“We are transitioning from the information age to the innovation age.” Interview with Bradley Holt

Ideas + Innovators is an interview series by Amy Kirschner designed to get to know the thinkers and doers who are leading the way to a resilient and positive future. People from around the world connect their thoughts and projects to Vermont and locals use their practice and wisdom to imagine how what we are doing here could have widespread impact. We also get to know the people of our tribe a little better along the way.


bradley-holt-oscon-2011Bradley Holt is a Code for America Brigade Captain with Code for BTV, project director for the Civic Cloud Collaborative, co-organizer of Vermont Code Camp, co-organizer of the Northeast PHP Conference, Board Chair at Vermont Community Access Media (VCAM), and Chair of the BTV Ignite Community Working Group. He was the Co-Founder of Found Line, a creative studio that worked with mission-driven and nonprofit organizations. He recently joined Cloudant (an IBM company) as a Developer Advocate. Based in Boston, Cloudant is a fully-managed NoSQL database-as-a-service (DBaaS). Bradley is also an author, speaker and facilitator.

How does your work increase equality?

My partner Jason Pelletier and I launched Burlington’s Code for America Brigade, Code for BTV, out of National Day of Civic Hacking in June of 2013.

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Code for BTV is an official Code for America Brigade that facilitates sustainable collaborations on civic software and open data projects between coders, designers and organizations (both governmental and non-governmental) in the greater Burlington area.

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We have co-organized five major hackathons and numerous other events through Code for BTV. We have facilitated and supported the development of numerous projects by volunteer civic hackers.hack

Civic hacking is a participatory effort to improve communities through technology. Our motto with Code for BTV is that “everyone is a civic hacker.”

We believe that everyone can (and should) build, tinker with, and/or improve on the technology that is a part of our everyday day lives. Technology is not something that should be created by only a small and privileged group of people.

The technology that we use in our everyday lives is built by an industry with a striking lack of diversity. For example, 85 percent of Facebook’s tech workforce is male (50.8 percent of the United States population is female). Four percent of Facebook’s employees are Hispanic (16.9 percent of the United States population is Hispanic or Latino), and two percent are black (13.1 percent of the United States population is black or African American alone). Most, if not all, of the large technology companies demonstrate a similar lack of diversity among who they employ.

What’s your basic philosophy or worldview about what the next century holds for our planet? **

Climate change is clearly the most important issue of the century. The thing about climate change is that it touches on so many other issues. If we can fix the systematic issues that prevent us from proportionally dealing with this crisis, then we will have solved many other societal problems at the same time. Climate change is such a huge problem that it’s not immediately evident where one should start in addressing this problem. However, once you see how connected this issue is to so many other issues, it becomes a lot easier to find a manageable way in which to affect change.

What laws should be changed to help build a more resilient world?

There are nineteen states with laws that discourage or prevent municipalities from building their own telecommunications networks. Communities need these high-speed networks for their continued community and economic development. For the most part, for-profit companies have refused to invest in the infrastructure necessary for these high-speed networks. The FCC is looking into removing these state bans.

While Vermont doesn’t have the same barriers as other states, state law does prevent municipalities from investing in their own networks with taxpayer dollars.

Internet access should be considered a utility, and municipalities should be allowed to invest in building this necessary infrastructure.

What will become obsolete in your lifetime?

Everything. I believe that we are transitioning from the information age to the innovation age. One emerging model to describe this shift is innovation economics, which recognizes knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation as key inputs to economic development. It is a model that identifies innovative capacity (of which intellectual and social capital are critical components), as opposed to capital accumulation, as the key driver of productivity and economic growth.

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What should be free to everyone that currently isn’t?

Food security, clean air, potable water, shelter, health care, and economic opportunity. Beyond that, ubiquitous and high-speed Internet access should be considered a utility (like water and electricity), and accessible to everyone. By high speed, I mean symmetrical gigabit Internet access like we have here in Burlington and a handful of other communities across the country.

The impact of ubiquitous and high-speed Internet access to our economy and society would be as transformative, if not more transformative, than the original introduction of the Internet.

What is the most important thing that most people don’t know?

I think that most people of privilege don’t know that there is a system that works very hard to maintain their privilege. The very nature of privilege makes it difficult to recognize when one is of the privileged class. I think it’s important for people to recognize their privileged (and non-privileged) identities. This is the first step to understanding the systems that work for (or against) you.

Can ideas that work in the big city work in Vermont?

This is part of the experiment that is Code for BTV. Burlington is the smallest city with a Code for America Brigade. Burlington is also probably one of the smallest cities with an open data platform (data.burlingtonvt.gov). At the same time, Burlington is the biggest city in Vermont.

I think we’re demonstrating that civic innovation can work at a Vermont scale. Whether this can be scaled down to work at a rural Vermont level remains to be seen.

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To connect, you can find Bradley at a Code for BTV event or on the internet at the following places:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BradleyHolt
GitHub: https://github.com/bradley-holt
Blog: http://bradley-holt.com/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bradleyholt


Thank you Bradley!

I first met Bradley on the National Day of Civic Hacking in 2013 where I helped as part of the organizing team. I went on to participate in and sponsor Hack the Stacks. I find it difficult to sometimes wrap my head around all the incredible things he is doing for the Vermont community and the greater open source community. In Burlington, it seems like he is everywhere! Keep up the good work, Bradley!

-amy


Photo Credits:

Logos come from the respective organizations

Meeting Pic: Jim Lockridge via CodeforBTV

Web Photo: CodeforBTV facebook page

*Question Credit:

I loved one of Dave Pollard’s blog posts so much I asked him if I could use his questions in my interviews. He graciously said yes. Check out his original post here.

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