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Changing Roles in Code for South Florida’s Leadership

TL:DR; Our founder, Gregory Johnson, is leaving his role as Executive Director at Code for South to focus on a new opportunity that he believes will push this work forward.

This week, I step down as Executive Director at Code for South Florida. The past 2 years transforming Code for Miami, Inc. into a powerhouse civic technology charity centered around a partnership that took user design and open data into rapid prototypes at scale. This experience was some of the best impact moments I can remember. We have been fortunate to have advisors, recruit talent and volunteers, and receive support from many in South Florida who believe government can work for the people, by the people in the digital age.

The end of 2020 made a few things clear to me. Our region is in great shape with local leaders to steward better government for the people and as an organization. Our staff and partners have all the skills to bridge that for the future. As we think about delivery-driven policy some of the biggest problems facing both our public and private sector are how we handle our data and technology infrastructure.

Over the years we have received many asks by c-suite leaders to have a better model of serving data infrastructure projects. Often these projects required more resources in terms of dedicated staff with bigger budgets as a vendor. In response to that, I will be leaving to focus on a new challenge aimed at solving those problems which will require my full attention. To date, as an organization our bank account is 7x higher, our staff is 5x in size, and our project delivery success is higher than ever.

Our Program Manager Livio Zanardo and Partnership Manager Joan Lee will take the reigns of the organizations with my full support sitting as interim co-program leaders. The rest of the board will continue to support and I will offer advice as they drive Q2 program goals and set up Q3. Livio was recruited in 2019 and after his first meeting was recommended by Julie Kramer as a perfect fit to support the organization in storytelling. Joan Lee was brought in 2020 and after adding value to our partnership and volunteer strategy has shown leadership and commitment.

Code for South Florida has accomplished so much from our inception in 2019 as a reinstatement of a charity called Code For Miami. We made a drastic shift from a slack-based and event community into a partner-based and digital service organization. In a network of 90 different organization, we became top 2 second to New York City’s BetaNYC, and across we stood in the top 5 for an organization with paid staff. Under the leadership and talent, we have had the highest impact, revenue, partnership, and outcomes in FY20 higher than in recent years combined.

My last commitment last quarter was to position us to be a tech-led practitioner community where today we stand on pillars in our community who are serving various spaces in expanding diversity, technology, and leveraging open source. This setup in my belief can position us to establish the relationships and resources we need to flourish in years to come building pipelines for talent to co-build.

Thank you to all who have worked with, helped, and cheered for Code for South and this important work throughout my leadership. On behalf of myself, Joan, Livio, and the whole team, we look forward to a continued partnership.

Your former Executive Director,

Gregory Johnson

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Helping Underserved Communities with Mentorship and Pirate School

TL:DR; Pirate School is now a fiscally sponsored project by Code for South Florida under our Diversity in Tech initiative. As a 501(c)(3) organization all donations are tax-deductible towards this project. 

March 16, 2020 — Miami’s digital divide is real. While our region grows with new talent, founders and funders we know that statistically the tech workforce has a problem with diversity and inclusion. South Florida is in unique position to tell a different story but this story doesn’t happen without a mover. It requires coordination by people who have landed tech jobs and led successful careers in a network. Last year, we made a bet on Front-End Miami to build community. This year we are making another bet to advance tech-practioner led communities. We are sponsoring Pirate School led by Ptah Dunbar as a fiscal project partnership to accelerate the mentorship for minority communities. 

A part of our Diversity in Technology Initiative is providing pathways to help support and guide the next generation of South Floridian technologists. The best way to do this is to set leaders who received offers and climbed the tech ladder. Ptah Dunbar has that experience and more. He has been a CTO for hire who has run Dev Agency and helped support Code for South Florida on major software projects with various non-profits. Currently, he works at a public traded company, New Relic, as a Solution Consultant. He has had a track record of teaching, supporting, and being an active tech ecosystem leader. This is why this sponsorship will propel his existing work and vision to build a non-profit corporation on this work in the future.

Through the sponsorship of  Pirate School, we hope to help Ptah shape a vision for providing mentorship and opportunities that lead to more minorities leveling up in their tech careers. We will support channels that guide local talent in cohorts or groups through specific programming that he will run independently. Through his partnership, we will shape new models on this and hope to see his growth and launch of a non-profit organization that will scale up this work beyond Year 1 into something of a repeatable impact.

We are building out a core program that helps provide mentorship quarterly on an ongoing basis of our Diversity in Tech mentorship program. 

Code for South Florida will use this sponsorship to help further our goals towards helping build a civic-minded workforce that focuses on accelerating contributions of local talent with government and charities. In the last years operating we noticed an uptick in feedback from junior or entry-level contributors for mentorship on projects. To help fill this gap, we are building out a core program that helps provide mentorship quarterly on an ongoing basis in our Diversity in Tech mentorship program.

Code for South Florida’s fiscal partnership is a part of our Diversity in Technology initiative 2021 goal to accelerate our reach in hard-to-reach and underserved communities increasing civic engagement across South Florida. We hope to support Pirate School as we build a mentorship framework centered around connecting talent across different levels and trades to participate in contributing to charities and government open data projects.

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Microsoft Customer Story features Code for South Florida

This is a repost from Microsoft Customer Story.

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Blog

Supporting Diversity in Technology through Whitney Lubin and Haitians in Tech

TL:DR; Haitians in Tech is now a fiscally sponsored project by Code for South Florida under our Diversity in Tech initiative. As a 501(c)(3) organization all donations are tax-deductible. 

January 12, 2020 — Today we are happy to announce our Diversity in Technology initiative which will be led by Whitney Lubin who leads Haitians in Tech. This effort is to increase the reach and engagement of tech practitioners from various ethnic minorities, backgrounds, and underserved communities community across South Florida.

11 years ago on this day, Haiti faced a catastrophic earthquake. In the US, South Florida has the largest population density of Haitian Americans, making this day resonate directly in our local South Florida community. Many of them speak English as well as Haitian-Creole and French. In our work with cities and charities, it has become increasingly important to design tech for good with all of South Florida in mind. We recognize that public interest technology and civic technology play a vital part in helping many communities including Haitians and Haitian Americans access services reliably and with dignity. This is why we are especially excited to have a Haitian-American engineeer leading this effort, as representation in leadership will drive new perspectives and cultural values into our technology ecosystem.

Haitians in Tech is a membership-based community launched in 2020 by Whitney Lubin, a local Software Engineer, and Technical Program Manager Apprentice at Microsoft Leap. Whitney served as a Code For America 2019 Fellow, working on the top-performing team in Miami on housing discoverability for low-income families. Through her leadership in Developer Relations, she will work on building bridges for English, Haitian-Creole, and French speaking communities.

Code for South Florida’s fiscal partnership is a part of our Diversity in Technology initiative 2021 goal to accelerate our reach in hard-to-reach and underserved communities increasing civic engagement across South Florida. We hope to support Haitians in Tech in building a Diversity in Tech open-source framework that can be leveraged by other communities locally in their civic engagement and developer community programs for the digital transformation of cities and governments.

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Community

Our Strategic Partnership with Palm Beach Technology Association

Expanding our program reach to Palm Beach County through a community-based organization

November 16, 2020We are partnering with the community organization, Palm Beach Technology Association, to bring our digital services and research efforts to the 3rd most populous county in Florida. This partnership is so we can maximize reach in our Justice Discovery and Workforce Development efforts. 

As civic technology non-profit, we recognize that modernizing government and increasing the adoption of open-source technologies do not happen overnight. It takes a relationship and a willingness to be in the work for the long haul. Our focus from Day 1 continues to be demonstrating change through services that inspire and help others to do it themselves. This is why as we grow, we recognize the need for partners who can help promote our digital service initiatives in municipalities or counties. We hope to do this through Palm Beach Tech Association in the following:

  • Expanding Reach to Palm Beach County by promoting our digital services and services through their network of employers, partners and affiliates.
  • Fostering relationships with the public sector to amplify “tech for social good” volunteering on Code for South Florida’s workforce development and small business initiatives. 
  • Collaborating on a Smart City Peer Group to drive conversations with public-private partners around cities that put people first.

Palm Beach Technology Association is a membership association that recently expanded its vision to transform South Florida into a Tech Hub. For 5-years it has grown its base of employer and partner members while creating branded content for the Palm Beach Tech ecosystem. This includes a range of content like podcasts, peer groups, member directories, and most recently Code for Good hackathons. Through this partnership, we will be added to their Member Directory, not as a paying member but as a technology partner. In addition, we will work on select community initiatives. 

Code for South Florida’s mission continues to be modernizing technology in the public sphere through a people-first approach. We expect our partnership with Palm Beach Tech will help us in our workforce development and justice discovery work in South Florida, connecting us with employers interested in supporting Tech For Good initiatives, and forge a path for a Smart Peer Peer Group in 2021. Through this work, we will elevate public interest technology by fostering Civic Engagement, Digital Transformation, and Smarter Cities across South Florida.

We hope to see a brighter future built on tech for social impact, a future that is not only envisioned but measured consistently to better serve the greater public. We understand the importance of location is having roots and understanding of demographics. Our user research dives into understanding this community and its system across Miami-Dade, Broward, and now Palm Beach in the foreseeable future. To stay true to our objective we believe the best way to serve South Florida is having services that reach every County, and this partnership positions us closer to that goal.

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Community Program

The Justice Discovery Initiative

Discovering ways to improve how the public sees and seeks Justice Reform through data

November 10, 2020 –  TL: DR; Yesterday we kicked off our partnership with Mozilla Foundation and Miami-Dade College for our Justice Discovery Initiative. Through a cohort of emerging technologists, we will work to understand the justice system in South Florida and improve how people discover local police budgets and police complaints through prototypes that will be made public for community feedback. 

The discussion on police brutality and police reform at the local level is missing data that is accurate and standardized. Our hope is to discover a way to push the conversation of data standards to help inform and engage communities.

Our staff will shepherd junior talent from Miami-Dade College to lead a collaborative effort with the City of Miami to research, analyze, and release data related to two justice-related prototypes for municipal and potentially county-level use cases. Our goal is to help residents, government staff, researchers, and journalists investigate and improve interactions between police and the public.

Why Police Complaints?

In a typical year in Miami, Florida, the Civilian Investigative Panel at the City of Miami receives between 250-300 police complaints from sworn police officers. The panel’s mission is to provide an impartial assessment of concerns of sworn police. In August, we teamed up with reporter Daniel Rivero to access their complaints database and launched a beta search tool that received overwhelmingly positive feedback from Miamians in 2020, with thousands of users signing on to the application in a matter of weeks. What we learned is that not all police complaint forms are equal, and that although public data is gathered and centralized, it is not always accessible for the public.

For this reason, we are iterating on our past work to improve how the public finds police complaint records. We are starting with user research engaging real people to navigate the experiences of transparency around police complaints to improve the process and recommend better approaches to the work. To expand on that work our justice discovery initiative will use qualitative and quantitative research to identify and explore new opportunities for public services.

The “Justice Discovery Initiative” is called so because we are not selling solutions: we are civic technologists working with emerging talent to get a better picture of policy, law enforcement, budget, and data to demonstrate improvements to public systems. We are opening up government to the public and encouraging feedback to build a better future together. This is for all of us – not some of us.

Why Budget Data?

When it comes to getting anything started in government you need a budget. Currently, there is not a Police Reform budget in place and we see that as an opportunity. A small budget allocated to fixing data standardizing is a small step toward major wins in moving discussions on police reform initiatives. In our civic engagement initiative, we championed participatory budgeting as a method to achieve getting the people to vote where tax dollars should go.

What we learned is that many South Floridians struggle to understand where dollars are going in the existing budget and which projects are happening. In a virtual world, searching through existing budget data and budget decisions made at local government hearings is difficult. We see the first step to getting to participatory budgeting as a place where citizens may openly access municipal and county data and the virtual meetings where the decisions are being made. Through this discovery work, we plan to work with a team to uncover methods of improvement in this area. 

Finding A Budget for Police Reform Through Digital Services 

We believe the public should have services that they can use reliably and with dignity. Everyone should be able to know where to make a police complaint or see their local government budget simply. They should also be able to know where decisions are being made, and services that cities host should reflect the same level of modern technology as the big technology companies. In our discovery, we hope to demonstrate services that inspire this change toward a better relationship between government and its citizens. 

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Civic User Testing

Have you ever had to look up information on a government website? File for a permit application? Or set an appointment at the DMV?

These points of interaction with government services provide an opportunity for the city to improve layout, language, design, colors, or other subtleties that could impact a users ability to complete a task.

Code for South Florida is proud to support the improvement of digital services through local user testing. We compensate community members to test digital services and provide feedback for improvement.

If we want South Florida to thrive, then the forms, websites, applications, and instructions for engaging with government services must be clear, tried, and tested.

Below are active tests we invite visitors to complete. Please note, you must complete the task requested before providing summary on the submission form.

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Community

Front-End Miami is now backed by Code for South

TL:DR; Front-End Miami (FEM) is a fiscally sponsored project by Code for South Florida which as a 501(c)(3) organizations meaning your donations are tax-deductible.

September 3, 2020. Code for South Florida is pleased to announce we are fiscally sponsoring Front-End Miami (FEM) a group led by engineers for engineers. Founded by Ernie Hsiung and led by Chris Scott and Charles Villard. This sponsorship means Front-End Miami will turn into a project initiative supported by Code for South Florida.

“The Front-End Miami community has built an organic space for developers and we want to help them find ways to grow and become sustainable”

Established in 2012, Front-End Miami created a space for developers to meet and find a community. Today they stand tall, a group of over one thousand members supporting Miami’s Technology community and talent, no matter what level of experience. At Code for South Florida, we find that people who live and work in South Florida have a stronger sense of community when they work on technology projects for social impact. Over the years, some of our best contributors on the Code for South Florida projects have come from Front-End Miami. That is why we believe in their contributions to the South Florida tech ecosystem and why we are sponsoring this community-led initiative.

The Front-End community has built an organic space for developers and we want to help them find ways to grow and become sustainable. They are a space for entry, mid-level, and senior front-end engineers to be humans, not just workers. We don’t have enough places where talent can converse and this provides that natural connection in Miami. 

Front-End Miami will be focused on internal planning and shaping strategies for creating content for their community, including podcasts and other forms of community-facing conversations. We at Code for South Florida are supporting them by creating a place to donate and support Front-End Miami in the work they do.

Under this fiscal sponsorship, Code for South Florida will be doubling down on our commitment to building a community of technologists who recognize the need for open source and public data.  We’ll be incorporating this into our plan of job-based volunteer posting which will help people interested in working with us on tech for social impact to build a better Public Interest Technology ecosystem. This sponsorship is for a year and will be reviewed annually. 

Never used GitHub Sponsors before? How-To Donate

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Blog

Helping Florida Get Flexible Cash During a Pandemic

No one could expect the pandemic would threaten so many lives in the way it has, especially financially. Across South Florida, people are scrambling to find out how they can make ends meet during this crisis. In response, we at Code for South Florida felt like the action was needed. That is why we reached out to Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) organizations who typically gave in-person support helping people get their tax return and stimulus check. Our collaboration, Refund Day hopes to act as a beacon for remote support as people file their taxes online by the extended federal deadline of July 15, 2020. 

Why Refund Day 

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is a national program with more than 30+ organizations supporting our community locally. The problem is this type of work happened in-person, and was often not coordinated through computers, phones, email, text, or other digital methods. Through our coalition with 3 founding organizations, we’re giving this work a facelift by teaming up with GetYourRefund.org to help people file their taxes online in Florida.

We call this coalition Refund Day, because many filers don’t realize they are eligible for a refund. GetYourRefund.org is a non-profit service built by Code for America in partnership with IRS-certified Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites nationally. Code for South Florida is a non-profit technology organization dedicated to making government work for the people that need it most. As a strategic partner of Code for America, we are the first in their network to launch a coalition model with local VITA partners to launch this service in Florida.

Our  Partnership 

The Refund Day Coalition is dedicated to supporting online tax filing through GetYourRefund.org. We partnered with Code for America because of their secure, free, and reliable system. GetYourRefund.org and Code for South Florida joined forces to bring this online tax filing tool to South Florida and start a model that supports the 85-city network in maximizing the energy we as a community have to help people. This means offering feedback to build a better tool that can help people who speak different languages and have never filed their taxes online before. 

How It Works 

A user needing to file their taxes would visit the GetYourRefund.org site and follow the steps to enter the requested information or documents related to their taxes. They can then stop at any point and one of our tax specialists will reach out to them if they’re based in Florida. Our Coalition team is here to help filers every step of the way to make sure they provide all the right information. 

If you are interested in this service, start filling out your information today at GetYourRefund.org. Interested in becoming a partner for this service? Email us at team@codeforsouth.org and someone on our team will get you started.