Want to help protect democracy?

Here's a high-leverage opportunity for a software engineer to help elect a democratic president in 2020.

Hi, I'm Ted! I'm helping out Empower, a non-profit startup that just raised millions from people who care about the health of our democracy. Our donors include the Rockefeller family, the Ford Foundation, and many others.

We're dramatically increasing civic engagement, voter registration, and voter turnout in swing states for the 2020 elections. If you’re a product-focused engineer, this is an extremely high-leverage opportunity for you to personally help make a difference.

How does Empower increase civic engagement and voting?

When people ask their close friends and family to vote, those friends and family members become much more likely to actually do it. Empower is a product and training course that helps community groups scale up this kind of direct personal outreach. (For a concrete example, see the FAQ.)

It’s effective. Empower has been studied in 9 different independently-run, randomly controlled trials which all found that its usage led to large and statistically significant increases in voter turnout.

It’s growing fast. From 2016 to 2018, Empower grew by a factor of 30x, ultimately reaching 100,000 voters. In 2020, we aim to 20x again: we have a line of groups out the door, and are onboarding/training them as fast as we can. Our goal is to reach over a million swing state voters, which would win us 30,000+ additional democratic votes. (For comparison, Trump won by a margin of ~78k votes.)

What's the stack?

  • TypeScript (it's fine if you only happen to know javascript)
  • React (important to have experience with this)
  • React Native (it’s fine not to know this)
  • Node (it’s fine not to know this)

Using TypeScript (we still have some leftover js) everywhere has allowed us to share important code across mobile, web, and server.

What's the product/engineering team like?

There are three members; you'd be the fourth! We're keeping the team small and fast-moving. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important to our organization.

  • Ted Suzman - Y Combinator alum, has created social products that grew to be used by tens of millions of people.
  • Sam King - Stanford CS where he started Code the Change; Google; then was part of the Bay Area team that helped save healthcare.gov
  • Ben Swartz - Convinced twitch.tv to rewrite itself in React; also led their Net Neutrality Day of Action. (Also: a former professional Magic: the Gathering player!)

The product/engineering team happens to all live in San Francisco, but even prior to COVID-19 we were quite remote-friendly. The training/organizing part of Empower is in Madison, WI, a swing state, were a distributed team.

What sorts of things do we work on?

Our roadmap is driven by the needs of our users. We talk to organizations that use us, uncover patterns in their needs, and then design our product to be maximally useful. We also take work that keeps our product velocity as high as possible. Here are some recent examples:

  • Push notifications — we made it so organizations can send out their own customized push notifications
  • Voter file integration — we built support for integrating with VAN (a commonly-used political database)
  • Organizing director dashboard — we built a table that shows performance of each organizer by recursing down through the tree of relational connections. Here's a picture!:
  • Mobile release automation — we started using fastlane to take most of the manual work out of mobile releases.

Who would be a good fit?

This opportunity is perfect for someone who has honed their engineering and product skills in other roles and now wants to put them to use to protect democracy by electing leaders who won't imprison children, abandon allies, or destroy democratic norms.

We're looking for a product-focused engineer who is a generalist and who:

  • Cares deeply about the mission
  • Can write solid code, and also can come up with expedient hacks where warranted
  • Has frontend experience, including with javascript and react
  • Is productive
  • Communicates well, is open-minded, and is open to improvement and learning
  • Takes ownership over end results: launching stuff that gets used!

We’re an equal opportunity employer and we won’t discriminate based on age, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual preference. Women, persons of color, and people from the LGBT community are all strongly encouraged to apply.

If this is up your alley, fill out this quick form!


Concretely, how does Empower increase civic engagement and voting?

Here’s an example. In 2018, a group used Empower to help organize Latinx restaurant workers who wanted a minimum wage ,rather than $2 + tips, in Michigan. Those workers talked about the issue with their friends and family — who were often low-propensity voters — and just before the election, asked them something like, "I need this minimum wage. Will you vote on my behalf?"

As you might imagine, this kind of direct personal ask is immensely powerful for increasing engagement and getting people to vote — and our positive results are backed up by multiple, independent, large random controlled studies of Empower. Empower has been shown to be much more effective than e.g. a stranger calling or knocking on a door.

I’m helping this project because it's one of the most cost-effective methods of increasing turnout.

Is Empower aligned with a particular candidate?

Empower is working to increase turnout among likely democratic voters, which is helpful no matter who the local/state/federal candidates are. A huge number of organizers who will participate in the general election are being trained on Empower.

Why is Empower a non-profit?

Empower works best in places where people aren’t already likely to vote. Lower-propensity-to-vote communities are often marginalized and don’t have enough money to pay for software. As a non-profit, we can provide the product free to these groups; as a matter of fact, we also include substantial free organizing training, and sometimes, even grants to hire an organizer to help implement the approach. Being a non-profit best positions us to do whatever is necessary to make things work.

How do I get in touch?

Just fill out this quick form