For our “Leading the Field” Q&A series, we’re speaking with leaders in the civic/gov tech space who are driving important change to make government work by the people, for the people, in the digital age. For Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re lifting up the voices of Hispanic and Latinx leaders who are working to ensure the government can serve everyone equitably, with dignity and respect. This week, we spoke with Angie Quirarte (she/her), the Federal Partnerships Director of the Tech Talent Project. At Code for America, we welcome a broad diversity of viewpoints—and we strive to let people speak in their own words about their own unique experiences. With that in mind, the following has received only minor edits for length and clarity, and the views expressed here reflect those of the author.
Tell us the story of how you came to work in the field of civic and government technology.
Open data was my first civic tech love. In 2013, I moved to Sacramento for an executive fellowship program and was placed at the Government Operations Agency which oversees hiring, procurement, and technology for the state of California. My first assignment was to determine how California could implement an open data program. I was able to connect with many state agencies on their concerns, questions, and ideas as well as learn from other jurisdictions. This work was the start of how I became civically engaged through tech and set me on a trajectory I didn’t expect—by the time I left GovOps, I worked on open data, open source, web standards, web accessibility, and more!
How does your background influence how you show up in the workplace now?
I’m an immigrant. My parents, two younger brothers, and I moved to the US in 2001, and my experience with this both humbles me and inspires me to pursue a career of service. Having utilized many social safety net programs myself, I know firsthand what it’s like trying to navigate a complicated system. I bring that background to my work when helping leaders think through implementations of critical programs that rely on tech and technologists to work.
Having utilized many social safety net programs myself, I know firsthand what it’s like trying to navigate a complicated system.
You do a lot of work to bring more technologists into public service. What’s your favorite piece of advice to offer those just starting out in the field of civic tech?
Don’t be afraid to try something new and learn. My background before tech was in the history of public policy and organizing. Knowing the ways in which technology impacts daily life can be very empowering when you realize that there are paths to follow and skills to learn in service of making things better. The civic tech space has grown a ton over the years, and its spirit of openness means there are always helping hands. Emerge yourself and, in the words of Jake Brewer, one of the most respected people in civic tech, “cultivate the karass.”
Has there been a memorable moment in your career where you got to be a part of making a government service more accessible and empathetic?
So many! It’s hard to pick just one, especially given everything we worked on as part of the COVID-19 response with covid19.ca.gov and other response-related products. From web accessibility implementation across all departments to focusing on translations in pandemic response, from establishing content design as a foundational practice in our work to instituting feedback loops to inform product and policy in testing and vaccine distribution. And then there are the things we did before the pandemic—like one of my projects focused on improving service delivery at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) right before the pandemic hit. I like to think that the investment we put into that enabled the DMV to be better prepared in their COVID-19 response. The number of services that need to be made accessible and empathetic are many. There is much more for us left to do.
How does your presence in tech challenge the status quo?
I hope that my being here shows that you don’t have to be deeply technical to understand why tech matters. You don’t need a background in coding to see how tech impacts our society, shaping how we engage with each other and the critical systems that make our democracy work. We need more diversity—more people who study the humanities and social sciences, more immigrants, more people who have lived experience with public benefits—in this space.