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Honestly, I think the most effective thing to do is find an organization doing social good, who is hiring programmers, and go work for them. There are plenty of non-profits and governments that do a ton of good, and employ developers to work on their web sites and infrastructures. A good friend of mine is a developer for the ACLU, for example.

There are also organizations like Code for America that do open source work with local governments. Since those projects are open source, you could probably volunteer your time and contribute to those. Or simply volunteer in a non-developer capacity! :)

Doing actual social good -- helping people in ways that will actually solve their problems, understanding the consequences of changing their lives -- requires a ton of context and communication. I think it's very, very difficult to do so without either dedicating most of your time to that cause, or working closely with an organization that is already doing so. (E.g., volunteering for a food bank is a lot more effective than just picking up food and distributing it on your own.)




This. There are many incredible organizations doing great work in the code for good space, and not solely in the non-profit or government sectors.

I’ll second the reference to Code for America. I have a colleague who did their fellowship and learned a ton while working with some great local governmental agencies. They’ve also recently launched a job board to curate high impact mission-driven jobs and jobs with local government entities: https://jobs.codeforamerica.org/.

I’d also encourage looking at B-Corps: https://www.bcorporation.net/. These are for-profit companies that include positive social impact alongside profit as determinants of success. I work at TechChange, which is a B-Corp. If education and capacity development are your passions, we at TechChange are building a SaaS learning platform that empowers organizations around the world to make their training more effective. We are working hard to push the limits of traditional online learning and are looking for talented folks to help us achieve this goal: https://www.techchange.org/careers/.


Hi! I lead engineering on Code for America's work building services improving the social safety net, so happy to answer any questions. I'd also mention that we're hiring directly for teams at CfA building large-scale services serving the most vulnerable Americans.

My team works on radically improving access to the food stamp program, a massive anti-poverty program, but one with only about 65% of eligible Californians enrolled — we've found a lot of that gap is because the process is really difficult.

If you apply in California, this is the online experience — 200+ questions, 50+ screens, a lot of confusion: http://citizenonboard.com/snap/ca/#2

So we operate a much easier online application which is mobile-first (~50% of search traffic for "food stamps") and which takes on average 8 minutes to complete — you can try it out at https://demo.getcalfresh.org/

And we're hiring:

- Senior Engineer (Ruby/Rails, TDD, pairing): https://www.codeforamerica.org/jobs?gh_jid=502640

- Product Manager: https://www.codeforamerica.org/jobs?gh_jid=652829

We also have a superb team working on safety and justice, namely with the goal of safely reducing incarceration. For example. They operate services that:

- Make it much easier for people to clear their records when the law allows (invaluable for re-entry and getting jobs)

- Allow case & probation workers to text with folks in the justice system and help them do the pre-trial diversion things that keep them out of jail/prison and help them with resources

They're also hiring for a Senior Engineer role: https://www.codeforamerica.org/jobs?gh_jid=525208

Happy to answer any questions about these!


I worked with @daguar for 3 years on this and he is the best and the team is the best. I encourage folks to apply!


Are all of these jobs at the same location SF? The jobs page (https://www.codeforamerica.org/jobs) lists locations "Headquarters", "San Francisco, CA, United States", and "San Francisco Headquarters" as if they might be different places.


Oh, odd! Yeah I'll get that fixed.

Yes — San Francisco (SOMA) is the location for all of those.


Do you get any push back on this from the state/gov? Cynically; I can see this process being intentionally obscure and difficult to dissuade people from applying and receiving aid.


Great question! Overall I'd say our gov't partners are incredibly supportive.

A lot of why these processes are hard are not by intentional design, but rather by _unintentional, non-design_.

What do I mean? It's that these systems evolve over time, via massive waterfall IT procurement processes, and you often have someone (say, one county, or one unit) who proposes to add one more question because it makes it better for their unit or a subset of users.

Iterated over years and years — and with no systemic actor responsible for pushing back and saying, "but this creates more burden for the majority of users" — you get overwhelming user experiences. Sometimes I've jokingly called this the "no feature left behind" approach.

What we do is basically design & build a service that puts users at the center, and when someone wants us to add something ask ourselves, "will this help people quickly and easily get through the benefit enrollment process?"

It's essentially applying "products are about saying no," just to a domain where there's currently no one there to say no.


Actually, to follow up -- you mention simplifying the process to be easier on the user. Are myriad of questions one must laboriously answer to enroll in EBT programs a matter of... legislation? taxes? I would imagine that the questions have to do with honing in on a complex placement within the law which determines benefit levels. How do you go about simplifying a process which requires a large number of distinct data points by law or by census design?


That's a fantastic question. There's a few strategies we've used to build a service design that deals with those things:

1. After the initial application, the next step is a phone interview where they're going to ask many of the same questions and verify information anyway. So what we do is focus on the 10-15 questions that make getting someone to that interview as quick and efficient on the gov't side as possible, as well as prepares the interviewer with the best information.

For example, there are complex rules around income and expenses (earned/unearned, self-employed, utilities, child care expenses) but we basically have found that the best situation is — since they'll be talking with someone who knows those rules extremely well — focus on the basics: who's in your household, do you qualify for expedited (emergency) service, etc.

2. Many of those ~200 questions really CONDITIONAL on some (eg, do you have a felony? do you have a felony for DRUGS?) —— but candidly many online gov't forms are just the digitization of paper forms (which obviously can't do conditional showing easily.)

3. We've found that there's a ton of low-hanging fruit. For example, we have an easy way for clients to take pictures of documents they need to submit from their phone (these days, these are often SUPER high quality, even on low-end devices.) We send those to counties via secure e-mail, which means it comes instantly. This has been so successful in one county that they're now using this document feature across ALL programs (health insurance, cash aid) and actually asking clients to send in documents WHILE they're on the phone with them, meaning they can hold for a second, check the email, see the pic, and issue the benefits immediately (rather than waiting for them to mail/fax/scan and upload after creating an account.)

Overall, we've found that despite that "intrinsic complexity," there's still a huge space for simplification just using what computers — and web sites — are good at.


you should include postings from http://www.calhr.ca.gov/ . there are tons of programming jobs there in different classification.


Thanks! It's a little confusing because we have 2 job boards — one for CfA, and one for jobs in gov't (that one is https://jobs.codeforamerica.org/ )

We already have some State of CA jobs on there, but I'll pass along this link to the folks who run the gov't job board!


I agree with this comment. A friend of mine is a programmer taking a year off of work to volunteer for a refugee aid organization to analyze and improve their databases. It's important work, not necessarily sexy, but helps these organizations do their work. In the end he's likely to emerge a better programmer along with a body of domain knowledge.

It helps to actually be passionate about the field.


can you share the organization name?


Thank you for the Code for America recommendation, checking them out now


Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America, has been making the rounds lately.

Good conversations on both the Econtalk podcast [0] (which I know is an HN favorite) and the Long Now Foundation [1].

Procurement sounds absolutely awful at the federal level; she makes a compelling case for how needed modern software design and development processes are in providing effective and cost efficient government services.

[0]http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2017/05/jennifer_pahlka.htm... [1]http://longnow.org/seminars/02017/feb/01/fixing-government-b...


Through the Code For Atlanta group I was able start a project with MARTA to make some things better about paratransit customers' access to up to date ETA info for their rides, which is currently a pain point for many customers. The code for America idea is awesome and stuff really does happen!


MARTA seems like they could use some hardware donations - for years the "next train" screens were broken and the announcement speakers on the station platforms were totally unintelligible. Maybe a better use of time would be starting a guerrilla group that fixes their stuff without asking?




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