Empowering students to do good

Code for America recently announced that Atlanta will be one of 10 cities in 2014 that will partner with talented designers, programmers and researches to improve the city with innovative software applications. This is great news for Atlanta. In the words of Mayor Kasim Reed, this partnership will aim to “creating a more open and transparent government” and “encourage collective problem-solving through civic collaboration.”

Code for America is an organization that brings a new meaning to “by the people, for the people.” One large part of the Code for America project is dedicated towards its fellowships, where fellows are selected designers, developers and researchers given 11 months to collaborate with a city government. This collaboration typically results in new applications to be used by citizens in the city or government employees.

As a computer science major at Tech, I find this idea novel and quite empowering. There are a lot of software developers and designers out there solving important, global problems. There are also plenty of Silicon Valley startups working on the next greatest to-do or weather application.

Code for America is a fantastic platform that gives another option for talented individuals to make an impact in our local governments. In addition to the fellowship, Code for America also has other programs that work in the same spirit to improve government with code. One of these programs is interested in supporting startups that focus on civic issues. Another program offers support for citizens and public servants to promote openness and innovation with their local government.

These programs enable more people to get involved, so you don’t have to be a rockstar programmer or designer to participate. With Atlanta’s participation in next year’s fellowship, Code for America can continue to make an impact in the city.

Code for America isn’t the only program of its kind.

I am currently taking a class called Computing for Good, which is an alternative to the traditional senior design class required for CS majors. In the class, we are working in teams to build IT solutions for non-profit organizations. It’s a great experience, because not only do I feel like I am gaining technical and project-management skills, but I also feel like I’m really going to make a difference with the application my team produces.

It would be fantastic if Tech could start and promote a similar platform to Code for America specifically for the Tech community. There are several existing IT products (e.g. T-Square, Tech mobile apps, NextBUS) that could be improved upon if they were open to contributions.

In order for the platform to be successful, it would need to be promoted to make students excited about giving back to Tech. The problems should be interesting enough so that anyone could get involved, not just CS majors. Imagine what could be improved. So many students love Tech and have the skills to improve it. Give them a platform to contribute, and I know Tech would be a better place.

I hope that more people will participate in organizations similar to Code for America and take classes like Computing for Good. We are still realizing all of the ways in which the Internet can bring people together to solve problems in ways that weren’t possible before.