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2021-apalooza: Year in Review

As we enter the waning days of 2021, we wanted to take stock and share what we’ve been up to this year.

On the main stage

You may have already heard about some of our biggest releases this year:

  • Index-like ‘choosers’ have been implemented across the site to give users better tools for selecting exactly what they want.
  • Activity custom fields let you decide how you want to describe your activities, part of an ongoing effort to make DevResults more customizable to users working in different sectors and contexts.
  • A new instance data export tool makes it quick and easy to get a full copy of your data, whether you want to have your own backup, or if decide to end your DevResults subscription😢 At the very least, we hope the existence of such a tool will help you feel less “locked-in.”

Things you may have missed

Some of the not-so-obvious changes may still be worth checking out, if you haven’t already:

Behind the curtains

We’ve saved the best for last! Honestly, some of our most exciting developments in 2021 are those happening in the background.

DevResults is FedRAMP authorized!

We’ve worked with the U.S. Government for a long time, pretty much since the beginning of DevResults. We’ve always been committed to ensuring client data is as secure as possible. To make sure that our security and risk assessment processes were standardized and in line with best practices, we recently took on the process to receive authorization from the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP).

Getting FedRAMP-authorized ain’t easy. The U.S. Government has particular rules and standards to ensure that enterprise software is worthy of taxpayer money and sensitive data. Not to mention, all users, stakeholders, and the sector itself benefit when technology providers like DevResults invest more time, energy, and resources into data privacy and security.

After just 11 months of intensive effort, DevResults was authorized by FedRAMP in September, and is now available to federal agencies on the FedRAMP marketplace! If your agency would like to request our authorization package or inquire about our ATOs (Authority To Operate), please get in touch. Also: stay tuned for a longer update on the FedRAMP process and what it means for all our users.

As with all things at our company, this was a team effort, but special accolades are due to Ritika Bhasker, our Director of Privacy and Security, who shepherded us all through reams of paperwork, techno-speak, and legalese over the past year. Strong work, Ritika!

Background queue

As our customers’ database size grows and grows, many ‘synchronous’ or “on demand” tasks are starting to get bogged down. That made for longer processing times, slower page loads, and frustrated users. While making queries and tasks more efficient is always top of mind, there’s a limit to how much any web app can do while you wait. Instead, we created an asynchronous queue to handle those big ticket items.

Take our IATI file exporter: if your activity file can be generated before you leave the page, you can download it right then and there. Otherwise, you’ll receive an email with a download link when it's done.

There’s also a nightly cleaning crew — we call them The Enforcers — that scour your database for orphaned or partially deleted data that would otherwise show up unexpectedly in MultiMatrix reports or dashboards. These Enforcers ensure data integrity quietly and efficiently while we all sleep.

Technical wealth

You may be familiar with the concept of technical debt or code debt. It’s a lot like the financial version — do the expedient thing now (like take out a car loan), and pay the price later (pay the interest in addition to the principal). Of course, if you need a car now and don’t have the cash on hand, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to take out a low-interest loan.

As with most things, our engineers are often confronted with a choice between The Right Way™ and The Easy(ier) Way™. The Easy Way isn’t necessarily wrong if it helps you prioritize what’s most important; maybe deploying a security patch is more urgent than re-designing an entire page from the bottom-up. Over time, though, the codebase accrues debt in the form of code that will need to be improved upon at some point down the road. Sometimes even shiny new tools and languages (e.g. CoffeeScript) get rusty and need to be replaced by newer, better tools (e.g. TypeScript).

At DevResults, we like to generate technical wealth (#AppreciativeAssessment) by paying down some of that debt. It’s not always visible to users, but it makes a world of difference in preventing bugs, streamlining the app, and making life more bearable for our hard-working engineers.

You may have noticed a few teeny tiny changes that seemed to come out of nowhere. You may have even wondered “why would they waste valuable time on that?” What you don’t see below the waterline is whole libraries and literally thousands of lines of less-efficient code quietly being chucked out.

If you happen to bump into an engineer on Helpdesk, tell them you love AG Grid (pronounced “ay-jee grid”). They'll appreciate it!

Growing the community

Each year, we identify areas to grow and diversify our clientele in order to accrete more sectoral expertise and adapt to new contexts. This year we expanded our partnerships in the democracy, rights, and governance (aka DRG) sector, as well with projects in climate change mitigation and zoonotic disease prevention. Some of these partnerships, like World Resources Institute, represent new agency-level implementations for first-time users, whereas others represent established clients upgrading from small single-project instances.

With every new partner, we gain tremendously helpful insights and ideas from new users with fresh perspectives. At the same time, each new customer comes with new expectations to consider. This can be both an opportunity and a challenge; while we want to make all of our clients happy, we can’t allow ourselves to be pulled in every direction at once. Instead, we spend a lot of time reflecting on and discussing how we can elegantly meet the needs of new and existing users with general-purpose tools and features. In fact, there’s little more satisfying for us than building something inspired by a new customer only to hear an early adopter exclaim “I never knew I needed this!”

Growing the team

It’s been a hiring bonanza around here!

We welcomed Frederico “Fred” Rodrigues Lima de Souza Pinto to the Engineering Team back in April, and we can’t wait to meet him (IRL that is)! Fred is an accomplished engineer who started contributing to the DevResults app literally on his first day, and every day since!

We also just expanded the Data Team as well — for the first time in 3 years, no less — and are excited to announce that Samuel “Sam” Sesay joined the team in October! Sam has been a long-time user and site administrator of DevResults with Winrock International. We’re excited to finally have him on the other side of our Helpdesk, and we know you’ll be excited to have a new face/name in your inbox!

Not only that, we’re currently looking for another new engineer to join the team as well. Tell your friends!

The best is yet to come

It’s been another challenging year, but we’re excited to finish 2021 strong and enter 2022 with a bigger team, a stronger app, and lots of new ideas. Nothing’s certain, but we plan to work on some new features for DevResults Enterprise, data table calculations, and our permissions structure — if that sounds exciting, then stay tuned!