Wednesday, March 24, 2010

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 Gamasutra.com, 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 jen@codeforamerica.org.

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