In line with OpenForge’s objectives to promote open source tools and software in the e-governance space in India, we bring to you an interview with Indian open source developer Abdulqadir Rashik, who recently won the coveted United Nations Data Analysis & Visualization Challenge for his open source tool! This is his entry and Abdul has shared the source code for his award winning tool on OpenForge. You can download it here and reuse in your works! The interview is below…
Q: Hello Abdulqadir – Can you tell us something about yourself – specifically about your professional and academic background?
A: Hello and thanks for interviewing me. I have done my Masters in Computer Applications and after spending a little over four years in a major Indian IT services company, I decided that I wanted more freedom than what a traditional job could offer. So, I quit and launched my own software firm. This December will mark 7 years of running my own business and I couldn’t be happier with the decision.
Q: You have recently won a coveted United Nations Prize for a tool that enables users to interactively view General Assembly resolutions. Congratulations! Can you tell us more about the tool – how did you get the idea and then go about executing it.
A: Thanks. This is actually the second time that I have won a data analysis and visualization challenge by the United Nations. Last year I won a challenge related to the Sustainable Development Goals that the UN is currently pursuing. (https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/pi2158.doc.htm) When I found that they had launched a similar challenge this year, I decided to participate again, and they awarded my entry the first prize. (https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/pi2195.doc.htm)
My entry is a tool (screenshots shared above) which helps policymakers as well as common citizens to better understand decision making related to any particular topic at the UN General Assembly. The United Nations General Assembly has passed thousands of resolutions on a wide range of topics since 1946. This means that there is now so much data available, that a person manually analyzing any topic could spend days sifting through the available resolutions, voting records, etc. The tool organizes and presents the data for any user selected topic in a way that aims to simplify analysis for the end user, whether they be a policymaker, UN staff, or common citizens.
Q: What were some of the challenges you faced in building the tool. How did you overcome them?
A: There were challenges at every point right from collecting the data to the final presentation, however, I would say that the single biggest challenge was making the tool useful for experts as well as common users.
The challenge requirements were clear that the tool needed to be useful to UN employees, diplomats as well as common citizens.
With potential users spread over such a wide spectrum, it was important that the tool was simple enough to not scare away a common person, while at the same time providing enough analysis to actually prove useful to a diplomat or policy maker. The tool tries to take a balanced approach by avoiding complex jargon and intricate settings and by presenting data in a layered approach with different levels of complexity. An online demo of the tool is available at https://ungavizui.aqrashik.com/ in case you wish to see how this challenge has been dealt with in practice.
Q: The source code for your tool is open sourced. Why did you choose to open source it?
A: It was actually a requirement of the challenge that all entries use an open source license so that UN member nations could modify and continue work on the tool as per their requirements.
That being said, I hope that more people, particularly students, take the time to participate in open source challenges.
Taking part in a challenge and open sourcing your code forces you to improve yourself since you know that your work will be open to everyone else for review and will be judged. So even if you do not end up winning, you have still benefited in terms of having improved your abilities. If you do win such a challenge, it serves as a very strong indicator of your skills to potential clients (or in the case of students, to future employers) and could have a major impact on your professional future.
Q: Tell us about your experience with open source software and tools. How do they compare with proprietary software?
A: I work with open source software on a nearly daily basis and can’t imagine being remotely as productive without the vast amount of open source work that we have access to today. Most of my work depends on open source components to function and I have never felt the need to fall back to proprietary software, at least for the type of work that I do. My tool which won the UN challenge also in turn depends on several open source components and libraries.
Q: What are your thoughts about OpenForge? How in your opinion can this help in improving the development of software applications for e-governance projects?
A: I was very happy to know that the Indian government is launching initiatives such as OpenForge for e-Governance projects. I have created an OpenForge account and shared the source code of my tool from its project page.
Having a central repository of code would allow developers from the general populace to collaborate on e-Governance projects that interest them. I suggest adding functionality to the site to cater to non-technical users as this would also allow the general public to participate by submitting bug reports, feature requests etc and allow the common man to get more involved in government projects which affect their daily lives.
Going forward, I also hope that OpenForge launches initiatives to get students involved, possibly through a mentorship model similar to Google Summer of Code. This would go a long way in nurturing the future talent of our country.
Thanks again for providing me this opportunity to share my views. If you or your readers have any questions regarding my tool or would generally like to discuss something, feel free to reach me at email@example.com