Alexander Tran: Why I’m Coding for America

While in high school, my grandfather suffered from a stroke. A social, fast-talking, and brilliant civil engineer, my grandfather recovered slowly and continued to feel isolated by his new circumstances. In moments of reflection, he discovered the willingness to try on new skills, including using the web. Although bright in many capacities, my grandfather, like some of his fellow engineers at Caltrans, could not be described as particularly computer savvy in the way we use computers now. Computers in his realm of knowledge were reserved for intensive computing tasks like building CAD models, not for social networking.

Although he had become limited in some ways by his stroke, he discovered new connections and empowerment through technology. Email and blogging ignited his passion for writing, culminating in a book about our family’s history and his escape from communist Vietnam. Participating in online forums and sharing YouTube videos became his lifeline – to his community and his family. In short, modern web technologies facilitated my grandfather, a lifelong government engineer, manager, and administrator, into a new life as a digital community member. He had discovered tech joy.

Inside the rarified tech bubble of San Francisco, it can be hard to imagine there are still people like my grandfather who haven’t joined the social web bandwagon. However, in government, Code for America fellows and civic startups will continue to encounter many people like my grandfather, who, for the majority of their life, have not understand the magic of modern web technologies. That’s just one reason why we need Code for America – our organization brings more than technology solutions to government. We are ambassadors of cultural innovation and exchange, bringing a new way of thinking about government that can be empowering, and even fun, like the internet.

It is this faith in change at the government level that has driven me to work in this space. Firstly, as a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs, where I developed the California Emerging Technology Fund’s Regional Broadband Roundtables as a resource-sharing forum for government agencies and nonprofits helping to close the Digital Divide. Then, working at ZeroDivide, a longtime funder and trainer of digital literacy programs, I built digital literacy trainings for youth media nonprofits and next generation racial justice leaders. I’m excited and honored to now join the team at Code for America, where I’ll be building our new civic startup accelerator. I also look forward to working with the community of hackers, government geeks, and startup gurus to mentor and support our inaugural class of civic startups. Together, we’ll do incredible things.

I code for America to expand the effectiveness and responsiveness of governments.

I code for America to help mentor the next generation of civic startups.

I code for America to honor the legacy of my grandfather.

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