Code for America Summit Tech Preview

Code for America Summit is just around the corner — May 30th-June 1st at the Oakland Marriott City Center — and once again we’ll be bringing together public servants and civic technologists for three days of workshops, main stage presentations and panels, breakout sessions, and networking events.

This year’s Summit has four main themes: strengthening digital capability in government, designing policy with tech at the table, shaping the government technology market, and creating capacity with community by building government as a platform and engaging the public. Technology is a thread that’s woven throughout each of these themes, and we’ve got an incredible lineup of tech and product experts who will be joining us on stage, leading breakout sessions and running in-depth workshops.

Our main stage is going to be packed with inspiring speakers and stories for the two days of the main conference on May 31st and June 1st. Here’s a look at some of the technical leaders you’ll see up there:

  • John Allspaw, Co-Founder of Adaptive Capacity Labs and former CTO of Etsy, is an inspiring leader among engineers. I’ve personally admired his work for some time, but you don’t need to be technical to benefit from his message about “blameless post mortems.” Too often in government, we’re told to avoid mistakes at all costs. But mistakes and accidents happen when working with complex systems; how we respond to them makes all the difference in whether we’ll learn from them or not.
  • Former US Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil, Lynn Overmann of Arnold Foundation and Beth Blauer, Executive Director at Johns Hopkins University Center for Government Excellence, will discuss the tactics that work best from both inside and outside government when you’re committed to using data to make government work better.
  • Joanne Collins Smee is Director of Technology Transformation Services (TTS) and Deputy Commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). She leads the GSA’s work to transform government’s approach to technology that began under the Obama Administration, and she’ll tell us how the TTS and its Centers of Excellence are putting digital principles into action in federal agencies and providing leadership for change that everyone in government can benefit from.
  • We’ll also hear how the need for government to do better has become personal for California Department of Technology CIO Amy Tong. Amy was the deputy director of the Office of Systems Integration in 2014 when the State of California began a sudden experiment with user-centered, agile development. Since being appointed CIO, she has led a courageous band of dedicated public servants and newer recruits to government through dramatic changes in approach.
  • I’m also looking forward to hearing from Brandon Bouier, Solutions Architect at AWS, and his fellow panelists as they discuss ethics, conscience, technology, and public service. This panel will grapple with some difficult questions: What happens when you’re afraid you’re not the good guys? How do you engage when you disagree? What do we have to learn from the ethics crises of the big technology platforms?

Throughout the main conference days we’ll also have a series of smaller, more intimate breakout sessions. Some of the highlights include:

  • Code for America’s own Ben Sheldon and Zachary Auerbach will lead sessions that delve into some of the principles and practices we hold dear as we make government services work for the people who need them most. Ben will share how the GetCalFresh engineering team scales and improves their service while staying responsive to the needs of users in “Keeping Users at the Forefront While Scaling Services.” Zachary will use our ClientComm team as a case study as he leads an in-depth discussion of agile/extreme-programming processes in “Agile is Dead, Long Live Agile.”
  • Continuing on the theme of effective software delivery principles and practices, Shane Russell of USDS and Alex Prokop of Nava PBC will walk us through building a government-contractor relationship that works in “Same Team! Same Team! How We Built a Successful Government — Contractor Relationship at the VA.”
  • Sonal Ambegaokar and Jennifer Wagner will offer advice from recent experiences implementing consumer facing technology — such as text messaging, mobile apps, and chat functions — in the health and human services sector to increase consumer/citizen satisfaction and make the enrollment process more user-friendly in “Practical Do’s and Don’ts When Implementing Consumer-Facing Technology Solutions in the Health & Human Services Sector.”
  • Megan Nesbit and Beth Niblock will show us how Detroit navigated the technical, behavioral, and bureaucratic challenges of implementing a new notification system capable of reaching every resident in the city in “Reaching the Last Mile or 8 Mile.”
  • Lukas Tencer and Claire Dorman, data scientists at Pandora, will provides examples of how to use real-world experimental or survey data in decision making in their session “Working with Survey Data: Semi-Supervised Learning and Biased Data.”
  • Join Mike Conlow, Ariel Kennan, and Haiyan Sui from the City of New York for “How to Standardize and Open Social Services Data in your City.You’ll learn how they used data to create two products to make social services more accessible — by using simple technology, clear language, mobile-focused design, and usability testing to put vital resources into the hands of more people.
  • John Ridener and Patrick Hammons are running a hands-on session called “Helping the Helpers: Data-Driven Support for Community Vulnerabilities” that will focus on San Mateo County’s Community Vulnerability Index (CVI) as a framework for data driven policy, storytelling, and as a means of supporting community services through mapping and data.
  • In “Defying the Limits of Tech, Data & Design: Women of Color Data Scientists Cast An Unbiased Vision of the Future,” you’ll hear Dr. Fallon Wilson, Dr. Allison Scott, and Ayori Selassie examine how communities of color are using AI, data science, and qualitative research to better understand and design civic tech/govtech environments and public policy that directly benefit communities of color and cast a deliberate vision of civil society driven by unbiased data and design.
  • You won’t want to miss Matthew Weaver’s security-focused session “Safety in the Storm: Economical Defense from Existential Security Threats.” A former Rogue Leader at the USDA and VA, he’ll share his experience responding to massive, public security failures at the largest government organizations, their partners, and Fortune 50 companies — and bring a surprising message of hope about effective changes for meaningful defense.
  • Anyone in leadership and management should be attending Nicole Sanchez’s breakout titled “Diversity and Inclusion Made it to the Mainstream: Now What?” Nicole is CEO and Founder of tech’s leading D&I firm, Vaya Consulting, and she’ll be talking about where D&I is going next and how companies can move beyond rhetoric and into action.
  • If you’re looking to hire tech & design talent you’ll also want to join Ben Guhin and Marni Wilhite from the City of Austin for their session “How to Recruit and Hire More Design & Tech Talent” as they share practical next steps for improving your recruiting and hiring processes.

On Wednesday, May 30th, the day before the main conference starts, we’re also offering a series of half-day professional development workshops to help you deepen and sharpen your skills for making government work better in a digital age:

  • If you’re interested in Product & Prototyping, Nikki Lee will kick off the morning with a “Product Management 101” workshop for civil servants that introduces product management as a discipline, covers why it’s critical in a government context, and gives participants a path towards developing their product management skills. Stephanie Nguyen and Sabrina Williams will follow that up with an afternoon “Rapid Prototyping Workshop” where you’ll learn how to iterate with quick and effective low-fidelity prototypes to improve usability.
  • A second pairing is around Data Sharing, Data Science, and Machine Learning. Hunter Owens of the City of Los Angeles will lead “Demystifying Machine Learning and Data Science” which introduces a model for managers to understand data science, build a data science team, and evaluate data science success and failure. The demystification continues in the afternoon with Lynn Overmann and Catie Bialick’s session “Demystifying Data Sharing: Local Governments Can, and Should, Ethically Share Data. They’ll share successful approaches to responsible data sharing and collaboration, address questions around interpreting privacy laws and identifying allowable pathways for sharing government data, and discuss the ethical use of data and how we can acknowledge, understand and minimize bias in algorithms/models.
  • If you’re interested in getting more in-depth knowledge about security, you’ll want to join Michael Brunton-Spall for “Security and Risk Management: Securing Agile Digital Services.” The workshop will cover how risk management and information assurance works, and also take a look at modern architectural patterns that help produce secure digital services. This workshop won’t require strong technical experience, so it’s a perfect opportunity for product managers and project managers to learn concepts that will help guide conversations with their technical teams.
  • Last but not least, we have a couple sessions that you won’t want to miss if you’re a manager. Jennifer Tress’ morning session “Hacking Hiring: How to get the Right People in the Right Door” will make the case that hiring should be treated the same as any program or service launch. The afternoon session features Jen Dary, Leadership Coach and Founder of Plucky, whose “So Now You’re a Manager” workshop is designed to support new managers through this kind of career transition, setting them up to be impactful, confident, knowledgeable leaders.

Whew, what a lineup! And that’s not to mention the most important Summit track of all: the hallways in between sessions where you’ll meet and network with hundreds of like-minded civic technologist, public servants, and Code for America staff and alumni. I can’t wait for my second Summit, and I hope to see you there!

I’m the CTO of Code for America. We’re making government services work for people who need them most. Join us.

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