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Why I’m Coding for America

Many people more eloquent than I, have described why they are Coding for America. At the risk of being perceived as negative, the truth for me is that a lot of my initial incentives were rooted in:

FRUSTRATION

Being an engineer for so long, I have seen how frustration can be a powerful and positive incentive. Some of the things I truly love the most in the tech industry were the result of somebody being frustrated. Whether it was the birth of Open Source because this one guy was angry with his printer, or the creation of a super popular source control system because they thought CVS was terrible, recognizing that there are better ways is the initial step to creating a meaningful solution.

As all my other fellow computer scientists will attest, it’ is very easy to find areas in government technology that can be improved.

As a fresh immigrant over a decade ago, I remember giving all my precious personal information to the U.S. immigration website. Of course, I had chosen a super-hyper-duper-extra-long secret password. It was so good that I did not remember what it was a month later when I received an email that asked me to update my application with more sensitive data. I almost fell out of my chair when I tried to reset my password. Instead of sending me a temporary link to reset it, I got my original password e-mailed back! Never mind that it was over an unencrypted e-mail protocol…how dare they?!?

This is why when issues like the healthcare.gov launch happen, I am not remotely surprised. Spending an absurd amount of money on an Oracle database guarantees that I need not worry about using popular (free) open source caching layers like memcached or varnish for a site that is meant to register a huge chunk of the US, right? (The correct answer is “wrong.”)

To fix the healthcare.gov problem, several extremely smart people were recruited. I would argue that the healthcare.gov launch was a great catalyst for positive change. I cannot emphasize enough how happy it makes me when I see a post by 18F that says that they use https for every .gov site they make. They really get it. To me, this is more exciting than watching a unicorn surf down a rainbow.

I am hoping these changes trickle down to the public branches of government that deal with geospatial data. See, NASA and USGS do incredible amazing feats like launching an $855 million Landsat satellite to space and releasing all the imagery to the public for free. This data fuels worldwide climate research (among many other things) that will literally help us maintain our ecosystem so we can survive as a species. Not good, but great things. Yet I challenge you to figure out how to download all the Landsat 8 data in bulk from their site.

Although local governments are starting to see the value of opening up their datasets in machine readable ways (i.e. the right way to do it), the number list of cities that participate publicly is still too small.

The truth is that technology is easy and we can spend hours nitpicking at things that we find frustrating.

But guess what? Government can work, for the people, by the people, in the 21st century. And it is our responsibility (i.e. the citizens), to make it so.

For AmigoCloud, as a [Many people more eloquent than I, have described why they are Coding for America. At the risk of being perceived as negative, the truth for me is that a lot of my initial incentives were rooted in:

FRUSTRATION

Being an engineer for so long, I have seen how frustration can be a powerful and positive incentive. Some of the things I truly love the most in the tech industry were the result of somebody being frustrated. Whether it was the birth of Open Source because this one guy was angry with his printer, or the creation of a super popular source control system because they thought CVS was terrible, recognizing that there are better ways is the initial step to creating a meaningful solution.

As all my other fellow computer scientists will attest, it’ is very easy to find areas in government technology that can be improved.

As a fresh immigrant over a decade ago, I remember giving all my precious personal information to the U.S. immigration website. Of course, I had chosen a super-hyper-duper-extra-long secret password. It was so good that I did not remember what it was a month later when I received an email that asked me to update my application with more sensitive data. I almost fell out of my chair when I tried to reset my password. Instead of sending me a temporary link to reset it, I got my original password e-mailed back! Never mind that it was over an unencrypted e-mail protocol…how dare they?!?

This is why when issues like the healthcare.gov launch happen, I am not remotely surprised. Spending an absurd amount of money on an Oracle database guarantees that I need not worry about using popular (free) open source caching layers like memcached or varnish for a site that is meant to register a huge chunk of the US, right? (The correct answer is “wrong.”)

To fix the healthcare.gov problem, several extremely smart people were recruited. I would argue that the healthcare.gov launch was a great catalyst for positive change. I cannot emphasize enough how happy it makes me when I see a post by 18F that says that they use https for every .gov site they make. They really get it. To me, this is more exciting than watching a unicorn surf down a rainbow.

I am hoping these changes trickle down to the public branches of government that deal with geospatial data. See, NASA and USGS do incredible amazing feats like launching an $855 million Landsat satellite to space and releasing all the imagery to the public for free. This data fuels worldwide climate research (among many other things) that will literally help us maintain our ecosystem so we can survive as a species. Not good, but great things. Yet I challenge you to figure out how to download all the Landsat 8 data in bulk from their site.

Although local governments are starting to see the value of opening up their datasets in machine readable ways (i.e. the right way to do it), the number list of cities that participate publicly is still too small.

The truth is that technology is easy and we can spend hours nitpicking at things that we find frustrating.

But guess what? Government can work, for the people, by the people, in the 21st century. And it is our responsibility (i.e. the citizens), to make it so.

For AmigoCloud, as a](http://www.amigocloud.com/) company focused in the B2G space, these are exciting times. We have been working with different organizations ranging from state agencies to local transportation authorities to help them leverage their geographic information in ways that were not possible before the advent of the cloud and smartphones – at a fraction of the traditional cost.

In addition, there is a new ecosystem that supports civic startups now. It used to be that mentioning to an investor that you were interested in the government space was the death-mark. Never mind that the US spends $7 trillion every year. Some VCs have realized that there is a great opportunity there, which is fueling a second look at this space. A civic startup can finally help make a significant difference in government while maintaining a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders.

Frustration was an initial motivator, and now, it is excitement. Every single line of code that we produce is written with a desire to contribute to these positive changes. And that is why I’m Coding for America.