Code for America recently lured me back into the traditional work environment after more than ten years working for myself as a consultant for numerous national and local non-profits (and producing documentaries on the side—insert shameless plug here for Corner Store which now available on Hulu).
Why leave the flexibility and relative freedom of freelance work you might ask? I respond with the usual reasons–the desire to make a difference in an organization over the long-term, the desire for professional development and collegiality, the desire for a new challenge.
In all honesty though, the main draw of Code for America for me was its leadership—I was, and continue to be, inspired by Jennifer Pahlka’s ability to shepherd an idea of grand proportions (helpt to reinvent the relationship between government and citizens using technology) into practical reality in a few short years. It’s remarkable and something worth investing in. So I signed on to help the organization cultivate and engage its institutional funders—an amazing and growing number of forward thinking foundations, companies, and individuals who understand the need for and desire of government to move toward a new way of working that embraces the technological innovation of the 21st century.
It’s a fun job where I get to think about strategy and outcomes and lessons learned and ways to support the organization as it continues to evolve. I also get to tell stories. And the stories coming out of Code for America are helping build a movement.
Citizens in New Orleans and Detroit are having a different conversation with the city about blighted properties than they did a year ago as a result of a new tools built by our fellows. An online application developed two years ago in Boston by CfA fellows to make sure the fire department had access to hydrants in a snowstorm has now been adopted for sidewalks, tsunami sirens, and storm drains by more than 10 local governments. Volunteer technologists across the country are coming together through regular meetups of Code for America Brigades to donate their skills and time to making local government more transparent, efficient, and easy to interact with. In Chicago, one volunteer developed an application now hosted by the Department of Public Health that maps the city’s flu clinics to help residents locate the closest place for a vaccine.
And the list goes on…
While Jen was the primary reason I joined Code for America initially, I admit to expanding my allegiance over the past six months to the individuals behind the scenes and the stories they are creating. The staff that work tirelessly and passionately to keep CfA programs running, the fellows who give a year of service for the opportunity to create something significant, the local government leaders who see another way and want to experiment, and the volunteers who are investing in their communities with their design, engineering, and organizing skills to help make them better. It’s a smart, humble, and generous group, and I’m honored every day to see examples of the next wave of public service unfolding in America.
Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.