Code for America: Five Years In

Making Government Work for Everyone

Five years ago, few believed that government could change. Today, thousands of volunteers “code for America” in their own communities every week, working closely with City Hall and local companies.

Five years ago, working in government was not exactly cool. Today, engineers from Google, Facebook, and Twitter leave to work in government or to found their own government technology startup. What’s more, passionate, committed civil servants are getting noticed as innovators.

Five years ago, civic tech dabbled on the edges of government. Quick, lightweight apps showed that interfaces to government data could be simple, beautiful, and easy to use, but government systems and processes remained untouched. Today, multi-million (and billion) dollar legacy systems written in programming languages from the 1960s are under scrutiny. The people in charge of those systems know there’s a better way to serve the American public.

Five years ago, I started Code for America because I believe government can work for the people, by the people, in the 21st century.

Now, five years in, we’ve seen what this remarkable community is capable of. Which is why we’re upping the bar.

Together, we’re still showing what’s possible through lightweight approaches, creating demand for change and a supply of talent to create that change. But we’re now tackling the harder work of changing the tools and processes of government. To do that, we’re focusing on major areas where technology empowers passionate, committed government staff and touches millions of lives.

Today, we have a shot at making government work. So we must ask: for whom should government work?

  • The business owner getting her permits

  • Parents enrolling their children in school

  • A family applying for food assistance

  • The government worker wading through an ocean of paper

  • A teenager struggling with the system to deal with a minor offense

Our answer: Everyone. Government should work for everyone.

But it won’t work for everyone unless everyone helps it work.

To all of you who’ve made the last five years possible, thank you! To everyone else, join us!

In gratitude,
Jennifer Pahlka
Founder and Executive Director
Code for America