Leah Bannon, the co-captain of Code for DC and founder of the Tech Lady Hackathon, is heading out west to join digital service agency 18F’s San Francisco office. She’s been working from its D.C. branch since last year.
We asked her about the pull of the Bay, D.C.’s civic technology community and her activism goals. We think D.C. will miss her.
Find our interview below, condensed and edited for clarity.
Why are you heading out to the West Coast?
I’ve always wanted to check out San Francisco and I have a lot of friends out there from Code for America stuff.
I only have four years at 18F so I wanted to get this advantage of this opportunity to live wherever I want. [I have] two-and-a-half years left with 18F before I max out.
"We have to keep working. Keep fighting and keep remembering that things won't get better and take care of themselves."
Tell us about your ties to the area and its tech ecosystem.
I was born in D.C. I lived in Dallas for 10 years growing up; otherwise, I’ve been in D.C. for the rest of my life. I only really started getting into the tech scene in the past few years.
There’s a lot of groups and a lot of women who work really hard to diversify the tech scene in D.C.
We have to keep working. Keep fighting and keep remembering that things won’t get better and take care of themselves.
How can people get involved?
People who are good at coordinating issues, people who could be project managers should take advantage of the opportunity to step up and volunteer. If you can’t get your next job based on the job you have right now, one of the best ways that I have found to do that is to volunteer on a project.
A lot of people think a tech meetup is for people who are already in tech. [But it’s] one of the best ways to learn the jargon and learn what’s going on and what’s interesting.
How did you break into tech?
[At first,] I mostly was just tinkering around with social media. I entered into [tech] by just trying to learn every single part of [it], getting everything perfect.
[While working at Booz Allen Hamilton], I was managing a government website. It was a Drupal site. I learned HTML. Any tool that lets you go back and forth between preview and looking at code, I think, is really helpful for learners.
I started going to Code for DC in the fall-winter of 2013, a couple months after they self started. I became a co-captain in January 2014.
Will the Tech Lady Hackathon live on post-Leah Bannon?
I’m not sure if it will endure in the exact same way that I’ve been doing it. Somebody within Shannon Turner’s Hear Me Code group [might be organizing next].
What are you working on for 18F?
We’re turning all [the Federal Election Commission’s] data into APIs, [and] building a web app interface on top of that. We’re also starting to build their new website in general.
We’re launching in about a month.
I’ll either get a job out there or come back here and get another government job, who knows? I’m planning on moving there forever now.
Do you expect to be as involved in the women-in-tech community in San Francisco as you’ve been here?
I’m trying to step back for a little while and reassess and see what I want to do.
The Black Lives Matter movement [and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent book] got under my skin. I’d like to do a lot more with some underprivileged groups. I’m not really sure how yet.
I [also] think the trans community needs a lot more help than they’re getting right now.