Encouraging Open Source Software in Government

Amanda Sopkin (~asopkin)




Many believe that properly caring for and protecting citizen data requires the use of open source software, but few public institutions adhere to this standard. Incidents like the breakdown of technology at this year’s United States democratic party caucuses in Iowa have (rightfully) made many citizens more wary of any government technology when it comes to our electoral processes. Encouraging the development and use of open source software has the potential to make technology developers more accountable and technology users more secure.

However, the United States government does not explicitly seek to convert software to free or see the need for doing so at most levels. In 2016, the United States instituted a source-code policy requiring 20% of code developed for or by an agency of the government to be released as open source software and be shared openly between agencies. This was a step in the right direction, but ultimately only a proposed target without actual deadlines or teeth behind it. In this talk I will examine the 2016 mandate and the impact it has had on the government. I will use this example to discuss the U.S. government’s history with proprietary technology and proponents of open source and free software within the government. I will look at the history within the United States with notable examples of other countries provided. For example, I will discuss the "Malaysian Public Sector Open Source Software Program" and its success. I will finish by discussing hope for the future and what we can do to support the growth of free software in government. There are ways we can advocate for furthering the open source movement, by promoting free software at all levels of education and government and taking specific actions like joining an open source software advocacy group.

Outline of time (25 minutes + 5 minutes for Q&A):

  • Introduction (2 minutes)
  • Why open source matters (5 minutes)
  • Intro to big open source initiatives within the United States (5 minutes)
  • Notable efforts to encourage open source in other governments (5 minutes)
  • What we can do to support free and open source software in government (7 minutes)
  • Resources + conclusion (1 minute)
  • Q & A ( 5 minutes)


No prior knowledge necessary.

Video URL:


Speaker Info:

Amanda is a San Francisco transplant from Denver, Colorado with a great love for coffee. She is a software engineer for BuildingConnected, which is a startup focused on connecting businesses in the pre-construction industry. She previously worked on the rentals team at Zillow. In her spare time she attends hackathons as a coach for Major League Hacking to help students have a great experience at the events they attend. She enjoys writing, speaking, and obsessively reading about tech. Amanda has spoken on topics in mathematics and software engineering at JSConf EU, PyCon US, Devsum Sweden, Hackcon, SeaGL, and various hackathons around the country. Amanda holds a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Illinois.

Speaker Links:

Prior talk examples:

  • Scary stories about AI gone wrong at That Conference 2019: https://www.pluralsight.com/courses/that-conference-2019-session-05
  • The design of coats of arms at JSConfEU 2019 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=jVfVsKXdYK0&feature=emb_logo
  • Refactoring in Python at Pycon 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sze4yunoxU0
  • Randomness in Python at Pycon 2018 in Cleveland, OH: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGF4G2feXx4
  • Monitoring and Alerting: Knowing the Unknown at SeaGL 2018 in Seattle, WA: https://archive.org/details/MonitoringAndAlertingKnowingTheUnknown
  • Cryptography in Python at a virtual cryptography class by PyLadies Remote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EwKAKfLxLc
  • Skeletons in our E-closets: the impacts of digital waste at SustainabilityUX 2018: https://sustainableux.com/talks/2018/skeletons-in-our-e-closets-the-impact-of-wasteful-digital-storage/
  • Code Reviews: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at DevSum 2018 in Stockholm, Sweden (no video)
  • Making Code Reviews Beneficial for Everyone at self.conference 2018 in Detroit, MI (no video)
  • Computational Randomness: Creating Chaos in an Ordered Machine at SeaGL 2018 in Seattle, WA (no video)

Section: Culture and society
Type: Talks
Target Audience: Beginner
Last Updated: