Sheila Dugan: Why I’m Coding for America

I wanted to be a Code for America fellow before I truly appreciated the organization’s mission and work. The Fellowship appeared to be a professional challenge, allowing me to collaborate with computer programmers instead of policy wonks. I only really learned how technology could transform communities after working on the State Broadband Initiative in South Carolina.

Funded by the Department of Commerce, one of the program’s goals is to promote the access, adoption and use of broadband and the technologies enabled by high-speed internet. I traveled to communities across South Carolina to speak to leaders about the need to create plans to improve the area’s broadband infrastructure. We discussed the fact that the internet was no longer a luxury good. It is essential to educating the workforce, providing healthcare through telemedicine, and allowing residents to better connect with their government to improve the services they receive.

This is especially true in the smaller, rural communities I visited. Even though I grew up in the state, I only read the names of these towns on signs while traveling on the interstate. Some of these towns struggled with unemployment rates above 14 percent and were littered with abandoned textile mills, stores, and factories. Other areas successfully convinced large companies to relocate and hire its residents. Most struggled with a shrinking tax base and were concerned with how they could provide services to those living in their communities in a timely, efficient manner.

Anderson County’s Safetown serves as the best example of how innovative web-based and mobile applications can help governments better serve their constituents. Through the application, the county alerts users of events like traffic accidents, break-ins, shootings, and fires. It also allows households in the community to share information with the local emergency services division. If a resident’s house caught fire, the fire department would know how many people and pets are in the building, as well as whether anyone has a disability and needs special assistance. Technology can be used to not just better inform the public, but save lives.

Code for America fellows design and develop similar tools for cities and counties across the country. What I admire the most about the organization is that it does not just proselytize. It creates open source applications that localities across the country can use. This is important in an era when even the most innovative governments are constrained by budgets that seem to grow smaller each year. The ability to have a huge impact on communities is why I am proud to code for America.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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