Software Developers, Step Up!

Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet, is best known as the co-founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Barack Obama’s online campaign for the presidency in 2008. After leaving Blue State, Johnson was the director of Sunlight Labs at the Sunlight Foundation, where he built an army of 2000 developers and designers to build open source tools to give people greater access to government data. He was awarded the Google/O’Reilly Open Source Organizer of the year in 2009, was one of Federal Computing Week’s Fed 100 in 2010, and won the CampaignTech Innovator award in 2011.

Johnson’s combination of experience as a developer, working in politics, entrepreneurism, and non-profit work gives him a unique perspective on media and culture. His life is dedicated to giving people greater access to the truth about what’s going on in their communities, their cities and their governments. He still claims that he learned all he needs to know from a two year tour as the late-shift waiter at Waffle House in Atlanta, GA.


  • Transcript


Clay Johnson: I think it’s time for software developers to really step up and understand that their role in society is actually pretty vital.  Our definition of literacy is rapidly changing, and it’s always changed.  5,000 years ago literacy was a trade secret kept by a bunch of dudes who were like, “Hey, if we don’t teach anybody how to read and write, we can make all the money.”  They were called scribes.  
300 years ago the concept of literacy was the ability to sign your name; today literacy means the ability to read a newspaper.  But I think literacy is now changing, and we have a new form of digital literacy, and 30 years from now someone saying “I'm not a computer person” or “I'm not a technology person” will be the equivalent of someone today saying “I don’t know how to read.”  

And developers are really, I think, at the forefront of that.  They’re the super literate, much like the scribes were five, six thousand years  ago. It’s time for them to really, I think, play and participate in the world of media and journalism because they can harness these giant information processing machines that can get us closer to the truth.

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd