“Modernizing government technology” is a strong contender for the phrase with the greatest gap between how mind-numbingly boring it sound and how important it is in the lives of real people. How government buys and builds technology shapes everything from our experiences down at the DMV to the country’s implementation of sweeping national policies. What’s more, it’s an industry measured in hundreds of billions of dollars.
Sitting at the middle of that is Jen Pahlka (@pahlkadot). In 2009, Pahlka started Code for America, a San Francisco-headquartered non-profit that partners people with tech expertise with state and local governments. In 2014, it would serve as the inspiration for President Obama’s creation of the U.S. Digital Service, trying the same experiment on the federal level. Pahlka would go to Washington herself to serve as a deputy chief technology officer of the United States.
Pahlka returned to California and Code for America. She stepped down as executive director in 2020, and she’s now at work on a book. It comes as there’s considerable interest in D.C. about how the Biden administration will handle government tech at all levels, across the country. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)