Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Keeping the lights on" for ESaaS-built pro-bono software deployments

Berkeley's software engineering course, which I developed with Prof. Dave Patterson, has something important in common with the nonprofit AgileVentures, founded by Prof. Sam Joseph (who also is the lead facilitator for our edX MOOC on Agile Development).

Both organizations allow developers-in-training (students in the case of Berkeley; professionals in the case of AV) to work on open source pro bono software projects in a mentored setting, usually for nonprofits and NGOs. Indeed, since 2012, Berkeley students have delivered/deployed over 100 such projects, many still in production use by the original customer.

A perennial problem we've had, though, is what to do when each offering of the course ends. How can these nontechnical customers arrange for basic maintenance of their apps if they don't have any IT staff who can do this? Even if the customer wants future students to continue working on the software, it needs to be kept running until the next course offering.

This semester (Fall 2016) we're trying something new. AgileVentures is introducing a "Nonprofit Basic Support" membership tier that gives nonprofits basic support for maintaining these SaaS apps. For a very low monthly fee, an AgileVentures developer will be the maintenance contact for the app, ensure its "lights are kept on" (restart when needed, etc.), and advise the customer if the app needs other attention, for example, if the app's resource needs require it to be moved to a paid or higher hosting tier.

The goal is to "keep the lights on" either until the next team of students or AV developers further enhances the app, or until the customer decides to take over maintenance of the app themselves (or move it to another contractor).

Of course, a few customers don't need this service; they may already have in-house staff, or the app may be one that was already in use and for which our student developers just provided new features. But for the majority of customers who are nontechnical and may not even be able to afford in-house IT for maintaining these apps, we look forward to seeing how this experiment works out!

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