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Introducing Civic Tech to San Francisco's Underserved Communities

Updated: May 27

The <dev/Mission> Code for San Francisco Fellowship began with a desire of the C4SF organizing team to increase the diversity of the communities that participate in our weekly hack night. The team thought they could make a contribution to the movement to bring tech training to underserved communities, and also contribute to tech equity, by tapping into the large pool of volunteer knowledge and skills that shows up at our weekly hack nights.


We thought we might be more effective if we partnered with a community-based organization and found a great fit with <dev/Mission>. CEO Leo Sosa describes <dev/Mission> as “A nonprofit organization that aims to train untapped young adults for careers in tech who can bring prosperity to underserved communities”. <dev/Mission’s> technology training programs teach young adults ages 16-24, skills in IoT, hardware/software, coding and critical career skills. <dev/Mission> has also opened up STEM training labs for K-12 and a digital music program for ages 14-21. Microsoft, a sponsor to <dev/Mission>, agreed to support the Fellows who completed the Fellowship with a stipend.


The Fellows’ journey began last August when we introduced the Fellowship at National Day of Civic Hacking. We asked the Fellows to begin with an issue that they wanted to address in their communities, which for the most part is the Mission district. Brigade member, Allen Meyer led the Fellows and workshop attendees through a design thinking exercise that addressed the issues the Fellows wanted to tackle. The issues included training youth in tech, connecting community gardens to each other, and San Francisco’s seemingly intractable homelessness.


The workshop enabled the Fellows to develop a basic product idea that they could explore for the next six months of hack nights. We began with some basic user research. What did they think the user needs would be for the proposed web application? We then had them write up a basic interview guide and sent them off in search of users.


The next design step was to create some basic personas based on who they had talked to and what they had learned from those interviews. The research helped them to verify their initial assumptions and ideas but they also found that they might need to pivot a bit. Yes, along the way we dropped in tech start-up concepts, such as pivoting.


The Fellows spent the next six months working with Francis Li, their <dev/Mission> mentor, on Sundays learning full-stack web development, and attending Wednesday Civic Hack Nights. All the hard work was showcased at the program’s sponsor Microsoft Reactor. The Showcase’s attendees included Joshua Arce, Director of Workforce Development for Mayor London Breed.


The Fellowship was a learning experience for both the Fellows and the Code for San Francisco Team. It may have been a bit ambitious to learn basic product development, UX design and coding, but the Fellows really impressed us with their dedication.


Project Name: The View \ Project Lead: Edgar Catalan, with C4SF intern Sebastian Meyer


Problem Description: The youth today struggles to be informed in any way about what is going in our city with news and technology. I was seeing a pattern that we get bored quickly because of lack of interest, not understanding it, or something is too long to read.


Proposed Solution: Making a platform to give the youth of San Francisco and the Bay Area an option to see the Top News and Tech News in an enjoyable and understandable way. While including our favorite interests.

How was the experience of taking a project from concept to prototype? Anything that surprised you along the way?


Edgar: The experience was memorable because I took time from school to draw the User Interface for the app and then implementing it to HTML, CSS, and Javascript. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed building a dynamic web application. I remember first starting the fellowship I felt that I wasn’t going to have fun but ended up being memorable.


Sebastian: The View was an excellent learning experience. I realized through the process of conceptualizing the front end with Edgar and developing the content that I had a knack for journalism and basic content creation, but also content management, which is a skillset that will be useful for me to know about in my future career. I was surprised by how tedious it was to find content that was worthy of the site, as so much tech news is rather bland and inconsequential, with the occasional interesting and/or controversial news piece sticking out.


This added an additional challenge to making the content of the site interesting and fresh, and stretched my writing and researching skills.


Do you have any plans now that the Fellowship is done, do you have plans to keep developing the project?


Edgar: My plan is to finish my last semester at City College of San Francisco and transfer a 4-year university with Computer Science. I do plan to improve the app on Wednesdays at Code for San Francisco.


Sebastian: I would love to take this project to the next level and continue to practice my content management skills. There is a number of things that the project needs however, including a much larger group of people working on stories for the project to make it accurate and up to date, perhaps a professional design team, and a lot of work on the shoes and music tabs. I am in the process of starting my own company to help at-risk transitional age youth in Marin county, Project Clarity, and I could see the two projects intertwining in interesting and meaningful ways.



Mellany presents her fellowship project at Microsoft Reactor

Project Name: Give Back\ Project Lead: Mellany Andrea Almendarez


Problem Description: Homelessness is one of San Francisco’s most important issues. In 2017, there were 7,500 homeless people in SF. I was born and raised in San Francisco so this issue is very personal to me. I have seen friends and family go through homelessness due to the increasing gentrification in the city, and I want to use tech to help solve this problem.


Proposed Solution: I want to address homelessness through tech. I want to be able to connect potential donors and volunteers to homelessness organizations that need the financial help or extra staff by building an app that could help do this.

How was the experience of taking a project from concept to prototype? Anything that surprised you along the way?


Mellany: It made me realize how much time and effort must truly be put into the project. I had to think about every possible detail and part of the project. From the layout to the coding of the project, I spent a lot of time in the concept stage. So, in a way the project itself was surprising, I had never done something like this before.


Do you have any plans now that the Fellowship is done, do you have plans to keep developing the project?


Mellany: Right now, I am transitioning into a four-year university, participating in the Uber Career Prep Program, and working as a Program Instructor at <dev/Mission>. I do intend to keep developing my project throughout the summer on my own time, unfortunately due to my schedule I am not able to attend at C4SF on Wednesday nights.



Project Name: SFPest\ Project Leads: Daniel Guardado, Ajmal Shah


Problem Description: It takes Hunters Point residents 72 hours to get pest service support from when they first report an issue.


Proposed Solution: Build a web app that would assist Hunters Point East/West residents report pests using their mobile devices.


Daniel and Ajmal worked directly with Pestec, Property Managers, Resident Service Coordinators and public housing residents to design a web app that enables residents to report pest issues in their housing. While they didn’t work directly with Brigade volunteers they did use basic civic design principles of designing with the residents, not for the residents of public housing, to help identify those issues that concerned them.


About the author:\ Allen Meyer has been volunteering with the Brigade since 2013 and is currently a visual designer for the San Francisco Human Services Agency.

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