Bringing Mob Programming to Somerville with Code for America

The phrase “mob programming” sounds intriguing: can coders simultaneously collaborate in a mob-like fashion to produce a working piece of code? During “Code for Boston’s” Tuesday hack-night, the Code For America Somerville team proved that “mob programming” is not only feasible, but also quite effective.

Mob programming works in a two-step fashion. First, one coder “drives” the operation: this person is in charge of physically writing the code. The newly written variables, arrays and functions then appear on a large screen that the entire room can see. The “mob”, or room of participants, can then chime in and redirect how the code progresses and how the next building blocks should be assembled.

It was from the mob that the Somerville Fellows wanted to extract ideas about how to improve upon a platform they were building for teachers in the Somerville Public School System. The catalyst for building this tool came from a common plight of the teachers: the public school system did not have one comprehensive database they could use to analyze the behavioral and academic tendencies of their students before the semester began. For instance, a teacher could preemptively change the classroom environment if she knew certain students struggled, or excelled, when taught with specific methods.

The Somerville Fellows’ “teachers’ platform” is the paradigm of a Code for America (CFA) Project. Annually, CFA partners with 8-10 local governments to produce innovative solutions to delivering key public services across three sectors: health, economic development and safety and justice. The CFA Fellowship Program then partners with the cities and deploys a team of experienced technologists into the chosen local government to work full-time for a year. While the Somerville Fellows seamlessly executed a collaborative mob-programming session this past Tuesday night, they moreover had begun an important collaborative process between the local education system and the tech community.

When explaining the beneficent nature of the platform, the Somerville Fellows noted that they had fully integrated themselves into the City of Somerville to understand the needs of not only the teachers, but also the students and their parents. Specifically, the Fellows met with the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative (SFLC), Parent Information Center (PIC) and Healy School teacher team. Furthermore, the Fellows also wanted to streamline the process of identifying children in need of early intervention and connecting them to critical special education services.

CFA chose Somerville as a 2015 “City” because of the city’s incredible alignment around the theory of change and practice. Since 2004, Mayor Curtatone has led the way to support and promote innovation within his government and the country. Somerville boasts advanced data driven operations and inclusive community engagement initiatives.

Inspiring communities, innovating upon local government structures and coding for benevolent ends: meet the CFA Somerville team for 2015!

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