In order to highlight Austin Tech Alliance’s growing membership of individuals who support our mission to promote civic engagement in Austin’s tech sector, this is a regular feature profiling members of ATA.
Up now: Jonathon Morgan
Introduce yourself and where you work in Austin’s tech sector.
I’m the founder and CEO of New Knowledge, an information integrity company that defends corporations from online disinformation, and the founder of Data for Democracy, a volunteer community of 3,500 technologists collaborating on social impact projects, and developing a data science code of ethics. In 2014 I was a platform architect for Ushahidi, a non-profit tech company that provides software and services that improve the flow of information in human rights reporting and election monitoring for marginalized people.
What do you love about Austin?
Living and working in a tech hub that is also the Live Music Capital of the World with a rich creative sector is an ideal way to work and live. No other city can boast proximity to this level of intense artistic creativity and technological achievement. In a way, SXSW happens here everyday. You may not see the same frenzy as at the Austin Convention center, and it may be easier to find a place to park than during the actual conference, but the exchange of ideas that happens during SXSW keeps happening in Austin at a consistently high level throughout the year. And this consistent idea-exchange informs and supports every element of running a business here. Leave three-piece suits and three-martini lunch to other cities. Austin’s business community knows our power lunch features tacos, Topo Chico, flip-flops and an energetic exchange of ideas.
What do you think are the community’s biggest challenges?
Like tech broadly, Austin tech business struggles with inclusivity and diversity. At New Knowledge we try to mitigate those challenges by making inclusivity and diversity a core recruiting commitment, focusing on how a person’s unique abilities and potential will best help us create the best team as well as a product that provides unbiased results and usability. And while there is much more for us to do, the results of our efforts are valuable and visible. New Knowledge’s leadership team is 50 percent women. Eleven languages are represented within the 50-person company.
Affordability for creatives can be especially challenging in a city that is enduring a rapid population increase. If Austin is to remain the Austin that is so attractive to tech startups, we must address affordability for creatives, We offer exceptional salaries and benefits because our staff includes equally exceptional people with the diverse skill sets we value. This helps us attract top tier people in Austin’s robust startup scene.
Why is it important for the tech community to become more civically engaged?
We believe technologists must take a seat at the table of civic engagement. When we do, we become empowered to develop technology solutions to everyday problems, and we enable other sectors of our culture to influence our work in return, helping to ensure that the technology we build reflects the concerns of our broader community. With the state capitol building visible from our windows, we have a visual reminder of the necessity of civic engagement everyday, we support our employees becoming involved in volunteer opportunities, and we are proud members of the Austin Tech Alliance.
Specifically, at New Knowledge we celebrate the value of civic discourse and seek to maintain the health of the information ecosystem by defending information integrity online. Our work focuses on helping high-profile brands, and the outcome is that through detecting and disrupting coordinated disinformation for our clients, we create more space for authentic conversations to happen.
For me personally, working to build Ushahidi was key to evolving my understanding of how to merge tech with civic responsibility. Empowering people with technology they truly need delivers a higher quality of life in a community. I bring this same thinking to New Knowledge. Civic engagement is part of our DNA.