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Jennifer Pahlka

Founder and Executive Director, Code for America

Sometimes dreamers are driven to pursue their ideas — a notion that’s true for Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America (CfA), an organization that unites government and the open source software development community. In 2009, Pahlka quit her longtime career in the tech event industry to launch the new venture. “I felt a strong conviction about it,” she said. “I felt that we needed to at least try it.”

Three years later, Pahlka’s creation is helping to transform local government operations. The program, which matches open source development teams to cities with innovative ideas, has proven popular and productive. This year, CfA had 515 applicants, with only 25 fellowships to offer. And the previous round of Code for America fellowships produced apps that have been replicated nationwide.

The ultimate goal, Pahlka says, is to foster new notions of citizenship, where people think not just about the benefits of being a citizen, but also their responsibilities as citizens. She adds that the program’s success is largely due to the innovation and passion of city governments — along with the commitment of many people who have invested their time, money and energy in it.  

CfA continues to expand, with two new programs for citizen coders who want to contribute on more flexible terms or obtain startup funding and advice. “I feel like I have found my life’s work,” Pahlka said. “I couldn’t be happier connecting these talented developers and designers to a mission that I think is really important.”


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.