Chris Kuang, co-founder of Coding it Forward, and Civic Digital Fellows Loren Hinkson, Rachel Stone, and Omer Bensaadon discuss this summer’s government technology fellowship, and the experiences they had while working at federal agencies.
The second round of the Coding it Forward Civic Digital Fellowship recently concluded. The program, which places technology students in government offices, is known for the tight relationships it has with federal agencies. Chris Kuang, Co-Founder of Coding It Forward, says that the fellowship is a good experience for young professionals in government. “My co-founders and I had taken a class by professor Nick Sinai, who had worked in the Obama administration as deputy chief technology officer, called ‘Tech and Innovation in Government.’ We felt that was a tremendous opportunity to create change over the course of the semester and we wanted to continue that,” said Kuang. “But, we really didn’t find any opportunities and on-ramps. We tried looking on USAJobs, and the only thing we could find for tech students was installing Microsoft Sharepoint. We felt we could do a little better than that.” Some of this summer’s fellows joined Government Matters for a panel discussion, and detailed the experiences and projects they had. Loren Hinkson, Civic Digital Fellow at the Department of Health and Human Services – “The project that I spent most of my time with this summer is around the freedom of information act, helping people who are attempting to get their Medicare records, whether it’s for litigation or other purposes… Right now, there are a lot of forms that are not as updated and sometimes people fill out forms that are not correct and end up needing to turn that around and try again. We are making that process a lot easier for them.” Rachel Stone, Civic Digital Fellow at the Department of State – The State Department has a lot of people in it: Foreign Service officers, others who been working it in for decades, if not their entire career… The culture right now in civic tech in DC, is you serve a tour of duty, you come from the private sector, you bring in your fresh shiny skills, but don’t stay too long because you will turn into a crusty bureaucrat. I’ve been impressed with the life-long bureaucrats that I’ve met that are still innovative, they know what they’re doing and they’re bringing on fresh talent. Omer Bensaadon, Civic Digital Fellow at the Census Bureau – “The project I worked on is called Census Impact. Basically, it is a way for the Census Bureau to translate some of the more human and economic impacts of the work that they do. There are nonprofits like Project Concern in San Diego that use some of our data to touch the lives of over 18,000 people with providing prenatal care or preventing chronic disease. A lot of that impact is really hard to find, so my job has been trying to collect some of those stories and put them in a place where people can use them.”