63. Rachel Colker – Western PA Coordinator, Draw the Lines PA

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“Think creatively and design a career path that intersects tech with the things you care about.”

Tell us a little bit about what a typical day looks like for you.

I spend most of my days presenting the mission of Draw the Lines to students and voters of all ages to spark civic engagement around the issue of redistricting reform through the use of DistrictBuilder–our digital mapping software that let’s Pennsylvania citizens draw their own voting districts. When I’m not in front of an audience, spreading the word about Draw the Lines, I’m working with my team to strategize about creative ways to expand our reach and work to build what we hope will be a movement of “citizen mappers” across the commonwealth.

How do you stay passionate in your career?

Reading the headlines each day is usually enough, but what really keeps me going is the answer to a simple question I often ask, “Do you think that our government-local, state and federal-truly represents us?” So often the response is no and it seems the younger the person I ask, the more likely they are to feel that government, at all levels, is working for its own self-interest and influenced more by party politics and corporate interests, rather than the will of voters. I want to empower people, especially students and young voters, who feel this way to better understand how are government works and to demystify the complex issue of redistricting and gerrymandering, which I believe is the gateway issue to myriad issues that perpetuate the feeling that our government is not serving in our best interest.

Did you have a traditional path into tech (i.e.: CS/IT degree transitioned into tech job)?

Not at all! My background is in history and museum studies, but I’m a true believer in the power of storytelling and making certain that everyone’s voice is part of our collective experience. My deep resolve in this belief led me to Draw the Lines which uses a digital platform to teach civics to citizens across the commonwealth and engage them in a kind of DIY democracy. While I was initially drawn to this work from a civics engagement angle, I’m now totally geeked up over mapping software and the power of data to inform social action.

Are there any apps, software, or tools you cannot live without?

I can’t live without the CamScanner app on my phone, which turns any photo into a pdf and ready to be emailed on the spot. I love Evernote too, to organize personal projects, travel, book lists, recipes…the list goes on and on.

What’s your favorite thing about being a part of the #womenintech community?

As this sector becomes less of a selective club and more of an open space with growing diversity, we can expect broader applications and more creative solutions to the challenges that face us all. And if women, in particular, continue to embrace technology as a way to leverage their will for social change and better communities–our future is very bright.

What is a piece of advice you would give to others wanting to or currently pursuing a career in tech?

Technology is now a common language that we all now need a level of fluency, so a career in tech can mean having a passion for many things or an interest in all kinds of pursuits that will undoubtedly rely on tech and data in some capacity. Think creatively and design a career path that intersects tech with the things you care about.

Tell us about a time you felt extremely accomplished in the past year. 

It was incredible to award our first round of winning “citizen mappers” their cash prizes at the Capital Building in Harrisburg with elected officials, students, teachers, and voters in attendance. In particular, I was so proud of the youngest winner who hailed from my alma mater–Allderdice High School. Go Dragons!

Favorite quote:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.

-the last line from my favorite Mary Oliver poem



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