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The government may be back, but unfurlough.us remains powerful resource from the DC tech community

Tom Spencer from myEdMatch had the idea to create a public Google doc for furloughed employees

Mike Endale from Blen Corp helped turn the document into Unfurlough.us in five hours

A job board created in five hours by members of 1776 DC to help out furloughed government workers has received over 50,000 page views and counting.
When federal Washington ground to a financial halt, nowhere braced for, and felt the impact more than the District itself.
As government shutdown clocks started ticking on news screens, much of D.C. pondered ways to help friends keep up with their bills, sans paycheck. Among the associated flurry of emails, Tom Spencer got the idea to riff off of his startup’s concept and rally some simple tech solutions to meet the crisis.

Spencer created a public Google document where people could post their freelance skills, or freelance jobs, and shared it around the 1776 campus. Developers at Blen Corp, including Mike Endale, found the doc, and approached Tom about transforming it into Unfurlough.us, a website they built in just five hours on the first Friday of the shutdown.

We talked to Spencer and Endale about how the site came together, what kind of interactions they saw on it, and what might happen to it with the end of the shutdown, but seemingly continuing federal financial uncertainty.

Where did the idea for Unfurlough.us come from?
Spencer: I spend all day, every day thinking about how to connect people for employment. I work for myEDmatch, a website that connects teachers and schools. At its core that’s really what [the idea for unfurlough.us] was, just a place where people can find each other based on specific needs in a quick-moving environment.

Freelance job sites existed long before the government shutdown. Why make a new one?
Spencer: Being at 1776, we have such a collaborative nature to troubleshoot for peers. Hearing from a bunch of other friends who are not working in startups, who are actually federal employees being furloughed, there is certainly an interest in looking in to what we could do to help figure this out for our friends. Since we were all actively trying to help friends, it made a lot more sense to create a consolidated list (which began as a Google doc) than to try to share things by email, and it just took off from there.

Unfurlough.us was a collaborative effort between a few different groups. How did that come about?
Spencer: The guys at Blen Corp were looking for something like this and saw my name on the Google doc, and that was that. Basically we all just agreed that if the people who are making our laws and deciding policy can’t come up with a solution on their own, we’ll find a work-around. That’s just sort of what we do in the entrepreneurial community. We get together, fix it, and move on.

The site quickly got a lot of traffic. What kind of actual job-impact has it had?
Spencer: We got about 3,000 visitors in the first 36 hours to the initial Google doc. Because it was just an open data-source, I know that other sites sourced the data and re-posted some of the listings, so I don’t know the full extent, but people at 1776 have hired maybe a dozen total people for temporary gigs.

Endale: We’ve gotten emails asking us to remove jobs from the site that had been filled — at least 10 or 15 of those. But, it’s very hard to know total impact because we don’t track interactions. It was built very quickly and we didn’t have the luxury to really think through how the connections would be made.

What kind of jobs were filled?
Spencer: The ones I’ve seen are people who are similar to our targeted long-term users, so they can give product feedback. I’ve also seen some that are just doing data entry, or something creative like photography or blogging. In many cases there are rules that actually prevent federal employees (especially with security clearances) from taking work that directly correlates with their job.

Blen Corp’s blog post about Unfurlough.us quotes Rahm Emmanuel saying “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” How does that fit in to what you saw in site activity?
Spencer: We have a ton of talented people that live in D.C. They are largely over-educated, very skilled and have been sat at home, idly for nearly three weeks. Everyone has heard from so many friends who have been furloughed who are just tired of it. They want to be productive again.

What will happen to Unfurlough.us now that the government is re-opening? Financial uncertainty for the government doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, will the need for this last?
Endale: We’re playing around with a couple of ideas internally. We want to see if there is any potential for the site to keep offering weekend jobs or maintain connections made. We’re going to look at the traffic data a little more closely to see if there are any decipherable patterns that we can make out. We’re just throwing around ideas though, we’re not even sure if we’re going to actually keep it up.

On the scale of the whole shutdown we experienced in Washington, what is the significance of a site like this?
Spencer: I think overall, I’ve just been impressed by the community support here and what great entrepreneurial companies who are looking to help out their friends and peers, as well as the broader D.C. community can do. There’s no other city that is facing the day to day brunt of the shutdown the way that Washington, D.C. is. This is a pretty rough time for us, and I’ve been really impressed by how well so many people have gelled together to help each other out.
These interviews have been edited and condensed.

Read more articles by Kaitlynn Hendricks.

Kaitlynn Hendricks is a solutions-focused economist working as a business developer in Washington, DC. She enjoys timeless and (occasionally) avant-garde fashion, reading things that are just a bit too complicated to really understand, challenging the status quo, and exploring the city on her Vespa.
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