Postman helps Code for Baltimore simplify community-driven API development

Postmanaut working with Code for Baltimore A P I. Illustration.

About

Code for Baltimore (CfB) is a community of volunteers who develop open-source solutions for social good. As a brigade (chapter) of Code for America, the group focuses on open government, open data, and great design to build tools that improve engagement between local communities, nonprofits, and city services.

One of CfB's key focus areas is emergency response. The team built Bmore Responsive, a simple, flexible REST API that functions as a contact management system to help city agencies to coordinate critical services. The team relied on the Postman API Platform to quickly onboard new team members, collaborate during development, and easily conduct regression testing. As a result, they were able to help Baltimore respond more effectively to the coronavirus pandemic.

Results

Faster delivery in times of urgent need

Easier onboarding of new team members

Better testing and higher quality code


The Challenge

The Healthcare Rollcall project began in mid-2019, originally to assist the city of Baltimore during natural disasters. Years before, a major weather event wiped out power across the city, and first responders didn't know which hospitals had power and which did not — with tragic results in some cases. With only a Rolodex on hand, city employees had to call healthcare facilities one by one and coordinate information with emergency service providers. A few years later, this was replaced by an Excel sheet — a marginal improvement at best.

CfB wanted to transform emergency communications with a digital solution that could automate much of the work and streamline the flow of critical information. So, they began building a back-end API (called “Bmore Responsive API”) along with the Healthcare Rollcall front-end UI that enabled healthcare providers to share status updates with the Baltimore City Department of Health.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, CfB realized that they needed to move much faster in order to get their system deployed and serving the community. Over 600 eldercare facilities were at ground zero of the crisis, and the city needed to gather information on such things as infection rates and protective equipment needs.

New volunteers were eager to help, and the project team quickly grew from one to ten. With the increased demand and growing size, the team needed more internal tooling to help quickly onboard new members and help everyone stay as productive as possible. CfB saw how Postman's collaboration features could enable them to simplify their community-driven API development workflow. With the help of the Postman non-profit program, CfB was able to get access to some of Postman's more advanced features.

We really appreciate how Postman supports nonprofits like Code for Baltimore; it's pretty heartwarming.

Bill Lakenan, Delivery Lead, Code for Baltimore


The Solution

As CfB accelerated development, Postman's collaboration features, such as a central API repository, shared workspace, and documentation tools, helped the growing team work better together. They built a Postman Collection that included all their API endpoints and workflows, which served as a reference for the team, as well as an easy onboarding tool for new team members.

Most of the folks I work with day to day, both at Code for Baltimore and professionally, really value having a Postman Collection to show them how the API works.

Bill Lakenan, Delivery Lead, Code for Baltimore

CfB also added testing workflows to their collection, making it easier to automate testing during development. They integrated the collection into their CI/CD pipeline using Newman, a command line collection runner for Postman. Using the Newman CLI, the team could automate regression testing by triggering the collection runner to cycle through the test suite specified in the collection. This allowed the small team to continually test code updates with minimal effort.

Test automation also helped keep the growing team on track. Every new developer joining the team meant another person who's unfamiliar with the code base was pushing PRs and making changes, which increased the risk of induced defects. Postman enabled the team to continuously test updates and maintain high quality code.

Postman's Newman CLI makes running our regression test suite so much easier. We can move faster with confidence knowing that our updates aren't breaking anything.

Bill Lakenan, Delivery Lead, Code for Baltimore


The Outcome

As a volunteer organization, CfB manages ongoing shifts in its community: new members join and old members drop out or take breaks. Postman makes it easier to quickly onboard new volunteers to API projects in an easy, self-service manner, so they can be as productive as possible during the time they have for the project. Postman's test automation tools ensure that everyone's code is thoroughly vetted and ready to contribute to the cause.

As new projects kick off and new people join us, Postman helps us hit the ground running and share tribal knowledge across the team.

Bill Lakenan, Delivery Lead, Code for Baltimore

But CfB is not waiting for the next crisis to make an impact; the group is always working on new and exciting civic tech projects. Volunteers of all skillsets, experience levels, and time commitments are welcome to participate. Learn more about how to get involved, submit a project idea, or join CfB's Slack channel or Meetup group. Baltimore needs YOU!

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