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Civic Tech is Driven by an Ability to Transform the World

Civic Tech is Driven by an Ability to Transform the World

Fearless has undoubtedly transformed thousands of lives over the past 13 years.

From government agencies to nonprofit organizations and businesses, we have enhanced technology for:

  • New York Harbor Foundation,
  • Baltimore City Health Department,
  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,
  • General Services Administration,
  • Air Force,
  • United States Citizenship and Immigration Services,
  • Deloitte,
  • Exelon, and
  • Maryland Food Bank, among others.

So, when I share Fearless’ mission to build software with a soul and our vision to create a world where good software powers the things that matter, that doesn’t mean working for less than your worth.

It means using your tech powers to transform lives.

It means having great perks and benefits.

It means working in a fun space immersed in a sense of belonging.

It means having a work-life balance.

And, it means competitive compensation.

Civic Tech is a stable and lucrative path that aims to improve the quality of life for people and communities.

Supporting and enhancing technology for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and businesses not only impacts the lives of those utilizing the digital services, but inspires those who create them.

I’m often asked, “Why Civic Tech?” And my answer is always, “Why not Civic Tech?” Here’s why…

A while back, a well-respected colleague asked me to speak with an impressive recent Johns Hopkins graduate who was pursuing a career in technology.

My friend thought it was important to retain her talents in Baltimore. He believed I had the (purple) sauce to make the pitch.

Of course, I was up for the challenge.

My friend was so eager for me to speak to this tech phenom that I figured she had to be the next Steve Jobs. So, I stopped everything I was doing and scheduled time to speak with her.

If anyone could convince her to pursue a fulfilling career in technology in Baltimore, it was me.

Delali Dzirasa speaking at a Hutch Event in Baltimore

As the visionary and implementer of a growing tech firm in Baltimore, we thought that I had the ability to motivate her to live out her dreams right here in Charm City, at Fearless.

But, there was one hurdle.

She was being courted by a couple of major tech firms in California. So, I had to make it count.

Equipped with this intel, I was on a mission.

I asked, “So, what do you want to do in this industry?”

I envy Generation Z for their unapologetic commitment to living a purpose-driven life. But, I was certain that Fearless’ mission to build software with a soul would appeal to her. And I knew that our vision to create a world where good software powers the things that matter would seal the deal.

These were sure to be selling points for a recent tech graduate who’d spent the past four years in Charm City.

I thought, “This one’s in the bag.”

She responded, “My senior project was so inspiring. I built technology with and for the community. It was so rewarding. I felt like l was making an impact.”

As she spoke, I could feel her passion and excitement. Using her tech powers for good invigorated her.

Improving lives and advancing communities in Baltimore through technology left her inspired.

In my mind, I said, “Perfect! A prototypical Fearless team member.”

She continued to express how rewarding and fulfilling the community work was. I understood the rewarding feeling of service. The ability to provide a sought-after skill that can uplift a community only intensifies the euphoria it brings.

Knowing she was considering this major tech gig in California, I asked, “Why not continue to use your tech powers for good?”

She responded, “Eventually. I plan to go to the west coast to make some money first, then return to use all I’ve learned to make a difference.”

“Wow,” I thought. Fearless is providing impactful digital services and transforming lives through unrivaled technology.  We are continuously growing and scaling. Yet, based on this conversation, do people think we are a charitable organization?

Don’t get me wrong, the work we do at Fearless feels good. But, it’s a business.

At Fearless, our team of talented professionals delivers complex, large-scale technology that reaches the masses.

We secure multi-million contracts from government agencies and major organizations. Major tech firms subcontract our talents to deliver top-notch technology on high-profile projects. And, our pay contends with major tech firms.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that the federal government spent more than $665 billion on contracts in the fiscal year 2020:

  • $10.6 billion on information technology and telecommunications services;
  • $3.7 billion on information technology software; and
  • $19.2 billion on professional engineering and technical services.

I was distracted as I continued to convince this sought-after tech professional of why Civic Tech matters. I couldn’t believe that Civic Tech was synonymous with volunteerism.

Did a growing talent pool of data analysts, software engineers, and programmers think pursuing a career in Civic Tech meant forgoing a competitive salary?

Absolutely not!

While I knew that not to be true, I was enlightened by this conversation.

This notion that Civic Tech doesn’t pay well was a problem. It was now my personal mission to dispel this myth.

Quite the contrary.

Civic Tech Pay Rivals Big Tech

If I could go back, I would have just given her the numbers, showing and proving that Fearless’ pay is comparable to that of big tech.

Business Insider reports that Amazon’s cloud-solutions architects make between $90,800 and $185,000, and Facebook’s data analysts make between $111,000 and $160,000.

So, while big tech serves a purpose, Civic Tech is purpose-driven. Yet, it doesn’t require waiving compensation, the cool work environment, or upward mobility.

Civic Tech is experiencing hyper-growth just like the private sector

I would share that Civic Tech is not the government tech sector that your parents knew. Rather, it is an ever-growing track that hasn’t even scratched the surface.

President Barack Obama launched United States Digital Services following the crash. He understood the critical importance of utilizing technology to deliver premier services to Americans.

In 2014, the Obama administration prioritized digital services for the first time in history. They hired tech employees to work inside of the government. And, contracted technology companies to support efforts from the outside.

This changed the trajectory of technology and spurred interest in Civic Tech.

Once considered a final destination, Civic Tech is now a preferred career journey.

Using your tech powers for good, having a great work-life balance, and earning an impressive salary can be a reality.

Civic Tech is experiencing hyper-growth just like the private sector

I would share that Civic Tech is not the government tech sector that your parents knew. Rather, it is an ever-growing track that hasn’t even scratched the surface.

I was raised in Silver Spring, a city right outside of Washington, D.C. in Maryland’s Montgomery County. My mother, a now-retired nurse, was a hard worker who engrained service in me and my siblings.

Week after week, my mother carried us to and from church and community functions, where we volunteered. She committed to teaching us how to be of service to others.

From a very young age, she weaved empathy and compassion into my fabric. This mandate to give back remains with me to this day.

Early on, my siblings and I found ways to be of service to others while also earning an income.

From mowing lawns as a child to starting a barbershop in college, I knew I would find a profession where I could make a sustainable living while being of service to others.

After graduating from UMBC, like the Johns Hopkins graduate, I considered my career path. With offers from two major tech firms, I felt pretty content with the idea of my prospects. However, I sought guidance from my mentor and college president, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski.

But, during our meeting, he directed my attention to a smaller tech firm—RABA Technologies.

Started by a UMBC alum, the firm was growing.

Small Civic Tech Firms Can Make Out-Sized Impact

Although convinced I would accept a position with one of the larger, high-profile firms, I took the interview. After all, Dr. Hrabowski, himself, referred me. What other choice was there?

After discussing my plans to start my own tech firm and my desire to learn project management and business operations, RABA offered me my first career position.

I accepted.

Honoring their promises, RABA offered me a front-row seat. During my tenure, they secured two $100 million Department of Defense contracts. And, alongside a senior associate, I helped to manage one of the contracts.

Little did I know that this contract would align with what my mother had instilled in me since childhood. That I would be continuing my life-long commitment to be of service to humankind.

This was divine.

It was not lost on me that we carried the awesome responsibility to build technology to protect American families and businesses.

These classified multi-million-dollar defense contracts taught me the value of technology and its ability to change the world through innovative solutions.

In this role, my thinking was forever shifted.

I knew I could use my tech powers to help others.

I could use my tech powers to eliminate barriers.

I could use my tech powers to empower people.

I could use my tech powers to uplift communities.

I could use my tech powers for good!

It is no secret that technology is ever-evolving and is a career worth pursuing. After all, there will always be a need for technology experts. And, it’s a lucrative career.

Building a cool entertainment-centered start-up may sound more enticing. But, bidding for government contracts at the federal, state, and local government levels is guaranteed.

Digital services are always needed. And, let’s be clear, the government will always pay its bills. Opportunities in civic tech are endless.

So, if I could go back to that conversation with that promising graduate, I would tell her to follow her passion.

I would tell her that the opportunities in Civic Tech were endless. I would say get access to the machine, make an impact, and get paid.

After starting Fearless in 2009, we secured our first contract in 2010 with the United States Secret Service.

Much like RABA Technologies, we sought out defense contracts. Their security classification prohibited us from sharing our previous work. Which meant, we were often unable to secure non-defense contracts.

Finally, we secured our first civilian contract with the United States Small Business Administration’s (SBA) HUBZone program.

This contract diversified Fearless’ portfolio, and springboarded our exponential growth.

Civic Tech Allows You to Use Your Tech Powers for Good

If I could go back to that conversation with the Johns Hopkins graduate headed to California for money, I would share that the SBA earmarks billions of dollars to support the HUBZones program, targeting 3% at the prime level and 3% at the subcontractor level for all government contracts..

I would tap into her passion for the community, explaining that the HUBZones stimulate small business growth in historically underutilized business zones, some in Baltimore.

And, we were responsible for developing technology to further this mission.

I’d share that by enhancing the technology, Fearless elevated this much-needed federal program.

Our technology connected unemployed and underemployed Americans in marginalized communities to funding designated to support them and their businesses.

More recently, we digitized the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) Slavery and Freedom exhibition.

Creating an online searchable museum, we made this world-class treasure accessible to the world.

Building, developing, and delivering this final product to the NMAAHC was an honor.

On launch day, our team members cried tears of joy. And, a senior member of a major firm that also worked on the project said it was the most impactful project on which they had ever worked.

This is the feeling that Civic Tech brings.

This is the feeling of using your tech powers for good.

The NMAAHC searchable museum recently received the CIO Magazine’s Annual 100 Award. Additionally, it received two nominations for this year’s 26th Annual Webby Awards.

Civic Tech Competes with Itself Unlike Other Tech Fields with Inherent Competition

If I was having that conversation today, I would say, “In technology, there is always competition.”

You can either have an android or an iPhone, a PC or a Mac; use Google or Bing; or, drive a Honda or a Tesla.

Competition is inherent in the world of technology.

I’d continue, “Traditionally, if someone does not like the quality of service, they have other options.

When ordering food delivery, there are options.

There are Uber Eats, Door Dash, Grub Hub, Post Mates, and so many other options from which to choose.

Therefore, services must constantly improve to attract and maintain consumers.

However, government uniquely has a monopoly in their respective spaces.

So, in Civic Tech, the technology we produce is one-of-a-kind with little to no competition.

Our software developers create and publish large-scale technology that makes much-needed services accessible.

For instance, one must engage the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for a tax refund.

There is no competitor.

There are no alternatives or workarounds.

You must file your tax return with the IRS. So, it must be reliable, accessible, and palatable.

This is possible when talented tech professionals accept the calling to pursue Civic Tech.

I’d double down, explaining that Civic Tech matters because it provides the awesome ability to impact people at a high level.

For millions of individuals and families, efficient government services are life-changing.

Removing the obstacles to receiving a faster tax refund, obtaining one’s citizenship, or accessing benefits such as Medicaid or Medicare is necessary.

So, Civic Tech affords the most skilled techie to make a large-scale impact through highly complex software.

Civic Tech Improves Services Our Tax Dollars Fund

I’d also remind her that we pay for these services.

If Instagram stops working, we immediately become frustrated.

For what?

No one knows because we aren’t paying for it.

While a business may use it to elevate its brand or to sell a product, it’s primarily a free service that connects people.

And, when we receive bad service at a restaurant or do not receive the full benefits of a monthly subscription, we often complain. We often seek a refund because the expectation is that we should receive the services we pay for efficiently and effectively.

As taxpayers, we pay for government services, and they too should work for us in an exceptional way.

Technology has the awesome ability to accelerate these missions.

I eventually learned that the Johns Hopkins graduate had already committed to a large tech firm and was headed for California. Although I questioned my friend’s urgency, I realized that this encounter was more for me than it was for her. From that day forward, I resolved to recruit and retain talented professionals because Civic Tech matters.

So, use your tech powers for good and pursue a career in Civic Tech. Believe me, I’ve been on this journey to change the world through technology for nearly two decades and overall ‘the risk has been worth the reward.

Convinced? Consider a career in Civic Tech with Fearless! 

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