Angelfire, Boy Bands, and… Developers?

In 2001 I would have chosen to learn Sanskrit over Java or HTML, but this Angelfire site isn’t going to write itself.

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“How do you get more girls into coding?”— that question has been the focus of more panels, focus groups, and op-eds in the last few years than any of us would really like to count (keep ‘em coming!). In 2001 I would have chosen to learn Sanskrit over Java or HTML. Not that I didn’t think it was interesting, or didn’t know it had a plethora of uses, but given that I was dead set on being in law or politics by then, what would I ever want to use it for?

My godmother, a ‘woman in tech’ long before it was part of the public dialogue, had enough foresight to know that teaching teeny-bopper-Sarah to code would benefit adult-Sarah in the 21st century career market’s multitude of roles. If you knew any females under age ~25 in 2000, you probably knew that boybands were a thing. A HUGE thing, actually. Thus, what was my first experience with coding?

A fantastic Angelfire-hosted boy band fan page. Yes, I’m serious. No, I’m not talking BSB (Backstreet Boys for the uninitiated and non-millennials among our readership) and N’Sync here, but rather bands that have slipped into obscurity with the rise and fall of svengali Lou Pearlman. I MADE that page myself. I had traffic! Legitimate traffic — including the popstars themselves. I didn’t want anyone to tell me how my site should look or work. ‘Give the developers creative freedom!’ was apparently my mantra from the start. Despite the details and context surrounding that belief changing over time, I suppose my stance remains.

Technology has come leaps and bounds in the last two decades — and while I pray nobody digs up any of my earlier works — emerging technologies continue to impact my life. I’ve had the privilege throughout my career to work at many fascinating organizations. From one of the largest trade associations in the technology space, to the legal teams of major software companies, to in house at blockchain startups paving the way for regulating crypto. The one thing my past companies all have in common? Truly amazing products with big — and at times incomprehensible — ambitions. They all sought to advance our society in every possible field. From revolutionizing the financial industry, to improving global communications services, to making software that facilitates modern architectural feats, the work of today’s developers really make the impossible possible.

I am thankful for my early experience coding, however primitive, as it made me acutely aware of the level of detail and skill required by developers to make (for lack of a better phrase) modern life possible. Developers are at their core designers and fixers. A venture capitalist has a great idea but needs someone to take things from a concept to a formal action plan, and to see it through to being market ready — developers make that idea a reality. There is a bug in the software, or a program needs an adjustment — developers are there to fix it. They create and change products to make them function better for the masses.

My role at the Developers Alliance parallels this. Policy wonks are designers and fixers too. We craft sections of bills so that Congress knows what should and shouldn’t (and at times, technically speaking, can or can’t) be done. We shed light on important issues to those in power so the proper topics can be addressed. We work with lawmakers to design effective policy. How many times have you heard that something in this country is ‘broken’? These days, probably a lot. Policy folks are the ones who help change the system by creating effective legislation. Even if “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” it’s the policy people that translate the laissez-faire policy to legislators, regulators, and officials. Finally, we hold weight in the argument because we show up to the table with facts — that is where you guys come in!

These facts are provided by industry folks (thanks, developers!) but explained by policy wonks on the legislator’s playing field. Us policy wonks are the ones who know what they’re trying to accomplish with that thousand-plus page bill. So if you’ve wondered if anyone ACTUALLY reads these, then yes, some of us do! We help create and change laws to make the government function better for the masses. In regards to Developers Alliance in particular — we help make it function better for you, the developers.

With the rise of more advanced technology and increasing global security and privacy concerns, it is no surprise that Washington is paying much closer attention. Some countries around the world are realizing the value of a robust tech sector. They’re setting laws and policies that allow new technologies to flourish and developers to have more latitude with their ideas and creations. Not every country of course is that bold, and some are more focused on stringent consumer protection efforts than promoting industry growth. Europe’s GDPR has been in effect for over a year now and companies around the world are still working on navigating how it impacts their businesses. It’s extraterritorial provisions make companies from Brussels to Silicon Valley to Hong Kong answer to European regulators.

States within the US have already begun discussing their own responses to GDPR. California has already passed the highly contentious California Consumer Privacy Act, which will become effective January 2020. New York proposed their own data privacy act earlier this year which is arguably stronger than California’s. Maine and Nevada have also signed their own data privacy laws that will impact developers. With the European Union starting the ball rolling on data privacy with GDPR, it’s only a matter of time before each state forms their own policies to protect their residents. Then we have the question of a federal reply. Having 50+ fragmented sets of rules to comply with is a headache for anyone, and following the strictest of them all may not lead to the results and creative freedom developers want. Thus, it generally makes sense for Congress to step in with a federal answer. The issue of course, is that if the government steps in with too much (or just generally unwanted) regulation it can be extremely toxic for a prosperous high growth sector.

Data privacy is only the tip of the iceberg. We’re facing the issues of ethical AI, patent reform, regulations surrounding the Internet of Things, and facilitating an increasingly digital workforce. These are all hot button issues that federal lawmakers are actively considering. If Congress regulates too hastily however, or without proper input from developers themselves, the currently thriving American tech sector will be in jeopardy.

A developer’s work is without doubt exciting and cutting edge. Washington is…well…a monument to our rich national history. Our legislators there are generally without any tech experience. They have, at best, minimal tech experience. You voted them in because they know how to run a country, not because they’re a Python prodigy or familiar with the finer points of building networks. Recent Congressional testimony has shown to the public the vast
knowledge gap between legislators and developers. The good thing is that U.S. legislators realize they don’t know everything and are doing their best to get up to speed. Without doubt, it will be a lengthy process. There will be major stumbling blocks along the way. Progress involves an ongoing dialogue between members of Congress, their staffs, and industry players. For the best long term results, the developer community must be (and stay) actively involved, not reactive. Your constient and thoughtful input is crucial — that way we can help the government help you.

Effective legislation in this space is going to be a continuous battle as technology expands. I am more than jazzed to be taking my policy wonk nerdiness to Washington, D.C. and working in this exciting space. As part of the Developers Alliance I’ll fight on developer’s behalves and bridge the knowledge gap with policy makers.

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By Sarah Richard

Developers Alliance Policy Counsel & Head of US Policy

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