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Getting to 23: Our Attempt at a More Modern Selection Process

At its core, Code for America is about people. It’s about a fellowship, a program where great people from different backgrounds share an experience that deepens their passion and sharpens their ability to pursue it. Through that experience, they’ll build connections with each other, dedicated public servants, and tech leaders; and in doing so, grow the movement larger and stronger. When the fellowship application launched we didn’t know if we’d get 200, 100, or even 10 applications. We got over 360. There is indeed something happening here.

But with that tremendous response comes the difficult task of review. Given our rapid timeline, we have only a handful of weeks to choose 23 fellows from an impressive pool of hundreds. To help us through the application and review processes, we’ve enlisted the expertise of some friends and some interesting technology — both of which we wanted to share for feedback and transparency (it’s something we kind of care about :)).

**Paperless applications with Wufoo

** The applications were handled through a Wufoo form. We were able to embed the app on our site to streamline the process, and set up email alerts to keep track of the submission flow. We never had to print a single one! The handy reports feature gave a snapshot of the applicant pool. At the deadline, we were able to download all the data in a csv format for the review process.

**Our Own Sorting Hat

** Sorting HatWith such a fantastic selection committee on board, we wanted a way to facilitate the review as easily and effectively as possible. We wanted to make it easy for them to access the apps, rank them and comment. Our solution: blog it. Kind of. We are big fans of WordPress (it’s what is powering this post actually), and it’s publishing and commenting features are well known and easy to use. So I tricked out a WP instance with some choice plugins to create an application review site. I started with the theme Audacity of Tanish since it’s ajaxed font page would allow easy aggregation and preview of the apps. Then I plugged in WP Password to control access with a single credential, and uploaded the apps as posts using, well, CSV Uploader. Finally we added in WP Review Site, so the committee could score the applications on a set of four criteria. All in all, after a night of coding (well, no, hacking really), we were able to create an app review system that allowed not only easy reading, but also summed rankings and individualized comments in one online location. Try doing that with snail mail.

**A CfA Case Problem

** A veteran of the fellowship process and member of our selection committee, DJ Patil emphasized the importance of challenging the candidates. Many similar programs challenge their applicants with hard questions and short deadlines to assess their commitment and test their abilities. We thought we’d do the same with our own spin on it. We gave each finalist a situation modeled (closely, very closely) off of one of our project’s problem statements, and asked them to design and explain a solution in whatever medium they felt comfortable in: code, prose, illustrations, whatever else. We wanted responses as diverse as our applicants. And to get proper appreciation of that diversity, we’re asking them to share their LinkedIn profile, so we can see what they’ve done and who they know; we’re getting a resume and a references list all in one simple link.

**Screen tests with HireHive

** We were thrilled to get applications from all over. As a small startup, we don’t have the resources, unfortunately, to fly to every location and interview every finalist. We’ll be hosting group interviews in September. To make sure we have a real face on every application, we are taking advantage of a nice web app called HireHive. The HireHive system is built to streamline the application process using videos and files instead of meetings and paperwork — consider it Hiring 2.0. We created a questionnaire with 5 questions each finalist must respond to electronically through their webcam. In 60 seconds or less a piece. We hope this will give us a chance to gauge their creativity, communication skills, and of course, brevity.

This is just our attempt at a more modern application process. As a new team with a new idea, we’re figuring things out as we go. We’d love your feedback. The better we make this process, the better we make this organization, and the better we are at rebooting local government and serving the people who’ll make that happen: our fellows.