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 Women’s History Month, we’re lifting up the voices of women who are working to ensure the government can serve everyone equitably, with dignity and respect. This week, we spoke with Stephanie Chin (she/her), the Program Manager of Hutch, an incubator for government digital services firms founded by underrepresented entrepreneurs. 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.
Can you tell us a little about what first drew you into working in civic tech?
I’ve always loved working with entrepreneurs, but have been particularly drawn to those who are using entrepreneurship as a vehicle for good. It’s really rewarding to play a small part in helping founders create businesses with purpose and impact. Hutch, the civic tech incubator where I work, provides mentorship and peer support for people who are starting digital firms that want to work with government on their digital challenges. I was drawn to the incubator because it was started by Fearless, a human-centered digital services firm in Baltimore with a reputation for their passion and drive to make government services work better for everyone, using the expertise of people from underrepresented backgrounds. Working with Fearless has given me an opportunity to blend my experience in innovation with our company culture of making positive impact and powering things that matter. What better way to maximize impact than by nurturing the entrepreneurs who are working to make government services better, more representative, and more equitable? I really feel like we’re in such an exciting, pivotal stage of this digital age!
What’s something valuable you’ve learned from working with entrepreneurs?
I’ve probably learned more than I even realize! Learning just as much from our entrepreneurs as we teach them gives me so much joy. I’ve learned what resiliency looks like. Business ownership in general can be hard and frustrating but creating or promoting change in risk-averse environments is obviously not for the faint of heart. At Hutch, I’m surrounded by entrepreneurs who have so much heart and belief in their mission. Somehow they always muster up the courage and energy to just keep building a better world. From our female founders in particular, I’ve realized how much extra goes into being a woman in tech, woman business owner, mother, spouse, role model, leader, and every other role! And this extra heaviness, work, and pressure oftentimes goes unacknowledged. I’m really in awe of the hard work and lessons learned along the way that our entrepreneurs demonstrate. We’re here to nurture, empower, and connect, but it’s our entrepreneurs who are doing the hard work every day.
What better way to maximize impact than by nurturing the entrepreneurs who are working to make government services better, more representative, and more equitable?
How does your identity influence the way you show up to work? What does it mean to bring your full self to the table each day?
I really take pride in being able to bring my full self to the table every day. At the same time, I do feel a sense of responsibility to represent all the intersectionalities of my identity. I’m a first generation Asian-American (young-looking) professional woman in tech. All of this comes with its own separate biases, but I’m proud to represent these groups by being my authentic self. For me, bringing my full self means being unapologetically me and being able to speak up for people who aren’t at the table, because at the end of the day, the impacts of our work will be felt by whole communities beyond me.
What does your relationship to place look like? What impact do you hope to have on your surroundings?
I can’t speak enough about how important place and community are. For us, Baltimore is our homebase, and we’re very intentional about how we show up and serve. Fearless invests in our local community through a conglomeration of initiatives, including everything from Hutch as an incubator for underrepresented founders in civic tech to the BMore Tech Connect portal, which connects the local tech community with resources, jobs, and even internships for the next generation of emerging tech talent. I hope that the people in our community are not only better off because of what we contribute to this place, but also that other organizations take inspiration from this and work to improve their ecosystems and the communities around them.
You’re presenting at Summit this year. How does your session speak to the theme “Showing what’s possible in a changing world”?
Our breakout session, called “Tools, mentorship, and peer support to advance equity,” speaks directly to the theme. Both Hutch and the companies we incubate are challenging the status quo in the digital services field and demonstrating how doing good is worth the effort and not a zero-sum game. We’re focused on increasing diversity and equity within the government landscape—something that’s not only important for representation’s sake, but also necessary in order to build services that reflect the makeup of our country. We want to show what’s possible when services are built by people from diverse backgrounds—because we believe that when that happens, everyone is better served.
Want to hear more about Stephanie’s work? She’s presenting a breakout session at Code for America Summit, happening May 16–17 in Washington, D.C. Find out more about Summit and get your tickets today.