Three years ago I moved from San Francisco to Miami, only to move back to San Francisco to work with Miami-Dade County. Let me explain.
When I was chosen to be a 2015 Code for America Fellow, I took a one-year sabbatical as a software engineer at Rackspace to work with Miami-Dade County’s Regulatory & Economic Resources (RER) department to see how we make an impact on economic development. We’re researching at a variety of topics, from feedback loops and permitting, to helping drive home the necessity of open data and open data policies.
Of the 24 Fellows in the 2015 Code for America Fellowship class, I’m in a unique position: In addition to being a fellow on the Miami-Dade County team, I’m also the co-founder of Code for Miami. Code for Miami is a volunteer “civic hacking brigade” of developers, designers, and engaged citizens who meet every Monday in a coworking space in the Wynwood Arts District to build open source technology to make Miami a better place.
Two other brigade captains are fellows, but I’m the first fellow to work in the same municipality as my Brigade. No pressure, right? I’ve learned a lot in my transition from brigade captain to a fellow.
In the Brigade, we’re fortunate in having a municipal partner passionate about the same principles we are. But besides e-mail outreach, we weren’t sure how to best connect with government employees.
As a Fellow, we’ve appreciated talking with people inside the county. Our fellowship team has talked with dozens of public servants: permitting clerks, directors, IT developers, right up to commissioners and the Mayor and his Chief of Staff. Our research month in February was booked solid, and we came back physically exhausted and slightly overwhelmed at the firehose of information.
You better believe we’ll leverage those relationships for the Brigade after the Fellowship is done. For example, it’s one thing for our brigade to build Miami’s version of Oakland Answers but it’s cooler when we can do that with the assistance of the person who manages Miami-Dade County’s 311 Team.
As a Brigade Captain, I’ve been able to help give local context to my team. Anyone who has spent time in both San Francisco and Miami knows that they’re different beasts — from temperature, to industries, to civic engagement levels, to the way you ask for a coffee (“Cafecito. Más azucar, por favor.”) Miami is a place that emphasizes personal relationships, and while our municipal partners have been excellent connectors, every little bit helps.
Out of the eight Fellowship teams, six of the municipalities have a corresponding local brigade, and I think that speaks to how people around the country really want to use technology to make communities better. It’s nice to know the Brigade can be used as a sounding board if we need additional local feedback — or pitching other ideas to the brigade as a possible projects in the case of specific ideas we won’t have time exploring.
Miami is Home
Our Fellowship ends in November, and my intention is to return to Miami. San Francisco will always be my hometown, but at 38 I’m getting a little too old for this long-distance relationship by plane thing. Code for America Fellows are known for the piece of technology we build, and I have full faith we’ll be able to produce something that can provide value to people living and working in Miami-Dade County. But for me, I’m just as excited by the other outcomes of being a Fellow — the relationships we’ve made, the connections we can continue to encourage, and creating structures to make sure that civic tech remains feasible in Miami-Dade County once the fellowship ends.
That will make spending the year 3,000 miles away from home this year worth it.