In 2022, Software for Good made bigger changes than ever before to make data and technology serve the changing needs of our local and global communities.
A new leadership team for a changing world
Cassi Johnson joined SfG team to lead product strategy in February, bringing two decades of systems change experience in nonprofits, healthcare, and government. Her human-centered strategy practice is at the heart of our technical work, ensuring that every product we build for our clients is powerful, sustainable and ethical.
Then, after leading Software for Good for 18 years, our founder Casey Helbling hired visionary technologist Sharon Kennedy Vickers to lead SfG into a new era. After serving as the CIO of the City of Saint Paul, Sharon “was yearning for the freedom to co-create liberating technology wherever people need it,” she said. “That’s exactly what Software for Good is built to do.” Together with Casey, now our CTO, and vice president of engineering Kevin Bullock, in 2022 Sharon and Cassi began leading SfG into the next chapter of our work for people and the planet.
Growing more good: services, software, and people
Sharon took the helm of a growing general benefit company — and under her leadership, that growth accelerated in 2022. First, our team grew: UI/UX designer Antonio Perez-Cajina added new expertise to our strategy team. On the engineering side, we welcomed junior software engineer Yasmeen Awad, full-stack developer Thena Seer, software engineer Chelsey McKinney, and senior software engineers Adia Alderson, Edith Emmings, Devin Johnston, Alex Magnano, and Lori McCurry. Yasmeen and Chelsey, former Software for Good apprentices, came full circle this year — once SfG apprentices themselves, they’re mentoring new participants in our apprenticeship program.
In addition to our work in software and web development, SfG started emphasizing our services in technology strategy, including human-centered design and product roadmapping. We also sharpened our unique approach to staff augmentation — what we call SfG’s consulting engineers. And we laid groundwork to provide more higher-level services to support clients across sectors: support leading large-scale data strategy efforts, fractional tech leadership services for startups and social enterprises, and solution design.
In the fall, we got the chance to help mission-driven clients build abundance and relationships in a whole new way: CommitChange, a fundraising and relationship platform for nonprofits and social ventures, joined the SfG team. Powered by an open-source codebase, CommitChange has already helped raise $62 million for mission-driven organizations of all kinds. CommitChange technical lead Eric Schultz and product lead Wendy Bolm got right to work expanding the platform’s capabilities to build abundance for do-gooders nationwide, and their expertise enriched our strategy and engineering teams.
A reimagined vision for Software for Good
Our change in leadership gave us the perfect opportunity to revisit our shared vision for the world, the mission that guides our work, and values we choose to live by. Returning to the intellectual heritage of Black feminism that first formed her political consciousness, Sharon asked us to think about the work of building technology in a dramatically expansive way. After many deep conversations online and in person, this vision and mission emerged:
At Software for Good, we envision a world where all communities can use the power of data and technology to cultivate shared abundance and liberation. To bring this world into being, we build software with love.
We’re still just beginning to work our way into this audacious ambition, which confronts us with new challenges every day. To help us navigate them as they come, we formulated a new set of values based on feedback from all of us:
Love: Decision by decision, day by day, we choose to support the growth of human beings toward their own highest potential.
Humanity: We structure our company and our work in ways that support the whole humanity of every member of our team — with generous wages, intentional inclusiveness, and deep respect for rest and mutual care.
Ecology: We take a systems view of everything we do, so we can reduce the potential for harm and foster harmonious collaboration at every scale.
Context: Our clients work in the real world, and so do the tools we build with them. That’s why we take care to learn about the cultural, political and social contexts in which our clients do their work.
Liberation: We believe in liberation for everyone, so we use all the tools at our disposal to help human beings live freely.
Stewardship: By building technological tools in the context of social, cultural, political, and natural systems, we are moving the culture of software engineering toward a deeper and more responsible engagement with lived reality.
These values are already guiding our business decisions — and we want to understand exactly how well we’re living into them as time goes on. With that accountability in mind, we’ve partnered with our friends at Ecotone Analytics to create an impact model so we can quantify the true effects of our work in the world.
$6,000 contribution to a Venn Foundation donor-advised fund, which helps support Minnesota social ventures like Repowered, health data infrastructure, and Family Tree Clinic — and allocated $7,500 in the fund to support the development of the Kindly community fundraising platform
$1,200 sustaining sponsorship for the Twin Cities MetroIBA
$200,000 grant award from Minnesota DEED’s Tech Training Pilot program supported 16 new Software for Good apprentices
Our Values in Action
Software for Good is a Minnesota general benefit corporation, which means we’re a profitable business that exists to make life better for people — in our state specifically — and the planet we all share. Our values are at work in every project we do, and here are some we’re most proud of from 2022.
For us, love is an ongoing decision to nurture the growth and development of our fellow human beings. One way we do that is by supporting the work of organizations who specialize in helping young people grow up in safety and abundance.
Charlie Health provides mobile-first mental-health care to teenagers and young adults nationwide when they need it most, often right after leaving inpatient treatment. Software for Good helped build the very first version of the app, since some of the first commits hit code repositories. The three of us have been a part of working with the Charlie Health team to help shape the app into what it is now. We’re also working with them on the back end of their systems. Working with a nationwide network of clinicians, insurance companies, patients and families is a huge job — and the legacy systems they were using to manage all their data were starting to buckle under the strain. We helped them solve the immediate problem, moving data from spreadsheets and an old electronic health record system into a new EHR with custom-built tech. This work will make it easier for Charlie Health clinicians to concentrate on serving their clients. Beyond the work of writing code, we’re helping their internal team build a strong and inclusive engineering culture. This work is helping Charlie Health transform into a technology company — one that uses the power of software to connect young people with the help they need to heal. Whenever we get too deep in the code, we remember that we’re helping Charlie Health save kids’ lives.
— Adia Alderson and Lori McCurry, Senior Engineers, and Thena Seer, Full-Stack Engineer
City of Saint Paul
RightTrack is the City of Saint Paul’s summer employment program for youth, helping build economic justice and a diverse workforce for the city’s future. In 2018, Software for Good rebuilt the city’s RightTrack app to help nearly 1,000 young people each year sign up for the program and get matched with summer jobs. We’ve had the opportunity to work with them year after year, getting the app up and running for the new application season and adding new features. This year we were able to involve three Software for Good apprentices working on the project, under the mentorship of Annie Tran, who loved working with them and the city. Chelsey McKinney was one of the project leads on the Saint Paul side — and we loved working together so much that she’s on the Software for Good team now!
— Colleen Powers, Product Manager
We can’t be fully human without a vibrant cultural environment. In 2022, Software for Good had the chance to make data and technology work better for some brilliant stewards of our culture.
Walker Art Center
One of the world’s most important centers of contemporary art happens to be right here in Minneapolis. When the Walker Art Center’s long-time digital coordinator — a friend of ours through Ruby.MN meetups — was retiring, the museum asked Software for Good to help make sure they could continue to use data and technology to make contemporary art accessible to artists, communities and researchers nationwide. The Walker’s legacy of tech leadership is long, from their award-winning website to legendary support for digital research, so we were proud to help them find and implement opportunities for improvement in their technical systems and plan for hiring the right technical staff.
— Alex Magnano, Senior Software Engineer
Modern Quilt Guild
When Modern Quilt Guild came to Software for Good to wrangle a handful of separate websites into one, I knew we’d do a great job on the project. Custom WordPress for complicated, resource-heavy sites is one of our specialties. I never expected to like quilting so much. The history and beauty of the material we got to work with on this project was really cool. So was our partnership with Darci, MQG’s digital experience manager. We were in daily contact on Slack during the whole project, and together we made the Guild’s huge library of resources (including many quilting patterns) much more searchable and accessible for their member quilters around the world. We even found a way to get patterns from PDFs onto printable websites to make them easier for folks to work with. Software for Good is maintaining their site, and we’re hoping to do more work with MQG down the road.
— Ryan Bridge, Senior Front-End Engineer
Taking a systems view of things is at the heart of our approach. That ecological understanding makes our consulting engineers especially adept at helping our clients harmonize the complexities of the work they do.
One of the biggest challenges in combating climate change is simply making energy use visible. Sagiliti, a Black-owned company here in Minnesota, helps the largest-scale property owners across the U.S. and Canada turn their utility-bill data into positive environmental action. In partnership with engineers from Software for Good, the Sagiliti team is rebuilding their utility-bill management system from the ground up, from data infrastructure to UX and UI. Integrating data from utility providers across two countries is a complex technical challenge, and we love the chance to work in long-term partnership with Sagiliti’s teams to solve it. Just as importantly, we’re using the process to help Sagiliti reimagine how they do their work, so they can emphasize opportunities to reduce energy use for their clients from the start. At this international scale, Sagiliti has the opportunity to make a gigantic difference.
— Edith Emmings, Senior Software Engineer, Antonio Perez-Cajina, Junior UX/UI Designer, and Colleen Powers, Product Manager
Working in the local Ruby developers’ community got me and Software for Good founder Casey Helbling connected with the CTO of BetterUp, a global online coaching company for employers and individuals. When he needed some support, he turned to SfG for a consulting engineer. Working as part of the BetterUp team, I helped them navigate the complexities of managing information security and data infrastructure so they could win contracts with the U.S. federal government and the European Union. I also built a way for their research arm, BetterUp Labs, to manage three terabytes of research data and make it useful to the scientists who were sharing what they’d learned about what makes a good conversation with the world. Working at the global scale of BetterUp was a great learning experience for me. I got exposed to tools, technologies and ways of working that enterprise-level companies use. These days when I encounter a technical challenge, I often ask, “How did BetterUp do this?” My work as a consulting engineer for them helps all of us at Software for Good level up to work at bigger scales with bigger impact.
— Jared Mehle, Senior Software Engineer
Our clients work in cultural, political and social contexts, and we take care to learn as much as we can about them — so the solutions we offer always make sense in the real world. Here are two ways we paid special attention to context in 2022.
Nurse Family Partnership
What happens during pregnancy and the first months and years of a new baby’s life have outsize effects on their chances of wellbeing later on. That’s why the Nurse-Family Partnership’s work is so important: from coast to coast, NFP’s visiting nurses help first-time parents navigate the first two years of their new child’s life with evidence-based support and encouragement. NFP tapped Software for Good to improve the way visiting nurses find and access the materials that guide their conversations with new parents. Initially, they only wanted a strategic plan for improving those materials — but after talking with NFP’s stakeholders nationwide, from public-health agencies to visiting nurses to new parents, I realized we could do even better. By the end of our work together, NFP had a genuine product strategy for their materials — including ways to incorporate UX work into their instructional design, new product practices for their in-house team, content-auditing tools to improve searchability, and a product strategy that will result in substantial leaps forward in multilingual access and accessibility in the next year. This work matters because NFP serves families who have been impacted by racism and economic injustice. In terms of SfG’s value of context, we were able to build NFP’s capacity in a way that was attuned to their organizational culture and values. We didn’t just create a deliverable; we created a living, breathing strategy that they’re already using.
— Cassi Johnson, Vice President of Product Strategy
The global uprising that began here in Minneapolis in 2020 brought the world’s attention to Resmaa Menakem, a Twin Cities healer and author whose groundbreaking understanding of the ways racism lives in our bodies offers a radical path forward from white supremacy. His audience grew from thousands to millions, and the practice of somatic abolitionism he teaches has caught fire worldwide. In 2022, Resmaa approached Software for Good with an exciting idea: justly wary of the ethics and practices of Big Tech platforms, he wanted us to develop a brand-new community platform where the people who have gathered around his work could connect with him — and each other — to build the global somatic abolitionist movement, in their own space and on their own terms. Together with CEO Sharon Kennedy Vickers, the two of us led Resmaa through a product strategy process to understand his technical needs, learn about his work, and draw out his vision. In the process, we discovered something important: the “product” at the heart of Resmaa’s work isn’t a platform — it’s the community that has come together around his wisdom. With that insight in mind, we found practical, inexpensive, lightweight ways for Resmaa to maintain the integrity of his community, generate revenue, and protect against de-platforming. No matter what capricious billionaires may decide, Resmaa Menakem’s community will be able to stay connected in the fight against white supremacy.
— Kevin Bullock, Vice President of Engineering, and Cassi Johnson, Vice President of Product Strategy
At a time of increasing oppression in the United States, technology has a crucial role to play in helping people stay connected to the resources they need to live fully and freely.
The year 2022 was a catastrophe for bodily autonomy in the United States. That year the U.S. Supreme Court defied a half-century of precedent to restrict the right to abortion — and abortion access organizations nationwide braced for the impact. That same year, Software for Good was able to help those who are fighting for reproductive justice. Our friends at the Digital Defense Fund connected Software for Good with the Midwest Access Coalition, whose volunteer developer needed help to keep their app up and running to serve those who need support seeking abortion care in our region — where it’s now inaccessible or banned outright in 10 states out of 12. Since then, we’ve also supported the Northwest Abortion Access Fund and DARIA Services, which provides open-source software for abortion funds. As technologists in Minnesota, one of the few reproductive rights sanctuaries in the United States, the Software for Good team is determined to keep using the power of data and technology to support bodily autonomy for everyone.
— Kevin Bullock, Vice President of Engineering, and Cassi Johnson, Vice President of Product Strategy
One of the most important ways we can help move the culture of software engineering is to mentor new technologists. In 2022, Software for Good apprentices worked shoulder to shoulder with our developers on projects designed to benefit our shared Minnesota communities.
Thanks to a $200,000 grant from Minnesota DEED’s Tech Training Pilot Program, Software for Good welcomed sixteen new apprentices in 2022, many more than in previous years. Our apprentices, all young people of color between 18 and 30, had a wide diversity of education in software development prior to joining. Some were computer-science college students or recent graduates, others had learned to code in bootcamps, and one was entirely self-taught. Side by side with Software for Good engineers — one of us, Annie, was a 2017 SfG apprentice herself — the 2022 apprentices got real-world experience building software that makes the world more just and sustainable.
The Science Museum of Minnesota developed an ingenious board game to help folks understand how to intervene when harm or injustice is happening. Our apprentices — including a UX design intern — helped bring the board game to life as a web app.
Better Futures Minnesota is helping make our state more sustainable by diverting reusable materials that would otherwise end up in landfills. In 2022, apprentices worked hard to develop an app to help folks at waste management sites recognize and describe the materials they were encountering in real time, so they could reclaim them for recycling or reuse.
HOME Line provides pro-bono legal assistance for renters throughout the state of Minnesota, and their volunteer attorneys use a custom software application to track calls and cases. Our apprentices made updates to improve the app’s design and user experience.
In the years ahead, we’re looking forward to mentoring even more diverse new technologists through a new apprenticeship partnership with New Visions Foundation through a $1.2 million grant from Ramsey County.
— Edith Emmings and Annie Tran, Senior Software Engineers
Software for Good in the News
July 13: St. Paul CIO Sharon Kennedy Vickers Joins Private Sector, Government Technology. “‘As much as I valued my work in St. Paul, I was yearning for the freedom to co-create liberating technology wherever people need it,’ she said. ‘That’s exactly what Software for Good is built to do. Software for Good exists to leverage software to improve the human condition — in civic tech, in community safety, in human services, in climate action.’”
April 8: New Minnesota program hopes to close skills gap in IT for people of color, Star Tribune. “Only 4% of the state’s technology jobs are held by Black Minnesotans. Latinos hold just 7%. … That is evidence of a big skills gap that the state hopes to solve through a $1 million pilot program underway and another $28 million Gov. Tim Walz has proposed to invest in IT training programs aimed at … people of color across the state.” Software for Good received a $200,000 grant to create teaching, mentorship and job-placement programs for people of color.
Dec. 29: Coding a Better World, Minnesota Women’s Press. “We want to make tech a space that is inclusive and adaptive so that we can create a world where everyone has the ability to live fully and freely.”