Sift Science loves to invite individuals knee-deep in the world of technology to spend some time talking with us in what we call our Fireside Chats. On March 14, we had the pleasure of welcoming Minnie Ingersoll, COO of Code for America, to our San Francisco office to discuss her transition from the for-profit to the nonprofit sector.
What is Code for America?
Code for America sits at the intersection of government and technology and strives to “make government work in the digital age” by helping vulnerable populations more easily access government services. From streamlining the food assistance application process to improving the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, Code for America is making strides in connecting those in need with the services they require.
How did Minnie find her way to Code for America?
Minnie began working at Google in 2002 as a product manager and then spearheaded the Google Access Team, shifting her focus to work on various access projects that gave her early experience in working with governments. In 2013, Minnie cofounded Shift Technologies, a used car marketplace, but after having her first child she soon began feeling a pull towards working on projects to better the lives of people in underserved communities.
“I think that in order for our society to function we might have to do things like rethink what the purpose of corporations and organizations are today in America, and I think it’s more than just maximizing shareholder value. We have a whole, huge segment of our society that we are leaving behind, and I do think that organizations like Google, in particular, who have the capital to do so, have to be thinking, ‘If we don’t really address more than just shareholder value, our society’s not going to work.’”
After some introspection, Minnie left Shift Technologies in 2017 and joined Code for America, where she and her team now work to help improve communication between governments and those in need of their services.
What are some examples of Code for America’s work that Minnie feels have been particularly successful?
Applying for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) shouldn’t be so complicated that it prevents someone from having access to food, but 2 million qualified Californians aren’t getting the benefits they need. This is why Minnie is proud of GetCalFresh, Code for America’s service that assists CalFresh applicants by shortening the application time to 10 minutes and allows applicants to upload photos of all required documents via mobile. The process generally takes 45 minutes and can’t be done on mobile.
Minnie also pointed to Code for America’s ClientComm service, which aims to reduce recidivism and improve communication between community supervision personnel and parolees and those on probation. Case managers can text their clients to make them aware of important information, like court dates, rather than relying on physical mail that may get sent to the wrong address. Machine learning analyzes texts sent between case manager and clients to determine what messages lead to better outcomes.
How can civic-minded folks get involved?
Join a Brigade! Code for America’s Brigade Network is an alliance of community organizers, developers, and designers nationwide that are working on projects to help local governments better understand and address the needs of their communities. New participants are welcomed and encouraged!
Between balancing responsibilities as COO of Code for America and being a mother of three, how does Minnie find time to catch her breath?
Surfing. Growing up in L.A. with a father who loved to surf, Minnie inherited his passion for being out on the ocean, away from technology and the temptation to work 24/7.
“I really like having some other things in my life that aren’t correlated with work and that just seem more important. And I’m not saying that surfing is more important, but when you feel like you’re gonna drown, it is more important than the PowerPoint that you’re worrying about. There is something about being in tune with the ocean, where you have to slow down your life… you’re never surfing with your cell phone. You really do have to just focus on being in the water and the waves that are coming, and I like having something that’s really focused on being outside in nature.”
If you want to learn more about Code for America, check out their website for the ins and outs of what they do, how they do it, how community members can get involved, and much more.