Our Civic Duty as Techies

“Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.” — President Barack Obama

Public service is championed across many professions. In law, clerking for a federal judge is considered an important part in many lawyers’ careers. Doctors across the country compete for prestigious research and policy roles within government. Their contributions have pushed us forward and made our country stronger. And they’ve become better lawyers and doctors as a result. Now, there’s a huge opportunity for far more technologists to improve the way government serves Americans everywhere. To make vital services like healthcare and benefits more accessible for millions. To add our voice to policy debates on issues of national or local importance. To accelerate our progress and remain the world’s leader in innovative thinking. But this won’t happen on its own.

The first and most important step is for techies to get engaged. This can take a lot of different forms. It can include getting involved in our local communities. Or it could mean applying your rarefied skills as an engineer, designer, UX researcher, product manager (you get the idea) in collaboration with other experts to make the country work better. Our involvement in the future of our country is crucial.

When we decide to work in government, we have the opportunity to collaborate with policymakers to make a deep, positive impact on people’s lives at scale. Our work at 18F, the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), as Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIFs), and for Chief Information Officers (CIOs) across agencies makes sure millions of people access healthcare and ensures our Veterans receive the treatment and support they’ve earned. Already, we’ve helped improve the security for the Department of Defense, set immigrants up for success when they enter our country legally, and make debt more manageable for students. There’s still so much more to do. Whether later in our careers or as a first job, we can use our skills to deliver faster, better, and more user-focused services to the American people, every day.

The good news: while the problems we work on in government can be complex and hard, public service has never been easier to do. Whether it’s taking just a few months or weeks off to advise an agency on an important issue, or signing up to hack on better services, or using open data to create more powerful apps for Americans, our skills are a vital piece of revolutionizing how government works for and with the people — the people we live with, work with, and pass every day on the street. We can explore a range of local, state and federal tech jobs. The techies already in the government, men and women from diverse communities across the United States, can’t wait to welcome more of us in.

Local governments are also undergoing major technology transformations and need our expertise. In addition to the emerging civic tech commercial sector, organizations like Code for America are working to solve real civic problems at all levels of government.

All that said, working in government is only one option for engagement. Techies are also needed to further public interest campaigns, issues, and causes with our unique talents and perspectives. We can use our skills to help organize our friends and other Americans to have our voices heard on the issues that matter most to us. We can take a break from the private sector to work at one of the hundreds of non-profits that focus on directly solving our most important challenges, or help hold our companies, government, and other institutions accountable. We can organize or simply participate in hackathons to try to solve important challenges, building from the ground up or using great civic APIs. We can help the best ideas find a home, and rally the entrepreneurs who can make them a reality on a massive scale.

If you read this, and you’re not ready to take the leap, there’s still time. We’ll need the best our industry has to offer for years to come in order to keep up with the world around us.

We know many of you reading this care about the direction of this country. Now, we have the chance to engage meaningfully in our democracy. We can join a proud and growing tradition of technologists in public service extending back to George Washington’s Army Corps of Engineers, created before the country was even founded. Think about what we can accomplish by solidifying and celebrating civic engagement in tech for this generation and beyond. We need to take up the “glorious task” we’ve been given, because our country can only be as great as what each of us brings to that task, together.

If you agree with the above, comment below and recommend this post. Tell us you’re in and about the change you want to make possible. We’re excited to meet you!

Signed,

Megan Smith

United States Chief Technology Officer

Jennifer Pahlka

Founder and Executive Director, Code for America

You can share your engagement plans or work-already-in-progress with the hashtag #TechiesEngage and join the conversation about increasing civic engagement in tech.