U.S. Digital Response and the Volunteer Tech Effort


President Obama's chief data scientist, talks with US Digital response cofounders Jennifer Palka and really knew as well as racially A member of US digital response. You know the place. I wanted to kind of start this conversation with you. Is almost rewinding the clock back and Tio where we were, and it's it's hard to to remember. But You know, it hasn't been that long. Since then. She all came together. March 16th, You know, that was 133 days ago or 19 weeks or on Lee 36.34% of 2020. Not long but to put it in perspective. What was what was coded like at that time. When, when, when? Back in March, 16. You know we had 4500 people who had tested positive in the United States and 88 had died. Six of which were in California. Sam Cisco Bay Area had moved to a shelter in place, and it was three days before a governor Newsome had issued a stay home order for the whole entire state. Ouchy had just warned that the worst is just ahead of us. It was his first time really warning that publicly. And so you know what we think about how much change from the numbers back then to now, I want you to take us back to the initial moment and that that almost that realization Of why jump into this? Why create us digital response when people the numbers weren't as bad as people have thought, What what got you to see this? And and maybe railing? Could you talk to us about how you came together? US digital response. I would say we started off a somewhat simple idea and a bit of a prediction. It was founded by a former U. S deputy chief technology officer is like John He was here and season tech industry veterans more like myself, and we kind of came together with this idea and thinking that With the pandemic. We were going to see government systems and government teams really be stretched beyond their current limits. And knowing all of the wonderful tech really talented tech expertise we have in this country. Is there something there? We can connect the people who have this expertise with the government teams are really going to need that hope to scale beyond problems that we've really never seen. So I think what happened was that was a thesis and we basically gave it a shot. We put a call out for help to technologists and we reached out to government people working in government that we knew their networks and we're basically like Is there something here? Can we provide help? As a team. We've really just been blown away by what we've been able to dio on Both sides. I think we've seen on one hand. We've seen those government services be taxed in a way that's really unprecedented. And in a way that goes way beyond where we made initially thought or on health care. We see systems being affected like Government service is like voting toe accessing benefits in the social safety net in general, and I think we've been overwhelmed by the interest from technologists who raised their hands to help so Probably. Within our first few weeks, we had thousands of technologists all over the country raised their hand sign up online just to say, Hey, I'm here here on my skills. I want to help. And so I would say USTR has served as that bridge that gap kind of bridge that gap between tech and I just want to help and governments in need and when we've really seen that the model works. So we're just about past four months of existence, and we've had over 5500 volunteers sign up to help from all over the country. We've actually taking on over 130 different projects with states and counties and city government teams in a TTE this 1300.27 different states, which kind of really amazing when I think about that. And as I said, it's all happened in just a matter of months. I mean, it's just phenomenal. You know, Raph, why did you join? What? What? What? What you did to this effort You have, like endless job opportunities with your background. Yeah, I was one of the first volunteers with you See, are the newbie on this panel? It's because I was spending all my time Energy doom, strolling and reading the news on DH. Release is worrying about the future on that didn't feel good night background is in Tech Azan Engineering executive You know, like I have worked at a few different startups and developing amazing roller coasters. But the thought experiment that I run when I'm thinking about leaving a group or joining group is if this group of people who succeed beyond their wildest dreams like what would the net impact on the world being In past companies have sometimes thought like I feel pretty neutral office like I love the people and the projects are interesting. But what is the impact? And so I've been on kind of a quest for the past few years to find a way to make That kind of impact it scale back in March. In this tiny thing that you're talking about. There was a lot of energy from the tech community, especially here in surface Go like the hacker news readings that to try and find ways to help and it seemed to me like a lot of the Things that people are working on. We're a little bit like solutions in search of problems like The solutions that are going to move the needle are going to be like something crazy, innovative. It's going to be mass cooperation and distribution and logistics and the kind of things that we infected government for. So a mutual friends talking about USTR, and when I read about it, heard about it. It was like this is this is the way we have to help governments. Let's help them be responsive to the needs. And so I had, like. The man's privilege of having the time of the financial security volunteer for free for a while. And the anxiety to not sit around doing nothing

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