Tech skills for elected officials

Should basic competence with technology be essential for serving in local elected office?

I think so.

Historically not a lot of the workflow of local roles like City Council member, County Commissioner, or even Mayor have required much familiarity with technology. If you could receive and read through packets of paper, answer the phone and listen to voicemail, speak reasonably coherently in meetings, and perhaps operate a motor vehicle, you had everything you needed to serve the public interest without worrying too much about computers, the Internet, phone systems or other tech tools.

Today, I don’t think an elected official can claim to be truly in touch with the needs and opportunities in their constituent community if they’re not proficient with more modern tools like email, the web, cloud-based document sharing and collaboration, and social media.

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Rigging elections in Wayne County?

There’s talk on the presidential election trail about whether the upcoming fall elections could be rigged to favor one outcome or another. It’s perhaps tempting to dismiss this as conspiracy theory talk by election losers-in-waiting, and maybe that’s all it is. But as someone who’s been following the transition to electronic voting systems and the challenges and potential liabilities they represent in maintaining the integrity of elections (see here and here) I thought it would be worth looking into the “riggability” of elections, at least at the local level here in Wayne County.

I checked in with Wayne County Clerk Debra Berry, who was very helpful in providing some information about our voting equipment and process beyond what’s available on the County’s voter information website. She clarified that we’re using the Hart InterCivic voting machines, which are used by hundreds of jurisdictions nationwide.

I asked about the specific modules and firmware versions we’re using on these machines, which could be helpful to anyone wanting to make sure we’re up to date with vendor provided improvements that address any known security issues:

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Coworking Space

Salt MinesDoes Richmond need a coworking space?

I think it does.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a coworking space is a shared work environment where people who are often doing different things for different organizations/businesses come together and get stuff done. They’re quickly becoming a central part of “the new workplace” and the growing phenomenon of distributed organizations.

Some coworking spaces focus on the efficiency of shared resources (not everyone needs to rent a dedicated building, sign up for a dedicated Internet connection and buy a dedicated printer), some focus on shared values and interests (tech startups, freelance writers, industrial designers), and some are just meeting a need for flexible, open office space.

Many coworking spaces have dedicated meeting rooms where you can go to have a more private conversation or take a phone call. Some coworking spaces are paired with “maker spaces” where people can use 3-D printers, shop tools and other resources to prototype their ideas, experiment with a new electronic gadget, or just play around.

Several weeks ago I visited The Salt Mines, a coworking space in Columbus, Ohio. They have converted a fairly nondescript house in a mixed use district into a beautiful coworking space – high ceilings, great natural light, simple but elegant fixtures. It had several large workstations – some rented permanently by specific people, some left open for rotating visitors – along with a conference room area, a mini-kitchen and some bathrooms. I gathered there with a few of my colleagues from Automattic who live in the region, and we made a day of getting our own work done while in the same room together. It was awesome!

Bloomington has Cowork. Indy has The Speak Easy. Muncie has the Innovation Connector. These spaces are popping up everywhere.

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Are tech jobs real jobs?

I recently heard someone describe an apparently pervasive perception that technology jobs aren’t “real” jobs. I think the narrative goes something like this:

People in tech don’t really make things or produce things, they just sit around at computers all day. There’s nothing to really show for their work or for the surrounding community to be proud of. Tech companies tend to hire and grow a handful of people at a time. What we need are real jobs where a big factory opens and a bunch of people are trained to do real work producing real things that everyone can actually see. And then that will attract other factories and a bunch more people will get hired.

It’s an appealing narrative in an area that has its history in making “real” things in shops and factories. I really value the ability to do something with my hands, to make something physical and tangible that people can see. I admire people who are skilled in the manipulation of tools, machines, materials to create beautiful, functional, complex parts of our built world.

But I think we can appreciate this kind of work and at the same time appreciate a newer way of producing, creating and making a living that can be just as valuable to our economy and life as a city.

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