The Power of Web Development Outside Tech


In 2020, I learned about the power of web development for organizations and nonprofits outside of tech. I learned that you can leverage your skills to affect change and build long-lasting partnerships.

This year, I joined the Board of Directors of the League of Women Voters San Francisco (LWVSF), which, despite its name, welcomes people of all genders. This century-old organization has over 800 branches that span cities and states across the United States and the world.

Before joining the Board, I helped lead the LWVSF Observer Corps (and still do), whose focus is increasing government transparency and protecting the public’s participation in government with an emphasis on policing practices. Eventually, my volunteer efforts hit a point where I needed to start editing our website myself.

The first thing I noticed was that every individual League has its own website, user interface, and content. Some use MyLo (a platform developed for Leagues by LWV California), some use SquareSpace, and we at LWVSF use GoDaddy’s “Website Builder”. I quickly learned that base-level HTML, CSS, and inline JavaScript skills with a sprinkling of PHP (for WordPress-based sites) will take one quite far in this realm.

In some ways, the bar outside of the tech industry is lower — for these blogs, and what are otherwise static websites, one doesn’t need much to get started. Coming in as a seasoned software developer, I often found myself frustrated by small things: a limit on the number of displayed events in the editor, the inability to customize PayPal integrations, and unpreserved tabbing and syntax highlighting. Big things too, like unintuitive user interface and information architecture. Imagine attempting to make sense of a website builder without a foundation built on years of tech literacy.

The risks are also super high. If we introduce a website bug, it could mean the loss of essential donations and grants, the failure to recruit potential key members, or the inability to share last-minute information about a government meeting where legislative changes affect marginalized populations.

For me, this points to the importance of partnership between those in tech and those outside of it. Our skills are valuable to the essential work of political organizing. Tools for those working for social good and the betterment of society should be the best. We can help!

Take Rideshare Drivers United (RDU). In 2017, a software developer, Ivan Pardo, and a driver who was also a former union organizer put their heads together and created an app to recruit drivers to RDU. Pardo and I met through the Tech Workers Coalition and RDU’s text banking drive, and we discussed the amazing work he put into the app.

This year, Pardo updated the app with phone and text banking capabilities to help spread the “No on Prop 22” message. This led to the texting of over one million voters, with some individual drivers texting over 50,000 people! The platform is simple, straightforward, and impactful, but most importantly, the platform fits the needs of RDU and supports their activism rather than overshadowing it.

What makes Pardo’s app so good, so effective? He says:

I’m there to serve the group in any capacity necessary. But I’m not a driver. Just because you know software doesn’t mean you understand organizing. I spent just as many hours learning about the industry and that allows me to build software [for RDU] more effectively.

And his advice for getting involved?

Attach yourself to an organization that is pro-people and pro-democracy. Then build software to serve that organization.

As demonstrated by Pardo and RDU, there are clear benefits and a massive impact that stems from the cooperation between tech workers and non-tech organizations. Using our technical know-how to amplify the work of others has stood out to me as a light in the dark, especially in a year like 2020.

Even simple websites and apps go on to make a huge difference politically and socially. We, as website builders, have the benefit that even in a global pandemic, we’re able to organize and operate online.

In the last year, as friends, acquaintances, and myself were laid off in the middle of a global pandemic, I learned about and was inspired by the initiative of so many. Despite being unable to organize in person, I saw my friend Amy working on VoteAmerica, Chris churning out Election Map SF, countless individuals promoting the team behind Native Land, and The Algorithmic Justice League cobbling together AI advocacy resources, just to name a few.



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