Editor’s note: Story has been updated with the correction that the Office of Technology Assessment had a $20 million price tag, not $550 million.
He’s been labeled a hacker. An open source coder. And software developer and engineer. He’s even been a public servant.
And now, Dave Cole is running for Congress.
He doesn’t put too much weight to the labels ascribed him, saying he’s running for Congress to restore good faith in Washington and its leaders.
However, there is truth to the attention brought to this New Jersey native’s tech roots. Cole, 28, most recently worked at MapBox, an Internet startup that uses open source tech to help brands and websites make interactive maps.
Prior to that, Cole worked for the Obama administration as a senior technology adviser. He got his start with the administration in 2007, and says he was thrilled when he was tapped to work in the White House. The president’s vision and those around him inspired him, Cole said.
At the White House, he worked on whitehouse.gov, setting up the website to make it an example for other agencies and to “create a more lasting impact.” Cole said in fact, other agencies have caught on. The Federal Communications Commission has created an improved website and is now using geospatial intelligence to analyze cell reception and broadband access.
Just by watching a hearing on Capitol Hill and listening to some of the questions asked by members of Congress, it’s obvious there is a real need to have someone who knows how these systems work, Cole said.
“It’s the bedrock of our foundation and of our economy; everyone is using the Internet,” Cole said. “Congress should be representative of all people from all backgrounds. Our generation has issues that are incredibly impacted on the Hill.”
One example he gives is the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. It came at a $20 million price tag and got stripped from the budget a couple of years ago. The office aims to provide expert guidance to lawmakers on technology issues and legislation. Had an office like that been in place, it might have cut back on the biggest tech-related headaches on the Hill this past year, Cole said.
“We are still fighting over net neutrality, there’s bad policy in place for copyright law, at the expense of innovation, and there’s a domestic surveillance dilemma,” Cole said. “Clearly, an office like this is important.”
Cole says he brings energy that many current legislators simply lack. The incumbent whose seat he is trying to take, Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., has been in Congress more than 20 years and has voted twice to shut down the government.
In line with keeping government modern, Cole’s campaign uses current tech. For example, he posted his campaign platform on GitHub, an open source repository, so anyone can offer his or her improvements.
“Campaigns don’t have to be run the same way they used to, and that’s what I want to prove in Congress too,” Cole said. “I want to build policy around community input and feedback.”
Cole has received a warm embrace by the tech community for his savvy campaign strategy
His approach has also caught the eye of donors for his campaign. Since putting his positions up on GitHub, his campaign has been flooded with emails and attention from donors. Many of the donations came from those who previously hadn’t opened their wallets to campaigns, he added.
And like any other political hopeful, Cole has been pounding the pavement, working with volunteers and going door to door collecting signatures and raising awareness to his campaign.
In addition to that traditional way, he also took part in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” that had more than 100 participants. That AMA was to shine the spotlight on the issues he stood for, and to offer solutions instead of highlighting only challenges.
“It should be second nature, we have nothing to hide,” Cole said. “We’re trying to get people excited about government again, and let them know there is going to be change.”