Some of the top developers at NASA and the VA aren’t agency employees. They are freelancers working on projects through the Topcoder platform. Federal, state and local agencies have outsourced development work to the website which runs projects as “challenges” that coders can do to gain accolades on the platform and improve government service delivery.
The way Topcoder works is this – agencies define a problem they need developers for, this could mean building an application, doing data analysis, building an algorithm, etc. From there, the agency works works with Topcoder to create a series of coding challenges. Users on the platform can then participate in the challenge, coming up with solutions. Winners of the challenges get prize money for their work they are also rated on the platform.
“We have vetted developers, a secure platform, and we can deliver projects in less time and at a lower cost than going through a bid process to find outsourced talent,” Mike Morris, CEO of Topcoder explains in an interview. “We can provide the platform within discretionary costs for most agencies, which really opens up a new arena for government to get the coding support they need.”
So far, NASA has used the platform for over 1,000 challenges, including data science challenges for asteroid detection and DTN software protocol. “With Topcoder we’ve been able to get projects done faster and also show that crowdsourcing can be a viable option for government,” Steve Radar, NASA’s Deputy Manager tells CivSource.
Over the summer, NASA launched its most recent challenge which called for solutions to modify the agency’s design software architecture to speed up operations by 10,000 times on its Pleiades supercomputer. Solutions submitted by users will be considered by the agency over the next few months.
Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs also announced a new challenge in partnership with crowdsourcing leader Topcoder and Operation Code, an organization that helps veterans get into technical careers after they return from duty. The project is called “Pseudovet” and is a competition to create “fake” patient data applications that will let researchers find answers that will become real-world solutions for providing better healthcare to veterans. Users can compete for $167,000 in total prize money. The competition also set aside $50,000 exclusively for competitors who are also military veterans.
With VA Pseudovet, the “fake” data generated will help researchers understand veteran health issues, such as what equipment to invest in for aging soldiers and how to prepare hospitals for specialty injuries. The software should “create” 10,000 Vietnam Era vets, 5,000 WWII era vets with realistic lab data and even details such as missed appointments. They can experiment and find the right treatment approaches without ever putting the health of veterans at risk.
“With these projects, we’re solving real issues that improve the way the government works,” said Topcoder’s Morris.