply passionate about APIs, website analytics, 18F team dynamics, and effecting change in government. Those last ones I’ll largely spare you from today, but holler anytime if you want to discuss.

Product team

I’m on the Product Team. Our job is to help facilitate each project. Generally, each billable project has a product manager whose job it is to take care of billing, logistics, and other details so the rest of the team can do its job. Some of us can code, but many (like myself) are instead more generalists. We also coordinate a team coming to a decision on how it wants to run itself (2 week sprints, 3 week sprints?) and ensures that scrum meetings/stand ups/whatever the team chooses happens. The Product Team hangs out in #product.

Specifically, I’m the Product Lead for and In both cases, my job is to handle loose details and keep the project moving forward, but beyond that to generally stay out of the way of the developers and designers doing the work.

  • Coordinate the assembly and passage of the inter-agency agreement.
  • Track burn rate (how fast we’re spending money) and ensure we stay on budget.
  • Help the team decide how it wants to structure its sprints and track its issues.
  • Ensure the appropriate amount of client inclusion.
  • Protect the team from the client (if they are too involved).
  • Ensure that the project stays on schedule.
  • Ensure that we satisfy the formal requirements of the project.

You can see who is on the Product Team on the org chart.

We also have a Product Guide.

Open source

What is open source software?

Broadly speaking, open source software is software whose inner workings are made fully public and distributed freely to the community. As an open source team, the software 18F writes is made public (mostly at, and we welcome anyone to use that software, copy it, and change it.

Generally (and at 18F), people publishing open source software tend to be open to receiving public contributions. So, members of the public may copy our software, modify it, and then submit their modifications back to us for potential inclusion in the original.

What does it mean in our work?

The last 5-6 years have seen a slow but steady growth in the government in the open source community through:

  • Releasing something government built as an open source project
  • Using other open source projects
  • Contributing and being involved in open source communities

The White House committed to publishing a government-wide open source policy this year, and the CTO Megan Smith’s team is working on making that happen. We’ve been doing our part by bringing together in one place all of the resources that agencies find useful. Our team has also adopted a very strong open source policy.

Everything we as a team do should be public and available for collaboration. An open source project isn’t just code - think of it as many forms of contribution working together, including documentation, support, design, and code.

There are also several listservs and communities that facilitate working with others within the government.

Would any personally identifiable information (PII) live in open source software?

Open source software has no direct relationship to PII or the Privacy Act. PII is data. “Open source software” refers to the release of code. Data can be managed entirely separately from code, and generally is. Additionally, “open source” is an entirely separate concept from “open data”.

For example, is powered by an open source system named Drupal. Drupal publishes their software as open source for anyone to use, but this software doesn’t contain any of the content or data that users of Drupal might put into it when publishing a website. Another example is WordPress, an open source blogging platform that also powers

GitHub usage at agencies

  1. Every agency is allowed to create a GitHub org, based on OMB 10-23 and the addendum to GitHub’s terms of service that GSA coordinated with them to add section 17 at GitHub’s terms of service.

  2. Many agencies already have - here’s a list of many of them.

  3. Any government employee can create an account for themselves. This was recently reinforced by OMB’s Office of the Federal CIO.

Still have questions?

Ask in Slack #product, #wg-opensource.