Richa Agarwal: Why I’m Coding for America

When I applied to code for America, I was asked what I was passionate about. I wrote about my fascination with people and societies. Broadly, these have been questions that frame my world: What makes us tick? What makes communities work? What common threads can we find and which differences do we need to respect? How do we digest information, and who is responsible for the distribution?

After studying philosophy as an undergraduate, it became increasingly difficult for me to place value judgments on many issues. Neither good nor bad, I saw obstacles we face as symptoms of larger systems. Of course, these systems are rooted in something, whether some societal ritual or science or belief system. And those belong to individuals.

Much has been made about the internet’s potential to level the playing field, to bring a voice to those who historically have not had a voice, to connect us globally, and generally just do amazing things. I believe in the potential of all these things, but there is also a divisive force at play. By and large, most people don’t understand how the devices they use everyday work, and those that do are incidentally forging policy.

As a lover of data, part of the reason I’m coding for America is to help open this up to citizens and allow them to engage more with their government. I believe open, intentional communication lines are one of the keys to a healthy society. As programmers, I think a lot of us have gotten used to taking things without asking, with the belief that information wants to be free. But I think intention is important, as it takes into consideration the very real people the data may affect.

The challenges facing societies will always be evolving, but if we allow governments to fall behind on technology then we lose the true value of democracy. I believe that if we want to give the government back to the people, we have to give technology back to the people. And this is why I code for America.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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