Jen Pahlka

The Government We Need: Code for America founder Jen Pahlka on how we can code a better government

Jen Pahlka
Photo: Code For America / Drew Bird

Government has historically been challenged in effectively leveraging technology to best serve the people. There are numerous, well-documented cases of public sector mishandling of technology projects, from the very public failed launch of to the many unseen, ineffective IT implementations that occur on a daily basis.

The Government We Need talks with Code for America founder Jen Pahlka about how technology can be a force for civic change.

Listen: How we can code a better government


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Reinventing government procurement

Reinventors is hosting a live, online government procurement roundtable with key nonprofit, business and media leaders on Thursday, July 31, 2014, at 11:00 a.m. PT.

The discussion is part of “Reinvent America: Our Technology Foundation Series” led by Reinventors founder Peter Leyden.


”How can we make the way government buys technology compatible with the way good technology is now built – yet ensure the process is fair and people are accountable?”


Sign up and watch here.

More about the Reinvent America series:

Civic hackers: The White House wants you

Presidential Innovation Fellows

The White House is now accepting applications for the 2014 Presidential Innovation Fellows program. Deadline is April 7.

From the PIF application:

The Presidential Innovation Fellows program brings the principles, values, and practices of the innovation economy into government through the most effective agents of change we know: our people. This highly competitive program pairs talented, diverse individuals from the innovation community with top civil servants to tackle many of our Nation’s biggest challenges, and to achieve a profound and lasting social impact. These teams of government experts and private-sector doers are using approaches like design thinking and lean startup to achieve results for the American people in months, not years.

Fellowships start late June/early July. Apply here.

U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Jen Pahlka discusses the program:

These 9 cities will Code for America in 2013

Code for America announced the 9 cities that will participate in its 2013 fellowship program.

Code for AmericaThe 2013 partner cities include Kansas City, Las Vegas, Louisville, New York City, Oakland, San Francisco, San Mateo County (Calif.), South Bend and Summit County (Ohio).

According to Code for America, the 2013 fellows will include approximately 30 developers, user experience designers, graphic designers and project managers who will begin their fellowships in January 2013. The full list of fellows will be announced later this month.

“We are very excited to officially announce our 2013 city partners.” said Code for America Founder and Executive Director Jen Pahlka. “Each government, in its own right, is a leader in the innovation world, and our fellows will have the chance to be at the forefront of that innovation. With the support of such forward-thinking and dedicated city staff, we look forward to continuing to build long-lasting partnerships with each of the nine cities.”

Quotes from city representatives

John Feinblatt, Chief Policy Advisor to New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg:

“New York City has long been at the forefront of using data and technology to direct public resources more effectively and deliver services more efficiently. We are proud to partner with Code for America the Arnold Foundation and Blue Ridge Foundation to announce the next chapter in this effort – a new project to bring new reliable real-time information to our courtrooms to help ensure judgments are well-informed and justice is swift.”

Mayor Ed Lee, City of San Francisco:

“The City of San Francisco is proud to have Code for America in our innovation ecosystem. We have partnered with Code for America on many of their initiatives, and we are very excited to work with them to bring passionate web developers, designers, and entrepreneurs here to help make San Francisco more open and efficient.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, South Bend, Ind.:

“The City of South Bend has made a concerted effort to become a more innovative and technologically creative city,” said Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Good government starts with being a smarter and more efficient operation. As a Code for America 2013 city partner, we are putting South Bend in high gear as we strive to better serve the people of our community.”

Mayor Jean Quan, City of Oakland, Calif.:

“The City of Oakland is honored to have been selected to participate in the 2013 Code for America program. We are excited for change and committed to leveraging the power of apps, software and the web to make Oakland a more efficient, transparent and participatory City. I look forward to the positive, long-term impact on our community I know Code for America can make.”

Joseph Marcella, Chief Technology Officer for the City of Las Vegas:

“As the economy shifts toward recovery It’s now time, for us at the city of Las Vegas to get creative. Serving the community will require innovation, critically different thinking and most of all, focus and energy. Participating in the Code for America project will be the catalyst for the city to become a high-tech community-minded model for other cities to emulate.“

Pahlka: ‘Government really is the way we do things collectively that we can’t do individually’

Great TEDxPhilly talk by Code for America Founder and Executive Director Jen Pahlka. Really inspiring to see Jen articulate what’s happening around city and local government beyond the tech talk people like me are so in the weeds on. I remember the old days when Jen humored me in 2009 and was one of the first people I interviewed using my trusty Flip on a tripod.


“We have a connection here that’s broken in the larger scheme, but it works at the local level. We care, and it’s important that we care about government, because government really is the way we do things collectively that we can’t do individually … The challenges of this century are too great to not be acting together.”

Big Code for America announcements and how you can get involved

Code for America made a number of announcements Wednesday that will have a big impact on the organization’s work in 2012 and potentially the future of government technology.

Google grant

CfA will receive a $1.5 million grant from Google to expand its fellowship program and develop two new programs, the CfA Brigade and Civic Startup Seed Accelerator.

CfA Brigade

CfA will launch the CfA Brigade, an “online platform to connect civic hackers and others with each other locally, and to reuse and remix civic apps in their cities.” Sign up for announcements.

Civic Startup Seed Accelerator

CfA will launch a Civic Startup Seed Accelerator to “foster sustainable businesses that can become the next generation of government vendors.” Sign up for announcements.

“Disruptive technology in the hands of entrepreneurs can change the world. It’s time it changed government,” writes CfA Founder and Executive Director Jen Pahlka.

2011 Annual Report

To see what CfA accomplished this year, read the newly-published 2011 CfA Annual Report.

Today’s Ada Lovelace

For Ada Lovelace Day I wanted to promote the amazing work of Jennifer Pahlka and Code for America. I first met Jennifer at the Gov 2.0 Summit last year after following her for a while on Twitter and reading her blog PahlkaDot. Jennifer has always impressed me with her passion for making the world a better place and her brilliant mind. I can’t think of anyone better for drawing attention to the achievements of women in technology and science.

Jennifer transitioned from her role as co-chair and general manager of the Web 2.0 Expos for TechWeb, working with O’Reilly Media, to become Executive Director of Code for America. Previously she chaired Enterprise 2.0, and before that was the director of the Game Group at CMP. During her tenure in the games business, she oversaw the dramatic growth of the Game Developers Conference (GDC) from 1995 to 2003 and launched a number of notable programs, including the Independent Games Festival, known as the Sundance of the game industry, and the Game Developers Choice Awards. Her roles included publisher of Game Developer magazine and, the premiere web site for game developers, and executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), an independent non-profit association serving game developers around the world. She has served on the advisory boards of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and the GDC and held a board of directors position on the IGDA for three years. She graduated cum laude from Yale University. Besides this quite impressive history, Jennifer is a mother and truly wants to have an impact and leave this world in better shape for her daughter’s generation.

Being a mom seems to have had a profound impact on Jennifer. She said, “Being a parent makes me realize that time on this planet is precious and should be well spent.” As any parent knows balancing the responsibilities of family, work and social activities can be a challenge. But Jennifer believes, “Being a mom actually helps me focus my work efforts. If I’m going to spend time away from my daughter every second is precious. You can’t do everything so you make choices on what’s important.”

Code for America began as an idea inspired in part by Teach for America. CFA wants to connect Web developers with city officials who want to improve connectivity and transparency then be shared and rolled out more broadly to cities across America. At the Gov 2.0 Summit Tim O’Reilly had mentioned to Jennifer that it would be great for an action oriented program to spring from from the event. Then Jennifer and her friend Andrew Greenhill, a CFA Board Member and the Mayor’s Chief of Staff for the City of Tucson, were chatting and she said “There should be a kind of Teach for America for the web industry.” And thus was born Code for America…

Eleven cities and agencies have applied for web-project help from CFA. The applicants each proposed up to three projects that the Code for America fellows would build for them if their city is chosen. “After we choose which cities and projects, then we can begin effective fellow recruitment,” Jennifer said. Over the next six weeks is going to be a busy time at CFA as they choose cities and projects and then there will be a time of intensive fellow recruitment. If you have a desire and interest in helping, email Jennifer at

Here is a great interview from which will help you get to know Jennifer better: