Coding it Forward



Cambridge, MA

Tax ID:


Tax-Exempt Status:




Executive Director:

Rachel Dodell

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Coding it Forward is a student-led nonprofit organization that provides “Civic Digital Fellowships” for college students with technology expertise to work with government agencies and nonprofits.


Coding it Forward was co-founded by a group of technology and data science students at Harvard University in 2017. Under the mentorship of Nick Sinai, a lecturer at Harvard and former deputy Chief Technology Officer in the Obama administration, the group developed a “Civic Digital Fellowship” that pairs students and recent graduates from top universities with government agencies to expand their digital capacity. 1

The student group said Coding it Forward’s founding was sparked by the shortage of skilled software engineers and data scientists working for government agencies and the lack of internship opportunities in government for early-career technology specialists. These factors, combined with the “clunky and unstructured” application process for government internship applicants, convinced this group that government was not doing “nearly enough to lure talented technology students away from the comforts of Silicon Valley … where they can work on modern software problems,” according to co-founder Neel Mehta, a Harvard computer sciences major. 2


In its first year, the fellowship program had more than 226 applicants, eventually choosing 14 fellows from universities such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke University, Cornell University, and the University of Texas at Austin for summer fellowships at the U.S. Census Bureau. 3

In the second year, the 10-week fellowships expanded to 36 students at Census Bureau, the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services (“HHS”), and State, as well as the International Trade Administration and General Services Administration. Fellows worked on a range of projects: at the State Department, they helped to redesign the process for handling Freedom of Information Act requests received from the department website; at the Census Bureau, they assisted with coding and data analysis in the run-up to the 2020 Census; and at HHS, they developed machine learning protocols relating to the opioid crisis and hospital records. 4

A before-and-after survey of fellows in the third, 2019 Coding it Forward cohort administered by the Partnership for Public Service found that fellows were significantly more likely to be open to government employment after completing the fellowship. 5

In 2019, Coding it Forward initiated the First Act Fund, which provides microgrants for early-career software engineers and data scientists who have proposals for expanding the digital capacity of nonprofits focused on education, humanitarian relief, the environment, and civic engagement. Grantees have included projects to develop automated, app-based rehabilitation programs for concussed athletes, interactive digital programs to engage those with autism, and a mobile app to assist job readiness and reentry for those being releases from incarceration. The fund is supported by Schmidt Futures, a nonprofit venture funding firm. 6

In 2020, Coding it Forward, in partnership with U.S. Special Operations Command, will pilot the Civic Innovation Corps, a summer fellowship for data scientists and software engineers interested in national security. Fellows will work within U.S. Special Operations Command and the Department of Defense to support artificial intelligence and machine learning initiatives. 7


Coding it Forward has received support from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Shuttleworth Foundation, and the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. 8


  1. Chase Gunter. “Harvard students spin up gov-tech internship.” Federal Computer Week. April 5, 2017. Accessed March 21, 2020.
  2. Chase Gunter. “Harvard students spin up gov-tech internship.” Federal Computer Week. April 5, 2017. Accessed March 21, 2020.
  3. Tajha Chappellet-Lanier. “Demand for the first edition of Coding it Forward’s Civic Digital Fellowship surprises even the founders.” FedScoop. August 1, 2017. Accessed March 20, 2020.
  4. Chase Gunter. “Student-run fellowship expands for second year.” Federal Computer Week. June 25, 2018. Accessed March 20, 2020.
  5. Tajha Chappellet-Lanier. “Coding it Forward fellowship changes participants’ minds about federal service, survey shows.” FedScoop. December 4, 2019. Accessed March 22, 2020.
  6. “First Act Fund.” Coding it Forward. Accessed March 21, 2020.
  7. “Civic Innovation Corps.” Coding it Forward. Accessed March 20, 2020.
  8. “Our Supporters.” Coding it Forward. Accessed March 20, 2020.
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: May - April
  • Tax Exemption Received: June 1, 2017

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    Coding it Forward

    1201 Massachusetts Avenue
    Cambridge, MA 02138-5201