Welcome to QAs Doing Cool Things, Second Edition. This series features one of the members of my Super Cool Newsletter for the Quietly Ambitious with what they're doing and learning. SCNQA (and this series) is meant to be an oasis of useful positivity in the middle of the horrible desert of despair assaulting your eyeballs daily on the news and social media. (What? You're not getting the newsletter!? Sign up in the side bar or on the bottom of this page. DO IT NOW.)
You're in for a real treat today.
You know those people who make you feel like you've known them for decades within five minutes? I've only known a few of them so far in my life, but Ashley Cortez is one of them. Years ago on a smokey porch outside of a bar in Gainesville, we instantly became lifelong friends. She's fiercely loyal, terribly smart, and way too humble for her own good. She left Gainesville to go to New York City to attend NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program (which is kind of a big deal) and she's been there ever since.
She's awesome, and everyone who knows her agrees on this. Let's find out what she's up to now.
What are you up to these days?
I'm working with The Mayor's Office for Economic Opportunity (NYC Opportunity) under Bill DeBlasio in New York City. Our agency works broadly to develop, vet, and implement a variety of strategies that work to reduce poverty and broaden opportunity to New Yorkers. In my role there I work on the Design + Product team, developing unique platforms that connect different groups to resources in the community. Our work is divided (mostly) into three products: ACCESS NYC, Growing Up NYC, and Generation NYC and one service: Civic Service Design Studio. There I work to connect and partner with Agencies across New York City to champion our products and human centered technology, train others on how to use, develop, and think about digital products when working with clients, and developing communications around those things. Recently we rolled out ACCESS NYC as a streamlined eligibility screener for programs and benefits. This screener will be used by NYC's Public Engagement Unit, a network of on-the-ground benefits navigators and advocates that canvas the city to get New Yorkers enrolled in programs that work to reduce poverty. By doing this we're working to narrow that benefits enrollment gap (that is, the gap between those who are eligible versus those who are enrolled in benefits programs) and meeting people where they're at.
I volunteer on a leadership committee with the non-profit organization BetaNYC. There we champion the civic tech landscape by promoting Open Data, civic engagement, and digital equity. Recently we held a conference called School of Data, with talks from across the government and the digital advocacy space.
One of the projects at Beta.nyc I'm working on got accepted as Mozilla Open Leaders project, so I'm doing a short fellowship with them trying to work more openly and transparently.
What lessons have you been learning lately (whether personally or professionally)?
Learn your limits and align goals early. I can't stress this enough. I always want to do the best job I can, so I have a problem with taking on a lot of responsibility or feeling deep ownership when, really, ownership is shared across all stakeholders. If goals are aligned from the first step each team should be able to execute a vision that is fairly consistent even without having to take ownership of every aspect of any given project.
What's keeping you going/motivated/producing? (people, podcasts, movies, video games, family, whatever)
There's a lot of moving parts right now, so I've been greatly enjoying being still for a moment and doing things like the crossword. I resisted downloading the NYT Crossword App for a while and finally decided to treat myself to the year subscription. It's been the best gift to me. Today the crossword was created by Weird Al Yankovic and had cheese-themed movie puns. ("cheesy 1992 military drama?", "afewgoudamen").
I've been seeing a lot more movies recently, too, which has been a recent development. I saw at the Film Forum Leaning Into the Wind and it was wonderful.
What's the best way for people to support or help you right now?
Good question. Tell me about the cool things you're doing, too. I like hearing about that.
Isn't it so nice to read about good people doing good things? To hop on this train, sign up for the newsletter. We're building a community of smart, kind, awesome people who are hustling away at making the world a better place. That might be in business, as a parent, as an artist, or something completely different. We've also got lots of great people who are still trying to figure out what their next step is that will help them get "un-stuck." Maybe you can help them figure it out!