Forward Focus: Dave Schlendorf

A conversation with Code for America’s Chief Financial Officer
A graphic with Code for America CFO Dave Schlendorf's headshot and the quote:

2023 was a transformative year for Code for America in many ways, including the fact that we welcomed a new set of faces to Code for America’s executive team. To kick off 2024, we’re featuring conversations with these leaders in our “Forward Focus” series—highlighting their journey to our organization, their vision for the future of government services, and how we can build a new digital age that works for all. Today, we hear from Dave Schlendorf, our Chief Financial Officer.

Tell us a bit about your professional journey and what brought you to Code for America. What excites you most about our work? 

I started my career in a pretty traditional New York finance job. It was a good first step, but as you can probably imagine, not very rewarding. So after going back to business school I decided I wanted to go in a different direction, and got a job in government. I spent nearly 20 years at a federal government agency, helping it run more efficiently and effectively. I really enjoyed bringing best practices from the business world around process improvement, strategic planning, and recruiting and professional development to the government in the interest of trying to serve a mission larger than myself and more important than, well, making people money. 

But I wasn’t making as big a difference as I thought I could be, considering the challenges this country is facing. I came across Code for America and I was extremely excited to find a place still in the realm of government, but whose mission I felt even more passionate about. Having seen how challenging it can be to work inside government, I thought I could bring my business and process improvement skill sets here, to help us be even better partners to government.

I’m most excited about the work we’re doing to not just deliver impact for clients but also build capacity inside government, to better enable public servants to do the critical work of delivering services that help people meet their basic needs.

Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence are rapidly redefining the ways tech fits into our daily lives. What do you think is going to define the “new digital age” we’ve entered? 

My colleagues who lead our product and technology work can probably speak better than I can to fancy new artificial intelligence (AI) tools and their potential. What I’m most interested in for this new digital age is making sure we don’t lose the idea of getting the basics right. It’s great that government is looking toward these new cutting edge technologies, but in many ways they still have a lot of catching up to do. So I think we need to keep an eye on the technologies of the future but not lose sight of some basic human-centered technology practices that we need to integrate into our present systems: things like building a friendly user interface, leveraging text messaging instead of phone calls and paper notices, making government websites accessible from any device, and reaching people in the language they’re comfortable in. To me, that’s just as important as any AI automation work in government systems. 

What do you see as the most important factors for ensuring government prioritizes equity in digital service delivery? 

Measurement and data. When I worked inside government, I always pushed us to use data to make sure we were being equitable as we thought about things like recruiting, hiring, and promotions. Government has access to so much data, but sometimes it needs help parsing it and doing the right analysis and then using those insights to ensure equity and that we’re reaching people across all demographics. Part of that is looking at where the data shows we’re not reaching people equitably, and using that to refine and continuously improve the process. That’s an area where we’ve done a lot of work with government, and will continue to work to help close those equity gaps. 

What makes you most excited about the state of civic tech and the year ahead? 

I’m excited to see capacity and operations continue to improve in government. When I worked in the federal government I started a business process improvement team because, well, we didn’t have one. I feel strongly that this kind of cross-functional team that brings in expertise from all different fields should exist at every government agency. 

I’m also excited to see how much the field of civic tech has grown, and continues to grow, even in the relatively short time since I joined it. Improving government is generational work, and it takes a whole ecosystem of all kinds of organizations working from different angles to make government better able to serve people. It’s really inspiring to see how many opportunities there now are for people to jump into this work.

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