Bryce Senz, a 29-year-old financial analyst based in Spartanburg, SC, came to the South Carolina Day of Civic Hacking because friends at an IT convention persuaded him to check it out. Now, almost two months after the event, he is headed to Washington. D.C. to present the project he created at IT-oLogy to fellow civic hackers and politicians at the White House Showcase Event. He says he’s pretty excited about it.
“Honestly, I couldn’t tell you a whole lot about the event itself, but it’ll be neat to meet a lot of different people who are a lot smarter than I am,” Senz said about the event. Not matching his casualness about the showcase is Senz’s intentions behind his project, Data Driven Policy. The project, which stems from Senz’s background in both computer engineering, for which he received his undergraduate degree from Duke University, and finance, is meant to give politicians a large database from which they can pull data from cities with similar geographies, income levels, or crime rates, in order to make more informed policies.
Senz sees the benefits of his project in forecasting possible outcomes from strategic policy changes. “Right now, to build an economic case we’ve seen, if you were a politician and thought it was really important in your small geography to improve farming income, ideally you would be able to plug in the tool and find other places in the past with same average income, size, and farming income. [Data Driven Policy] will do an analysis and examine the different MSAs and economic backgrounds to see what policy makers have done in the past to see which [policy changes] have done a lot better or worse.”
Data Driven Policy is just one project of many that were created at the South Carolina Day of Civic Hacking, June 1st – 2nd. The weekend-long event, part of a national campaign of Civic Hacking, was meant to bring together citizens, programmers, developers, and entrepreneurs to create and build new programs to utilize public data. The South Carolina event was hosted by IT-oLogy in partnership with EdVenture, Columbia Museum of Art, and Richland Library, each hosting various classes, activities, and discussions about using technology to better the community. Senz created his project at IT-oLogy’s Hackathon competition, which challenged teams of coders to design programs to make public data more usable and accessible.
Having worked in banking and financial services, as well as currently acting as the CIO of his recent financial start-up Credda Capital LLC, Senz saw a prime opportunity for IT to fill a gap in data capabilities.
“I work in statistical analysis, so we thought if we have all this data, there’s got to be something that we can learn a lot from it,” Senz said. “There’s got to be a way to create different mash-ups from the maps and information.”
The thirst to learn more with the information he’s got is not unfamiliar to Senz, though it was his father who initially set him on the path to IT. “My dad actually tricked me into learning computer code when I was 13,” Senz said. “I wanted to learn how to design video games and he convinced me to learn computer programming. Not computer graphics or graphic design, he figured coding was the way to become successful in designing video games. Somehow I fell for that so I started learning when I was pretty young. I learned and toyed with it off and on for the next few years, and the same during college.”
Now, having learned PHP, Ruby, and Open Source as hobbies and side projects, Senz will bring his knowledge to Washington, D.C. to collaborate with other programmers at the White House Showcase Event, July 22, 2013. The event aims to present the value of civic hacking and get civic hackers together to further the cause. According to the National Day of Civic Hacking website, 15 projects were selected to be shown, making Senz’s accomplishments more impressive, though he is simply looking forward to meeting his fellow hackers.
“I would be stoked just to get some really good feedback from people who are a lot smarter than I am and have more experience in the public policy sector,” Senz said. “I don’t know enough [about public policy] to see all of the possibilities out there, and we can make it have the potential to be really useful in some area. I also haven’t met any programmers who have done anything with public policy efforts, so that would be sweet too.”
As for after the showcase, Senz will continue to focus on being CIO to Credda Capital LLC and working with other IT professionals to expand Data Driven Policy’s possibilities. Karl McCollester, president of local political startup, Voterheads, is excited to see what the project can do.
“The main thing that Bryce and I have talked about is that Voterheads would potentially take control of [the project] with open source management, so we could consider using it to bring data and information to people and policy makers,” McCollester said. “I’ve also talked to USC about possibly helping to sponsor it as well. We’re very excited on using this for public policy and we’re happy to see how Voterheads can further the project.”
Senz’s outlook for the future of open data is optimistic, especially with National Day of Civic Hacking’s impact.
“[In the future] it would be super neat if we could get a hold of more census, crime and poverty data because you could do some cool stuff with those, as well as national healthcare data. Because the government is making data even more open, National Day of Civic Hacking in five years will be night and day from where it is now as far as the types of projects that people are working on. These projects will be awesome and even better than they were this year.”