Should We Replace Political Hacks With Hackers?

More

Going into politics usually means boning up on legal code not Google Code, but the Howard Dean campaign's lead developer and a major proponent of open government suggested in an editorial this week that programmer-politicians would make Washington work better.

"Great developers are systems fixers and systems hackers. There is no system more ripe for elegant process hacks than the United States House of Representatives," wrote Clay Johnson on his new Infovegan blog. "Put a developer in Congress, and they'll start exposing data on their own. They'll build systems to make it so they can hear from their constituents better. Just as Ted Kennedy had his staff make the first Congressional website, a developer in Congress will seek to use new technology to make their job easier. That's what hackers do."

Johnson's call for coders to run for Congress is part of a larger trend that I'm watching: the spread of programmer ideals into the most powerful circles in the country. You can see it in Bill Gates becoming a philosopher-king of the nerds, Google's growing legislative influence, or makers trying to change education practices.

What's important in all this isn't the practical skills that coders bring, but that they tend to think about problems and organizations in different ways. They want transparency and data-driven decisionmaking. They emphasize toolsets, interoperability, and do-it-yourselfness. Perhaps that's not all that Congress needs to get less rancorous and more productive, but they sure wouldn't hurt.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In