Thinking Small

I work for a civic technology startup in San Francisco, but I’m a small-town native who works daily with small to mid-sized communities. As such, when I read or hear about the latest “answer” to civic problems, created by a team of geniuses and piloted in one of the largest cities in the country, I’m a little wary.

While shining examples of city use of technology like San Francisco and New York City are well worth profiling and learning from, if their solutions don’t fit a town of 9,000 the problem has not yet been truly solved. Small communities need solutions too.

Presenting: Things I have overheard in Big Cities

Smalltown1

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Why I’m coding for Recovers

Crossposted from codeforAmerica.org/blog.

My year as a Code for America Fellow was a whirlwind. Last January, inspiring thought leaders explained local government, startup processes, and the art of negotiation. In February we had 100+ meetings about problems in our city, and a boatload of suggested solutions we could build.

By March, I had something akin to an information hangover. We were ready to get started, but didn’t know the best place to begin. Once the team had picked a direction — in our case disaster preparedness and crisis response — the race began. With only a year, the feedback loop is fast, and the learning curve, steep. The closest comparison for me is downhill mountain biking: riding downhill, moving fast, and hopefully responding faster. Once at the bottom, having managed to not die, and still atop a bike, means you probably did an okay job. After all, in civic tech you might also be the only one who tried. De facto “best” at doing that thing despite yourself.

However, one sentiment shared across many of the fellows this year was that we weren’t done: there was more work to do. Sure some of us were done with parts of it, like the stipend, or being called “interns” or a nickname I came to dread, “the codies.” In such a fast-paced environment, we’d barely had a chance to correct and account for all the stuff learned along the way.

At the end of the year it was surprising how many options were open to me. Being able to show initiative, gumption, GitHub repos, and have ownership of projects being used out in the wild, solving real problems was incredibly valuable. Options are great — they can also be really overwhelming — and despite all of them, nothing really is a logical “next step” for a Code for America Fellow.

When Recovers.org, one of CfA’s Accelerator companies focused on crisis response and disaster preparedness, mentioned their team would be growing it took awhile to set in that I really could keep trying to tackle the issues I honed in on during my Fellowship in Austin. I could take what I learned and apply it to stuff.

I’m really excited about my new gig as Design Director at Recovers.org. I count myself as lucky to be working with an awesome team, doing important work that’s interesting, fun, and makes the world a better place.