Why Women Should Code For America

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15% and 35% are two numbers that have been proposed as thresholds: for a minority to feel like more than a token, you need 15% representation, and to feel equal, you need 35%. Code for America is 46% women.

By Michelle Lee (2012 Fellow, Code for America)

I’ve spend the past six plus months working with the City of Philadelphia, coding for America.

I was drawn to Code for America for its mission: connecting the people and power of the web with city governments who sorely needed them. After several years as a designer at Google, the chasm between our generation’s optimistic ambitions for consumer technology and our futile acceptance of inefficient government seemed too big to ignore.

On the consumer side, we have phones that map the moon and glasses that videoconference while skydiving. On the government side, well, I could use those same glasses to livestream my two-hour wait at the DMV.

When the 2012 fellowship year kicked off, I was confident that Code for America would be a place where I could work on apps to make the citizen experience more open, efficient, and engaging.

What I didn’t expect — especially coming from a corporation with industry-leading family benefits and too many women leaders and mentorship programs to link here — was to land in an environment that would shift my thinking even further about what’s possible for women at a technology company. Or, in this case, a technology nonprofit.

Here are 3 ways Code for America isn’t your usual tech company:

1. An inspiring woman at the top. No, the very top.

As Anne-Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg point out, women leaders set both explicit policies and implicit examples for the entire company. Code for America was founded by Jennifer Pahlka in September 2009 – the product of a backyard beer and brainstorm session.

Jen now sits at the helm of organization which she has grown from working with three cities and 19 fellows in 2011 (the inaugural fellowship) to eight cities and 26 fellows this year.

2. Numbers, numbers, numbers.

15% and 35% are two numbers that have been proposed as thresholds: for a minority to feel like more than a token, you need 15% representation, and to feel equal, you need 35%.

Consider this: Code for America is 46% women. Working in two- to four-person teams, there’s no room for implicit bias and every need for the skills you can bring.

3. An environment for learning and making.

Wikipedia defines fellowship as “working together as peers in the pursuit of knowledge or practice.”

Among our 26 fellows is a diverse palette of expertise combined with an atmosphere that values learning. Through formal skillshares and informal sessions, we’ve taught each other git, PostGIS, graphic design, TileMill, juggling, Ruby on Rails, community organizing, CSS, test-driven development, bike routes, project management, and ping-pong. Then, we put these skills directly to use on our projects.

Yes, we ship, and we also expand our skills and communities along the way. We’re having fun. We’re learning new things. And we’re doing something that truly matters. Join a crew of women who are using their skills to give back – apply for a 2013 Code for America fellowship deadline to apply is July 29, 2012.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Michelle Lee is a Fellow at Code For America. She is a product designer from Philadelphia and New York City. Michelle has worked at Google since 2005 leading projects to aid in understanding and improving user experiences in Maps, Flu Trends, and Docs. Michelle started Forms under Google’s 20% time policy, and it is now the fasting growing form of Google Doc online. Previously, she designed online trust and safety tools for eBay, cars for baby boomers, and studied human-computer interaction at Stanford University’s Symbolic Systems Program.