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Do things that matter.

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Ryan Resella

Originally posted from Revolution.is – http://revolution.is/ryan-resella/

Tim O’Reilly once said, “Do things that matter,” and for the last seven months of my life, I’ve been focused on just that.

While in my senior year of college, I landed my first real career position as a web developer for a small business in Santa Clarita, California. A little over a year after starting there, I was offered the opportunity to do contract work as a web developer for the City of Santa Clarita. It was a 6-month contract with no guarantee of a full time position at the end of the contract. After weighing my options, I decided to jump into the unknown and left my full-time job with benefits to work as a short-term contract employee for a local government.

Fast forward to July of 2010, I had been at the City of Santa Clarita for nearly five years and had moved four positions in three years. I started as a contract employee and eventually became a Senior Information Technology Analyst.

The five years I spent working in local government really opened my eyes to what it means to work in public service. Everyday there is meaningful work that benefits the citizens of your community.

Through my work there I became very passionate about government and how it can be improved using technology. I would look for innovative ways to solve the problems that we were facing and I realized that I wanted to do more with my passion for technology and improving government.

When I heard about Code for America, a kind of Peace Corps for geeks, I was immediately interested. Code for America recruits developers, designers, and entrepreneurs into a year of public service to make governments across the country more open and efficient. We partner directly with governments to find hard problems that need creative solutions, and then challenge our teams of fellows to go from concept to deployment in under a year. We’re trying to make it easy and attractive for the web generation to give back.

361 people across the country applied for the inaugural 2011 Code for America Fellowship. After a series of interviews, I was chosen to be one of the first 20 fellows. I was then faced with hardest decision of my life. At 31 years old I was thinking about giving up my job mid-career to work for a new non-profit organization. The thought of being part of the first class of fellows in what could be an amazing organization was really thrilling, but I was living a comfortable life, had a great government job with a lot of success and had lots of nice things and a house. I would have to take a two-thirds pay cut to join Code for America. How would I make ends meet?

I spent a lot of time talking things over with friends, coworkers and family, but in the end I was the one who had to make the decision of whether or not to take the fellowship. I knew that if I didn’t go I would regret the decision for the rest of my life, so I printed the offer letter, signed the document and sent it off. The moment I pushed the send button, I let out a big sigh of relief, but the rest of me was scared of what the future would hold.

In December of 2010, I gave up the comfort of my current life. I left my wonderful job, packed my car full of what I would need for a year and left the only city that I had known to move to San Francisco where I had no friends and just a few family members.

Why is Code for America so important to me?

Because in 1970, 70% of local government employees were under the age of 40, but in 2006, only 13% of local government employees were under 40. As more and more people retire and leave government jobs, the opportunity for young and talented people is now.

My first experience working in local government showed me the opportunities that I had to innovate and change processes through technology. Code for America provides talented technologists exposure to government jobs that they may have overlooked when checking out the larger private companies.

My time at Code for America has been absolutely amazing – the best year of my life. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make and it has been the most challenging year of my life, but it has also been the most rewarding and meaningful year that I have ever experienced. This year has made me realize that following your passion and taking risk translates into doing things that matter. I don’t know what the future holds for me or where this will lead me, but I’ll continue to use my passion for technology to improve government.

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Mark Hammer

I remember seeing a PBS documentary on the “Teach for America” program some 15years ago or so (happily, still going strong: http://www.teachforamerica.org/ ), and I have to say it was inspiring. I gather it was only a matter of time before something like Code for America got off the ground.

Good on ya, Ryan! And on all your colleagues there.

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