Developers Italia is born, the developers community of Italian digital government services
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One morning, in 2019
Sara wakes up bright and early, makes herself breakfast and gets ready to go to work. She is excited because today is the start of a new adventure: she is no longer working for a web agency in London where she has spent the last few years establishing herself as a developer. From now on, Sara will be working for “Fantasilandia Pubblica,” a technology agency that specializes in developing software solutions for the Public Administration.
Sara has decided to return to Italy because she is fascinated by the idea of improving the public services in her country and also by the fact that her job is so important that it will directly influence the lives of millions of people. Not that it was an easy choice. Sara was alarmed by the rumors regarding the unfortunate state of technology in the Public Administration and the slowness of the bureaucratic machine. And yet, she’s decided to try.
On the first day Sara’s choice is validated: she finds herself in an environment not too different from that of her London-based agency. The style of work is similar and many of the tools are identical to the ones she was using at her old job. Adding to her surprise, she finds all new tools to be well documented. Sara feels optimistic that she will be able to do her job well. She also thinks she will be able to learn how to use new tools that might be useful to the new team.
Today, for a variety of reasons, few people (if any) can share Sara’s lucky experience. This is why we are launching Developers Italia, a site for developers of italian digital public services that provides source code, a modern document management system, and interactive tools to coordinate and develop the digital projects of the Public Administration more effectively.
From Individualism to Teamwork
Today, anyone who wants to work as a developer for the Public Administration would be forced to deal with protocols from the early 2000s. They would have access to a very limited number of open-source libraries to integrate into basic functions, have no testing environment in which to assess the functionality of software projects, no forum, and support services that rarely know how to communicate with developers.
And yet, the idea of being able to work on public projects and help simplify the lives of millions of Italian citizens remains intriguing and inspiring.
Not only because the Public Administration’s technological projects are comparable both in size and resources to those of the biggest modern companies, but also because these projects generally affect, for better or for worse, the lives of millions of people. There are highly trained technicians and software developers out there as well as many other people of extraordinary ability, as we have been able to verify in these recent months. But it’s not enough.
A developer who wants to adopt a technology expects a familiar environment, similar to many others he or she has already worked in with technical documentation, SDK (Software Development Kit) written in the most popular programming languages, test environments allowing developers to operate with complete autonomy, forums and mailing lists where a developer can ask for help and get direct technical support, simple and automated digital processes for requesting authorization or obtaining credentials. For example, if a developer wanted to figure out how to display her latest tweets on her blog or integrate a Facebook login with his own application, or, if an italian startup wants to connect with the API of Satispay, it should be enough to visit a website dedicated to developers of these three companies.
The Public Administration has not yet adopted this model and it hasn’t done everything possible to simplify the tasks of a programmer struggling with public technology.
While all other innovative businesses and startups deal with the developer ecosystem, up until now, Government has ruled technology innovation through laws and rigid directives. Think about the directive to force SPID (the Public Administration Digital Identity) as the login of all Public Administration sites: thousands of public service developers had to work to untangle the confusing maze of unclear documentation. They had no examples to work from, had to deal with call centers that often didn’t know how to help, and SLAs (Service Level Agreement) were never respected.
Today we want to try switching gears.
The first beta version is online: the beginning of a community
The Digital Transformation Team believes that technology initiatives won’t be successful simply because they are imposed by law but because they are useful for citizens, are modern, and easy for developers to integrate.
To elaborate on a vision that Paolo Barberis, among others, had a few years ago, it is for this reason that we want to create an open environment, where we can offer tools and documentation, receive comments and contributions, interact with developers of the public and private sectors, simplify and improve quality.
Developers Italia, created from the collaboration of AgID with the Digital Transformation Team, is the developers community of Italian digital Government services, a platform upon which to host all the major technology projects in the country. It provides:
- a space on GitHub for hosting the source code and open-source libraries ready for use and integration
- an area based on ReadTheDocs for rewriting structured and indexed documentation, designed and written for developers
- a newsletter and a space for news, where developers can be updated on new projects and activities
- an open forum based on Discourse, where developers can freely discuss with colleagues all over Italy and the world.
We are also considering a sandboxing environment for APIs, for clear and easy reference, where developers can test API connections directly from their browser and download already made “client skeletons.”
To date, the projects hosted on Developers Italia are:
- ANPR – the National Population Registry – an extraordinary challenge for the country, essential to the birth of many new digital services
- SPID, the public digital authentication system that allows all citizens to identify themselves securely with a single credential
- dati.gov.it, the national catalog of open data of the Italian public Administrations that aggregates in a single portal most of the open data exposed by the various local and national administrations.
And these are just the first three projects.
The platform is a shell to be filled. To do this, we need everyone to contribute.
Join Developers Italia and help us build the basic components of the new “operating system” of the country.
Giving instead of taking: a community investment
We will be asking a lot from this community, but in addition to asking, we want to give, or better yet, invest. We are aware that a community can only operate smoothly if it has a strong core of developers who can act as the glue and support for all those who want to help but have little time to invest in the project. We, the Digital Transformation Team, and AgID are already participating in the forum and working to improve the quality of project documentation. Join us: we need your skills and enthusiasm.
We will launch a public procurement process for small software development jobs with Italian technology companies, including startups, that want to help.
In fact, we want to attract all those innovative companies that, during the next two years will be supporting the community to realize our vision. Subscribe to our newsletter: we will be sending out more information shortly.
We are working to improve the quality of software of the Public Administration and to support the thousands of developers – many of whom are extraordinarily talented – that are already handling highly complex technical projects. Then, in a few months we will get together to tell stories like Sara’s. But this time, they’ll be real.