Shaunak Kashyap: Why I’m Coding for America

I was born in India. The first 18 years of my life were spent there. It is no secret that corruption is rampant in that part of the world. Inefficient processes in government encourage corrupt practices like bribery. Lack of transparency with data lets government officials get away with corruption. On good days, these ills can be a minor annoyance to citizens; on bad ones, they could be life-altering in negative ways.

Like many of my fellow citizens growing up in this environment, I felt hopeless about the state of “the system.” I wanted to do my part to change it — indeed, I still do — but other priorities in life took over.

I moved to the U.S. for a college education. I got a degree in Computer Science and eventually moved to Silicon Valley to hone my craft. Life was good. Amongst many other things, it was refreshing to live in a country where corruption wasn’t part of my day-to-day life.

Still, I hadn’t scratched my itch to improve “the system.” I began to wonder if I could somehow do this in my own way — by using my skills in software development. I looked into the Peace Corps and Engineers without Borders but they (quite understandably) didn’t seem to have much of a need for software developers.

Then in the summer of 2012 I came across Jennifer Pahlka’s TED talk on Coding a better government. In her talk, Jen spoke about how Code for America fellows were just as frustrated with government as everyone else but, instead of complaining about it, they were actually doing something to fix it. And what they were doing was creating “civic apps.” Given my background, this movement resonated with me.

In another part of the world at another time, I had already witnessed first-hand what lack of transparency, efficiency, and citizen engagement in government could do to a country and its people. I am determined to do my bit to improve upon the status quo and perhaps even help create a model for other nations and their citizens to follow.

That’s why I code for America.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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