Interview - Jeff Beorse

Jeff Beorse (@Jeff_Beorse)


Where do you live? Where do you work?
I currently live in Seattle, only a short ride from the University of Washington (UW), where ODK got its start. I grew up in Las Vegas, which means I moved from one of the sunniest cities in the United States to one of the rainiest. But I love it here; it is so green and beautiful.

I work at Watsi, a healthcare nonprofit that focuses on crowdfunding surgeries and community-based health coverage. I also founded Eir Birch, a consulting firm focused on ODK and social good.

Tell us a fun fact or story about yourself!
I’m a huge music nerd and I go to more concerts than is probably healthy. My longest record was a show every night for ten nights in a row, after which I slept for 12 hours straight. Maybe someday, if the stars align again and a perfect schedule appears, I will finally break that record.

How did you first find out about ODK?
I first found out about ODK in 2009 from a special class in the computer science department during my undergraduate studies at UW (taught by @yanokwa and @Carl_Hartung). This was in the very early days of ODK, before it had been widely released and adopted. I was interested because the class taught us Android (this cool new thing nobody knew yet) and had a social good component. Here’s the old syllabus. We were still building ODK’s core features, and my group added the first image file support for prompts!

This class introduced me to Professor Gaetano Borriello, and I continued to work with him on ODK for the next 3 years of my undergraduate studies. Gaetano was really a one in a million professor; he grand vision was inspiring, but he also cared deeply about his students and their success. Working with Gaetano on ODK was the most fulfilling part of my college experience, and it’s what brought me back to the ODK team to help build ODK 2. Nine years later, that passion he ignited in me is still burning, and I’m still here working with ODK.

What are you using ODK for?
My focus is on the core development of the ODK 2 mobile tool suite. I worked full time at UW on ODK 2, alongside Waylon Brunette, Clarice Larson, and Mitch Sundt, until it was released last year. After that I founded Eir Birch, where I continued to contract around ODK 2, most notably revamping the documentation. Lately I have been mentoring Aditya Laddha (@laddha-adi) on his Google Summer of Code project to add push notifications to ODK 2. I am always present on the ODK 2 developer calls discussing the latest news.

What’s your favorite ODK feature?
My favorite feature is shared across ODK 1, ODK 2, and all the ODK tools: offline functionality as a first-class citizen. In a world where most apps are synchronizing in the background and give the user no control or visibility into network connectivity, I love that ODK gives you full control over when, where, and how you use your network connectivity without sacrificing useability.

How did you get so involved in the community? What keeps you coming back & staying involved?
ODK was a big part of my growth as an engineer, and continues to be a major influence on my professional life. In some ways it feels a bit like home to me. The community has always been an integral part of ODK’s success, and it has been wonderful to see that community grow and become even more engaged over the past few years. The forum is one of the most supportive and friendly communities on the Internet, spanning continents and cultures. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something like that? I would not have made it where I am today without ODK, and the community continues to help me grow and learn as an engineer. I want to do my best to give back to that community and help others the way it has helped me.

What has been the greatest challenge for you in learning about ODK? (Either the software, the community, or both!)
Transitioning from being a full-time core developer to being a broader community member has been interesting and exciting. I used to work behind closed doors and only peek out to present fully-formed features and get community feedback. Now I am participating in a continuous and democratic process. This has been an adjustment, but the ODK project is healthier than ever, and I am continuing to grow and learn from it.

Let’s talk about goals: Do you have any ODK-related goals for yourself, your organization, or the overall ODK community?
My goals right now are focused on ODK 2. The ODK 2 tools continue to grow in popularity, but there is still plenty of work to be done. Of course, they will never be as popular or widespread as ODK 1; they weren’t designed to be. But I would like to see ODK 2 grow to be the default solution for organizations that need bi-directional synchronization and complex workflow support. This will involve continued hard work to meet community needs and improve usability and learnability, but we are getting better all the time.

What advice would you give someone who’s just learned about ODK and is considering getting involved?
Don’t be intimidated. The project might seem big and complicated, but you don’t have to be an expert in everything (or anything) to contribute. Start small, focus on something you care about, and work with the community. They will be more than happy to help you gain your feet, and before you know it you’ll be right there with them helping the next newcomer along. Also, there are lots of ways to contribute that don’t involve writing any code: improve the docs, make a tutorial, answer forum questions, organize a meetup. Whatever you are good at, the ODK community could use your talents.

GitHub: jbeorse