User Interviews — What We Learned

Sep 5, 2017

This post was originally published by on Medium.

It’s been a year since the federal government published the Federal Source Code Policy, which created the foundation for In honor of the policy’s anniversary, we checked in with our users to learn more about them, their needs, and the challenges they face. Our users were responsive, proving insights we translated into our newly released metadata schema that powers the platform.

We interviewed federal developers, product owners, Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) consultants, and developers from across the open source community. We asked interviewees what they knew about the Federal Source Code Policy,, what features they would like to see in future iterations, and how they discover news about open source software and technology in general. Common themes emerged quickly after just a couple of interviews.

A crowd of anonymous people holding up question mark signs in front of their faces.


Nearly all of our interviews mentioned a need for a robust search function — search by category, language, technology, subject matter, type of project (such as web app, time tracking, mobile app, etc.) Our users do not just want the ability to search, they want the ability to search any way they choose. Some users even want the search capability to be more dynamic — presenting them information they want right away, similarly to how Flipboard or Medium curates information for you based on your preferences. The search component is an important feature to our users and we have been brainstorming around it nonstop.


Many recommendations were aimed at categorizing information — easily seeing repos, listing popular projects, and being able to see what projects federal agencies are working on. Our users suggested having a featured projects section, or grouping projects so that they can easily see what is most relevant to them. Others recommended a dashboard that shows languages, schema, agency contributions, or a word cloud of popular tags used in repositories.

Ease of Use

Other users made recommendations that would make the platform easier for them to use and incentivize them to come back. An example would be the ability to bookmark a project for a later date. One user suggested having his own profile on or a byline that links to all his projects so he could use it when applying to his next job. Some users also thought the ability to communicate with project owners would add value.

Our users also helped us identify challenges and barriers to success. Some users did not know who within their organizations was responsible for implementing the Federal Source Code Policy and how to submit their open source projects for consideration. Some shared that there were some in their organizations who had misconceptions around security and open source. Finally, we identified long approval processes at some agencies to post an open source project to a repository.

What’s Next

Overall, a year after the Federal Source Code Policy was announced, our users continue to come to to find reusable government code for their projects. That’s because is growing into the nation’s primary platform for sharing and improving government software.

Want to make sure your voice is heard for the next leg of our journey to sharing America’s code? Join our mailing list and follow us on Twitter (@CodeDotGov) to receive the latest updates and calls for user interviews.