15 Developers to Follow If You Want to Join the Chicago Civic Tech Scene

By: Fullstack Staff

Technology has created an enormous opportunity for regular people to change the world—and one of the ways someone interested in programming might do that is as a web developer for non profit organizations.

That’s right: As a developer, you don’t have to build a new social media platform or create the next must-have app. Instead, you can make a difference by building tools that help the public solve pressing problems, from signing up for food stamps to getting timely healthcare advice.

If you feel the call of a career in the nonprofit sector, these 15 Chicago-based nonprofit website developers will keep you inspired as you work toward your goals.

Rose Afriyie

Rose Afriyie is a co-founder and executive director of mRelief, an online platform and SMS service that helps Americans across the country find out whether they qualify for food stamps. If they do, they can enroll through the service.

Afriyie has first-hand experience with the welfare system. One of five children of Ghanian immigrants, Afriyie grew up in a housing project in the Bronx. Food stamps and other forms of assistance were critical for her family. That assistance created opportunities for her, too: Afriyie had an internship at the White House and graduated with a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Michigan.

Now, she is focused on helping others unlock the benefits of welfare support both at mRelief and as the board chair for BYP100, an African-American youth organization.

Andrew Briggs

Andrew Briggs is an independent software developer and consultant who has worked with the Smart Chicago Collaborative (now City Tech Collaborative) on a number of projects. Briggs was the lead developer on both the Chicago Early Learning Portal, which helps families find pre-school care programs in the city, and the Chicago Health Atlas, which organizes citywide open health data, catalogs resources, and provides information on new health initiatives.

Tomaž Compère

Tomaž Compère—or Tom Kompare, as he is more commonly known—is a web developer for the University of Chicago. In his spare time, Kompare creates civic-focused websites and apps that have proven invaluable to the local community. He, too, has partnered with the Smart Chicago Collaborative (now City Tech Collaborative) on a number of projects, including Go2School and Chicago Flu Shots, the latter a tool built in partnership with the Chicago Department of Public Health that shows the availability and cost of flu shots.

Ian Dees

Ian Dees is a developer, open data evangelist, and founder of OpenAddresses, a platform that collects address information from around the world and distributes it for free. Dees has helped create some of Chicago’s (and the world’s) most important open-source mapping software.

He started his journey working at Mapzen, then helped to build OpenStreetMap, an editable map of the entire country that started out as a local Smart Chicago Collaborative (now City Tech Collaborative) project, but that has since grown to cover the entire world. Dees remains involved as a member of the board.

Derek Eder

Derek Eder is co-founder and partner of DataMade, a Chicago-based civic tech company that builds custom apps and trains people to work with open data. DataMade projects have included the Illinois Public Salary Database, a redesign of HousingStudies.org website, and the Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project.

Eder is involved in a number of the city’s top civic tech organizations:

As a civic tech leader, Eder has personally worked on dozens of public applications, including ClearStreets, Chicago’s Million Dollar Blocks, Councilmatic, and Dedupe.

Young demonstrators representing the efforts of nonprofit website developers

Karl Fogel

Karl Fogel is a founding partner at Open Tech Strategies LLC, which helps for-profit and nonprofit organizations launch open-source projects. In his spare time, Fogel has created a number of open-source projects, including a text editor, a database of classical music, and a platform for printing mailing and return address labels. Fogel is an active participant in Chicago’s civic tech scene and helps run the Chi Hack Night website.

Joe Germuska

Joe Germuska is a developer and chief nerd (his words, not ours) at Northwestern University’s Knight Lab. In 2012, Germuska won a $450,000 grant to develop a tool that makes it easier for journalists to access census data. That tool, Census Reporter, has been well-received by journalists, as well as government officials and city planners.

Germuska remains actively involved in the ongoing development of the program as project lead. He is also a board member of City Bureau, Chicago’s nonprofit civic media organization.

Amber Houle

Amber Houle is a Canadian engineering physicist-turned-developer now living in Chicago. Her day job is as a junior consultant at ThoughtWorks in Chicago, a global organization of designers and developers who build products for commercial, social and government organizations while advocating for positive social change.

Houle is passionate about getting more women into the tech industry. She acts as a city director for Women Who Code Chicago, a position that empowers her to lead technical workshops for women inspired to learn STEM.

Josh Kalov

Josh Kalov is an open-source data consultant and developer. While running his own consultancy, Kalov Strategies LLC, Kalov has collaborated with Smart Chicago on a number of projects, including the Cook County Open Data Project, the Chicago School of Data Conference, and a trail map for the Cook County Forest Preserve.

Additionally, Kalov coded the texting system for the CUTGroup, a community of Chicago residents who get paid to test websites and apps.

Genevieve Nielsen

Genevieve Nielsen is co-founder and CTO of mRelief. After graduating as an economics major, Nielsen soon turned her attention to web development. Like many non-CS graduates, Nielsen enrolled in a coding bootcamp to learn the technologies she needed to succeed in the industry.

Equipped with her new skills and motivated to change the system after seeing the breakdown in government support following Hurricane Katrina, Nielsen worked with Rosie Afriyie to build the web and text messaging platform that eventually turned into mRelief.

Nielsen was named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs in 2017 in recognition of her efforts to modernize access to government assistance.

Laptop with code representing the work of nonprofit website developers

Dan Ratner

Dan Ratner is a serial entrepreneur and a huge proponent of public service work and social enterprise, both for profit and not for profit. Together with his wife, Genevieve Thiers, Ratner co-founded Sittercity, the first and largest service for finding childcare online. He served as CTO until 2011, and subsequently as director of technology at Obama for America through 2012.

Today, Ratner is CEO of Public Good Software, a company that inspires people to contribute to social change. When people read about an issue that they want to get involved in, Public Good’s platform provides a list of actions they can take to make a difference. Ratner also serves on the boards of Open Books, Chicago’s leading literacy program, and Cure Violence, which advocates for a healthcare-based approach to violence reduction.

Scott Robbin

Scott Robbin is a web developer, civic tech pioneer, and co-founder of CMS platform Vapid. Robbin has been incredibly active in Chicago’s civic tech community and previously worked as the lead developer for the Smart Chicago Collaborative (now City Tech Collaborative), where he contributed to a number of projects such as mRelief, Chicago Flu Shots, and Expunge.io.

Robbin has also created his own civic-focused projects such as Sweeparound.us, a site that lets residents know when their street is due to be swept, and 2inch.es, a platform that tells users which streets have 2-inch snow routes and parking restrictions.

Alex Soble

Alex Soble is a government developer with 18F, a federal office that helps other agencies build, buy, and share tech products. Soble is also an incredibly accomplished civic tech developer and has built a number of projects that include:

  • A new tool for public school educators in Massachusetts, which he prototyped as a Code for America fellow.
  • Divvy Braggin’, an app for Chicago’s bike share system that lets members track their mileage.
  • Chicago's Local School Councils, which lists school councils in need of candidates.

Soble also helped organize and run the first RailsGirls coding weekend in Chile, which saw 50 women take part over two days.

Soren Spicknall

Soren Spicknall is a self-described civic technologist and data scientist. He is also a founding member of AskWhai, an organization that helps to make AI more accessible to small businesses, and he’s a former Microsoft Civic Tech Fellow, in which capacity he headed up Microsoft Chicago’s blockchain strategy.

Spicknall has just completed an MS in data science at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Like many on this list, you can find him at Chi Hack Night meetups, as well as Blockchain for Social Good and Chicago City Data Users Group events.

Steven Vance

Steven Vance is a web developer, transportation planner, and civic tech advocate. Vance’s day job sees him develop zoning assessments for prospective Chicago developers as director of urban planning and technology at MAP Strategies.

He’s also a self-employed web developer and the founder and CEO of Chicago Cityscape, a platform that makes neighborhood, property, and construction data accessible to everyone. More recently, Vance has used his expertise in transportation to create Move Chicago, a sustainable transportation plan for the city that he would like to see embraced by 2019 mayoral candidates.

Ready to join these developers in using code to make the world a better place? Fullstack Academy, one of the nation’s top coding bootcamps, offers a cutting-edge program and supportive community right in the heart of Chicago, where you can learn the skills you need to build and design civic-focused apps that can change lives. Explore that program here.

Images by: Aaron Bean, rawpixel, Joshua Aragon

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