Jennifer Pahlka

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Jennifer Pahlka
Pahlka in 2012
Born (1969-12-27) December 27, 1969 (age 54)
EducationYale University (BA)
  • Businesswoman
  • political advisor
  • author
Years active1995–present
(m. 2015)

Jennifer Pahlka (born December 27, 1969)[1] is an American businesswoman and political advisor. She is the founder and former Executive Director of Code for America. She served as US Deputy Chief Technology Officer from June 2013 to June 2014 and helped found the United States Digital Service.[2] Previously she had worked at CMP Media with various roles in the computer game industry. She was the co-chair and general manager of the Web 2.0 conferences. In June 2023, she released the book Recoding America: Why Government Is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better.

Personal life[edit]

She was born in Port Deposit, Maryland, and raised in Austin, New Haven, and New York City. She is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and Yale University. She married Tim O'Reilly in 2015, and has one daughter.[3] As of 2011, she lives in Oakland, California.[4]


Pahlka spent eight years at CMP Media (now part of United Business Media), where she led the Game Group, responsible for the Game Developers Conference (GDC), Game Developer Magazine, and She oversaw the dramatic growth of GDC from 1995 to 2003, and launched the Independent Games Festival and the Game Developers Choice Awards. She was also the executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), an independent non-profit association serving game developers around the world.

From 2005 to 2009, she was the co-chair and general manager of the Web 2.0 events for TechWeb, a division of United Business Media, in partnership with O'Reilly Media. In that role, she proposed the creation of the Web 2.0 Expo, and became the co-chair for the event. She also played a key role in managing the Gov 2.0 Summit and Gov 2.0 Expo.

Code for America[edit]

Pahlka founded Code for America, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that aims to make government for all people.[5] According to the Washington Post it "is the technology world's equivalent of the Peace Corps or Teach for America… [offering] an alternative to the old, broken path of government IT."[6] In her 2012 TED Talk, Pahlka noted that we will not be able to reinvent government unless we also reinvent citizenship, and asked "Are we just going to be a crowd of voices, or are we going to be a crowd of hands?" [7]

Pahlka stepped down as executive director of Code for America on January 31, 2020, though remaining as an advisor and member of the Board of Directors.[8] She left the board in April 2023.[9]

United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer[edit]

In May 2013 Pahlka announced she was temporarily taking the position of deputy chief technology officer for government innovation for the US government's Office of Science and Technology Policy. She described the opportunity as her "own fellowship year of sorts."[10] Federal CTO Todd Park originally tried to recruit Pahlka to run the Presidential Innovation Fellows, a program loosely modeled on Code for America. In her role as Deputy US CTO she managed Round 2 of the program and organized the creation of Round 3,[11] but her principal goal during her year at the White House was to create something more equivalent to the UK's Government Digital Service. She set in motion the creation of the United States Digital Service within the Executive Office of the President.[12]

United States Digital Response[edit]

In March 2020, Pahlka co-founded United States Digital Response, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization to provide technology volunteers to state and local governments whose systems were unable to respond adequately to the new demands put on them by the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has fielded thousands of volunteers.[13]

California Employment Development Department Strike Team[edit]

In July 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Pahlka to co-lead a strike team with California Government Operations Secretary Yolanda Richardson to make recommendations for modernizing the state's backlogged unemployment systems.[14] The strike team issued its report in September 2020.[15] Among the problems uncovered by the Strike Team was that poorly designed and outdated fraud protection techniques were denying benefits to millions. Minor discrepancies in documentation supplied by applicants, like a middle initial on the application when the full middle name appeared on a supporting document like a driver's license, would cause applications to be flagged for manual review. Adoption of a modern off-the-shelf identity verification system seems to quickly solve the problem.[16]

East Bay Mini Maker Faire[edit]

Pahlka is also a co-founder, with Sabrina Merlo and Corey Weinstein, of the East Bay Mini Maker Faire.[17] In comments to The Huffington Post, she made explicit the connection between her work on open government and the Maker movement, saying, "There is a certain generation who have grown up being able to mash up, to tinker with, every system they've ever encountered. So they are meeting their relationship with government in a new way, with a new assumption: We can fix it."[18] As of 2015, The East Bay Mini Maker Faire attracts around 7,000 people annually.[19]


Pahlka was awarded an Internet and Society Award from the Oxford Internet Institute, in recognition of her contribution to digital open government in the US. For her work re-imagining government for the 21st century, Pahlka was named a 2011 HuffPost Gamechanger.[18] She was a celebrity judge for the Federal Communications Commission's Apps for Community contest, along with Marc Andreessen and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.[20] She was elected an Ashoka Fellow in 2012.[21] In 2012 She also gave a keynote speech at South By Southwest Interactive in 2012.[22] In the same year she featured in TechCrunch's list of "The 20 Most Innovative People in Democracy."[23] In 2018, Pahlka accepted the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship on behalf of Code for America[24] and she was featured among "America's Top 50 Women In Tech" by Forbes.[25]


  • Recoding America: Why Government Is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better. New York: Metropolitan Books. 2023. ISBN 978-1250266774.


  1. ^ "Jennifer Pahlka". CNBC. October 6, 2014. Retrieved February 6, 2022.
  2. ^ Levy, Steven. "America's Tech Guru Steps Down—But He's Not Done Rebooting the Government". WIRED. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  3. ^ "Tim O'Reilly on Twitter: "Last night at the reception for my wedding to the incomparable @pahlkadot!". Retrieved February 17, 2016.
  4. ^ "Speaker: Jennifer Pahlka: Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2011 - O'Reilly Conferences, March 28 - 31, 2011, San Francisco". Archived from the original on July 9, 2017.
  5. ^ Code For America Receives $1.5M Grant From Google To Help The Government Harness Technology, Leena Rao, Techcrunch, December 14, 2011
  6. ^ Code for America: An elegant solution for government IT problems, Vivek Wadhwa, The Washington Post, December 18, 2011
  7. ^ Coding a Better Government,
  8. ^ Freed, Benjamin (January 24, 2020). "Code for America chief Jennifer Pahlka to step down Jan. 31". Statescoop.
  9. ^ About Jennifer Pahlka,[]
  10. ^ Camille Tuutti (May 30, 2013) "Pahlka named deputy CTO of government innovation" Archived April 4, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Fed Scoop.
  11. ^ "Inside the Presidential Innovation Fellows program: A Q&A with the White House". Federal News Network. April 1, 2014.
  12. ^ Scola, Nancy (August 25, 2014). "How the U.S. Digital Service could upset D.C.'s 'IT vendor ecosystem'" – via
  13. ^ Reynolds, Rita (April 3, 2020). "U.S. Digital Response Program matches volunteers with county needs". National Association of Counties.
  14. ^ Johnston, Ryan (July 30, 2020). "California Gov. Newsom unveils unemployment-tech 'strike team'". Statescoop.
  15. ^ Douglas, Theo (September 20, 2020). "EDD Strike Team Recommends Immediate, Comprehensive Change, Technology Updates". Techwire.
  16. ^ Arnold, Chris (October 14, 2020). "'So Hard To Prove You Exist': Flawed Fraud Protections Deny Unemployment To Millions". WABE.
  17. ^ "East Bay Mini Maker Faire". East Bay Mini Maker Faire.
  18. ^ a b HuffPost's 2011 Game Changers: This Year's Ultimate 12, Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post, October 26, 2011
  19. ^ O'Brien, Matt (April 16, 2015). "Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America, talks 'civic hacking'". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved April 19, 2015.
  20. ^ "Apps for Community: Judging". Archived from the original on July 1, 2012. Retrieved December 24, 2011.
  21. ^ "Jennifer Pahlka". Ashoka Fellows. Ashoka. Retrieved October 24, 2014.
  22. ^ "Code for America's Jennifer Pahlka to Inspire with SXSW Interactive Keynote". Archived from the original on January 8, 2012. Retrieved December 24, 2011.
  23. ^ "The 20 Most Innovative People in Democracy". Tech Crunch. November 3, 2012.
  24. ^ "Advice From 5 Women And A Guy Who Won $1.25 Million To Do Good". Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  25. ^ "Jennifer Pahlka". Forbes.

External links[edit]