Ryan Resella | Profiles from the Geospatial Community

Caitlin Dempsey


Ryan Resella is a former coworker of mine back from when we both worked for the City of Santa Clarita in California.  Ryan has just begun his first year as a permanent member of Code for America’s team after thriving as an inaugural fellow last year with the program.  

I asked Ryan some questions about his experience last year and his outlook on geospatial technologies.  

You were part of the inaugural fellows for the Code for America (CfA) program.  What made you decide to leave your job as a developer for the City of Santa Clarita and move to San Francisco to take on this fellowship?

I first saw Code for America on a Facebook Blog post.  I saw this video with Tim O’Reilly, Mark Zuckerberg and Biz Stone that painted this picture of using your talents to help solve civic problems in cities.  

Having worked at the City of Santa Clarita for 5 years as a developer I had seen this need.  What if talented people in the web industry could make the technology in cities better?  

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I wanted to take the things I had learned in city government and help this first year organization.  I believed that this organization would grow and be big one day and being of the first fellows was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.

When the fellowship ended in November of 2011 I had some great opportunities open up for me.  A position opened up at Code for America for the Technical Lead.  I applied for the position and got it.

 I’m very passionate about how cities work and how we can leverage technology and open data to improve the citizen experience.  It’s been a great opportunity working with a new set of Fellows (26 this year) and 8 cities.  It’s an exciting time in the Gov 2.0 movement.

What kinds of projects did you work on during your fellowships?  Can you describe a couple had the most impact on you?

Headshot of a man in front of some buildings.

At Code for America we have our main projects and then we have what are called “Labs Fridays” which is our 20% time.  

For my main project I worked on a proof of concept project a Veteran’s Job portal called JobOps.  The goal of JobOps was to help Veterans translate their skills learned in the military to private sector jobs.  

I also worked on the Solar Boston project which Boston had built in 2008.  Solar Boston uses building foot prints, lidar data and solar radiation analysis to determine how feasible solar is for a rooftop.  I took the project and updated it to ArcGIS 10 and the Flex API 2.3.  

The solar widget is available for download on the Esri web site.  

Another project that another Fellow worked on is called Adopt A Hydrant.  In Boston when it snows fire hydrants get buried.  When the emergency personnel come up to the hydrant they have to spend precious time digging out the hydrants.  

The city doesn’t have the resources to dig out every hydrant.  However citizens can adopt hydrants and volunteer to dig them out when it snows, increasing citizen participation in government.  

We have seen this application also reused in several other cities.  Not just for adopting hydrants but for sidewalks in Chicago and tsunami sirens in Honolulu.

Your successful year at CfA culminated in your winning the FCC and James S. and John L. Knight Foundation’s Apps for Communities competition’s grand prize.  Can you explain what YAKB.us is and what inspired you to develop this app?

Yakb.us is an application for real time transit arrivals using voice and text messaging.  In Santa Clarita each bus is equipped with GPS tracking.  

Each of the stops have a five digit code attached to the bus stop.  Some of the bus stops have a box attached that will show the next arrival times.  

With Yakbus to get the next arrivals times for the bus, one can simply call or text the Yakbus application and punch in the five digit bus stop number.  The application will read or text back the next arrival times for that bus.

Three other transit agencies use the same API as Santa Clarita so it was easy to replicate the process across those systems.

I built Yakb.us for people who rely on public transit.  Growing up in Southern California almost everyone has cars and relies on them.  I had a car growing up and never had to use public transit.  

When I moved to San Francisco last year I became heavily dependent on public transit.  The BART has an open API that allows developers to build applications on BART data.  I could look on a web page or an app on my phone and see when the next BART was going to arrive.  

I knew exactly when to leave the office or what time I would have to leave  location to be able to walk to the station.  

For those who rely on public transit it’s not only important to know when the bus is going to arrive but also if it’s going to arrive at all.  The application uses both voice and SMS which is the lowest common denominator for those who have cell phones.  

Not everyone has a smart phone but everyone who has a cell phone can receive calls and send text messages.

You recently had the opportunity to visit Esri for a meeting with Jack Dangermond.  What take home message can you share with GIS Lounge about this visit?

Yes, I had a chance to visit Jack Dangermond at the Esri campus along with our Executive Director / Founder Jennifer Palkha.  It was a great meeting as Jack and Esri have been very supportive of Code for America.  

It was great to see how passionate he is about GIS and cartography and he just loves story telling through maps.  We had a chance to see more of ArcGIS.com as it was demo’d at the 2011 Esri User Conference.

We walked around parts of the Esri campus with Jack.  Jack also made a visit to the Code for America office in Jan to meet our new fellows and talk GIS with them.

How do you see the role of geospatial technologies in the future?  

I think the role of geospatial technologies in the future will continue to evolve and become more and more part of our everyday lives.  

The awareness factor is one of the biggest things as people don’t actually know that they are using GIS everyday.  I hope that more developers will see the value in geospatial.  

There are many chances in GIS to continue to story tell through maps which ultimately lead to data driven decision making and better decisions being made.  I think more and more tools will be developed to make it easier to make maps.  

OpenStreet Map will continue to grow into a platform that more people will continue to use.  

Also we’ve seen location based services exploder over the last two years because of the increased technology changes of mobile phones.  We are seeing applications like Street Bump in Boston that can detect a pothole by placing your mobile phone on your dashboard.  

In the next few years will be seeing this idea of a “citizen as a sensor” more and more as mobile devices continue to evolve.

Ryan Resella is also an accomplished photographer and his worked is showcased on his photography blog.  Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanresella.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.