Alan Joseph Williams: Why I’m Coding for America

The failure of the federal levee system during Hurricane Katrina changed the way I think about the world around me. I was 20-years-old, but I understood for the first time that our cities are what we make them. They are the culmination of countless human decisions—both personal and social, across the generations. The causes of that epic tragedy may be many and complex, but they are all the results of poor decisions. I code for America because I believe that technology can help us understand the choices we’ve made, and help us make better decisions about our future.

A city was once an unknowable thing. For most of history, measurement on the scale of the metropolis was the exclusive province of the state, and the state did as it pleased. As the well-resourced pillars of capitalism rose, they too could measure and understand the world. As a result, their interests were served above those people with no such ability.

But the ever-falling cost of computation has devolved the power to understand the world around us into the hands of an ever-more diverse population. The internet enables us to share our understanding, and the social web allows us to find people to share it with. Smartphones and sensors empower people to observe, analyze, and share on the spot, continuously. With this tremendous democratization comes the potential to radically broaden the interests our society serves.

Our cities are teeming with human potential. People want to make their cities—their communities—better places for their friends, neighbors, and family. Taken together, their observations, lived experiences and considerations are incredibly valuable. I am coding for America to help create diverse and accessible opportunities for people to fulfill their desire to contribute meaningfully to the well-being of their community, and to participate in social decision-making.

Of course, this is no small task. No single app or platform we create will fulfill this vision. But we’ll make better choices if we try.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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