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‘Code for America’ Programmers to Work in City Governments

Code for America announces fellowship winners will work as open-source Web programmers for city governments for a year.

by / November 3, 2010

Four cities will each receive a team of five open source Web programmers for 11 months, as selected by Code for America, a new nonprofit that’s pairing Web geeks with city governments.

The selected cities were Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Each city paid $250,000 to participate, which included submitting applications and proposals for what they wanted from a team of fellows.

Code for America recently announced its 20 fellows for 2011, chosen from among 360 applicants. The fellows will work mostly from Code for America’s San Francisco headquarters; the programmers will spend February of next year at the actual local governments they’ll be serving.

  • Boston fellows will design a Web platform enabling the city to use its educational services to engage students. The platform could enable students to get suggested readings for homework assignments, discuss their schoolwork with one another and engage in reading contests, among other possibilities, according to Code for America.
  • The District of Columbia team will craft a “how to” manual designed to enable other local governments to replicate the city’s work with open data programs, like its Web app contest Apps for Democracy.
  • Philadelphia wants its fellows to develop an open source mechanism for citizens to collaborate on activities related to “neighborhood services” in the local area.
  • Seattle’s fellows will develop a way for communities to work with one another and public safety officials to make neighborhoods safer.
  • Boulder, Colo., was Code for America’s fifth city for 2011 but dropped out because of bigger budget shortfalls than expected.

At the end of 11 months, the applications will be made public for any other local government to use or craft into something else.

Surprising Participants

One of Boston’s fellows will be Ryan Resella, senior IT analyst for Santa Clarita, Calif. Despite already having been a municipal IT employee for the past five years, Resella said he longed to apply what he had learned on the job to challenges faced by other local governments. He’s resigning his position in Santa Clarita.

“It wasn’t an easy decision — trust me,” Resella said. “Local government is pretty stable. We’ve had budget issues like every other city, but we haven’t had layoffs or furloughs.”

At the end of the 11 months, Resella said he would take a job back at Santa Clarita if one was open, but he will be open to other opportunities, especially in local governments.

“I have a master’s degree in public administration, so it’s been my passion for the last couple of years,” Resella said.

Jennifer Pahlka, the executive director of Code for America, said the organization was pleasantly surprised by the number of applicants who were coming from successful careers — mid-career — and were willing to give up a good salary.

The program pays fellows a $35,000 stipend, along with health-care benefits and travel expenses.

Given that economic troubles have sapped most local governments’ budgets, one might wonder how cities can afford Code for America’s $250,000 participation fee. Pahlka said that big cities had an easier time drumming up that amount of money. Code for America hopes to engage smaller cities too in the future, she said.


Andy Opsahl

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.

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