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Karen’s CfA Sumer: Building the Geek Corps

The 2011 Code for America fellows still have several months left on their fellowship, but already they have developed and deployed all sorts of useful civic applications. While these apps were developed with the needs of the fellows’ host cities in mind, many of them would clearly be useful to other municipalities; only deploying these apps in their home cities would be a waste. At the same time, however, Code for America is a small non-profit; we can’t run fellowship programs everywhere and not every city has the resources to support CfA’s work.

The Rails application I worked on for my internship this summer, tentatively named “Geek Corps,” attempts to solve this problem. The platform we’re developing has two parts: first, it creates an easily-searchable database of designers, coders, organizers, fundraisers, and other citizens who have indicated that they are interested in improving their local civic infrastructure. Want to find all the Python programmers who also know JavaScript in Philadelphia who have signed up for Code for America’s Geek Corps (and recruit them to help deploy an app you think would really help Philly)? Our people search interface makes that easy.

Second, Geek Corps provides a structured collaboration platform for these volunteer ‘geeks’ to deploy Code for America apps in their hometowns. Deployment team pages provide detailed, step-by-step documentation on how to deploy a given app; make it easy to find volunteer tasks that match your skills; help volunteers share knowledge, feedback, and files with one another; and track a deployment’s recent activity and progress towards completion.

Over the last year, Code for America has gotten a huge response from coders and other geeks who are passionate about improving city government with technology and who have asked us what they can do to help. This year, we received over 550 fellowship applications for only 26 fellowship slots. So what do we do with the other 500+ people? Lots of people clearly have a thirst for implementing civic web apps; what we need is a way to effectively empower and support them in deploying (and improving) our app catalog in towns and cities across America. As it develops further — and we’re just getting started — hopefully Geek Corps will be that solution.

If you’re interested in getting involved, check out the repo on Github: https://github.com/codeforamerica/geek_corps