TheBridge profile: Jennifer Pahlka
Name: Jennifer Pahlka
Current city: Oakland, CA and San Francisco, CA
Current job: Founder and Executive Director, Code for America
Past job: U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
Q: Favorite spot for a coffee meeting? I’m a tea person, so in DC, it’s Teaism. In San Francisco, it’s the couches in our office overlooking South of Market, with a nice pot of Irish tea and milk.
Q. Describe how a skill you learned in a previous job helped you in your current job. My first job out of college I worked for a child welfare agency as a secretary. The specific skills that got me that job are now largely obsolete: filing, taking phone messages for staff, and working with software programs that have (hopefully) long since been replaced. But I got a view into kids, parents, foster parents, and social workers dealing with some of the hardest things life can throw at you, and that experience has served as a reminder of what’s at stake when government designs systems, software or otherwise. All those choices affect people’s lives in profound ways.
Q: What is a skill you have carried throughout your career that has always proved to be valuable. Asking good questions.
Q. Job advice in three words? Tackle what matters.
Q. How are you (or your company, org, nonprofit) currently bridging the gap between politics and tech / innovation and regulation? What good technologists and good politicians and bureaucrats have in common is they care about people. Government and technology are the two biggest levers/influences/factors on the lives of the American people today, which is why putting them together is so powerful. Though technologists and policy people tend to approach problems differently, we believe the best way to bridge the gap is by focusing on what we call the user, but that really means “the people government is trying to serve.” If you can align different perspectives around understanding users’ needs, and take an iterative, data-driven approach to meeting those needs, everyone tends to come together. Technology and policy are both just tools. If we remember they can be tools for helping people, it’s easier to speak the same language.
Q. What can innovators teach regulators? Build, measure, learn. Lather, rinse, repeat. Figure out how to build ongoing learning and adjustment into your regulation.
Q. What can regulators teach innovators? Public service values. Move thoughtfully and fix things.
Q. Which Member of Congress / regulator is most tech savvy? In the Senate, Mark Warner has been on top of key tech issues for years. But, I expect David Cicilline, who just took over the Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee in the House to have a huge impact on the tech platforms in the current year, so I’m really hoping he fits the bill. Crossing my fingers.
Q. What's one piece of advice you are still trying to master? Meditate daily.
Q. Living person you admire? Lin Manuel Miranda
Q. Favorite under the radar company? Devoted Health
Q. Most underrated virtue in an employee? Honesty
Q. Favorite app? NextDoor
Q. If you had to live in another city, which would it be? New York
Q. Best advice you’ve received? Take a deep breath.
Q. Embarrassing work moment? The time I was crawling under a coffee table to plug in my phone and Al Gore walked in the room. He turned right around and walked out!
Q. Last time you were completely unplugged? Last weekend.
Q. Morning routine? Yoga or run with my husband, take kid to school.
Q. How do you unwind after work? I cook dinner.
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