Mandy Moore is using her tech skills to live the life she wants and improve the lives of others. Originally from Chicago, she took her talents to South America earlier this year, leaving behind her Windy City roots for the place Colombians call the City of Eternal Spring.
She relocated to Medellin to work as a software development contractor for Mobility Labs, which is based in Washington but has a four-person office in Colombia’s second-largest city. The company’s primary focus is education technology, and the Moore’s marquee project was the Redesign Challenge, a platform funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that allows teachers to collaborate with each other to solve problems in the classroom.
One of the biggest challenges in education is that there is not a lot of communication between schools, so the Gates foundation approached Mobility to build a way for teachers to share their ideas, work together to devise solutions, and test results in the classroom. The Redesign Challenge attempts to overcome all this, and Moore says that the end users love the results so far.
She has also done work for Colombia. When the mayor’s office of Medellin realized it had a huge list of heritage sites that nobody knew about because it was stored on paper in some dusty office, the government tasked Mobility to put this all on the internet. After a lot of hard work, the result was Patrimonio Medellin, a user-friendly map that shows the location of the many statues throughout Medellin complete with the sculptor’s name, date of creation, and even a photo.
The finished product has already impressed the mayor’s office, and it isn’t even finished. The map will continue to evolve, and Mobility is currently adding architectural sites and other culturally relevant categories. “Eventually they’re going to add all of this information and get it out of the basement and into the world so people can actually use it,” said Moore.
This was Moore’s first real local project, and it was all the better because she prefers her work to have social impact, whether that is making work easier for overworked and underpaid teachers or helping a city still too associated with violence showcase its unknown cultural treasures.
“Software development is great in the sense that you have the chance to make money if you go down that route,” said Moore. “But I grew up working in social services. My mom was a social worker, and I was volunteering when I was like six years old. So my priority has always been to do stuff that helps people, and if that means I make less money, that’s O.K. with me. I’d rather do something that actually makes a difference and helps people.”
Social Development Roots
Moore’s path to Colombia was even rooted in an attempt at social progress. Software is a man’s world with a sexist fratboy culture that is especially pervasive in Silicon Valley. As this sad reality has increasingly been exposed, several organizations have sought to tackle the issue. Startup Weekend, an entrepreneurial-focused organization founded in Boulder, Colorado in 2007, hosted an event in Washington last year to show that gender doesn’t matter in tech.
“Traditionally most startup events have a 70/30 ratio of men to women,” stated the organization while promoting its event. “Startup Weekend DC Flip the Ratio wants to flip those numbers on their heads and create an event focused around promoting women entrepreneurship in the D.C. community.”
Moore was a developer on the team that took first place in the competition. Their creation, Heartful.ly, is a venture that turns a wedding registry from a chance to get a pasta maker into something that helps the less fortunate. It has let couples funnel tens of thousands of dollars to early education programs in Tanzania, improved medical care in Guatemala, and housing orphans in Kenya, and the development work Moore did on Heartful.ly caught the attention of Mobility’s CEO. He was impressed and gave her the opportunity to join the team in Medellin. “I was given the choice of where to work and chose to come here versus being in D.C. or New York,” she said.
A Second Taste of Latin America
This hasn’t been Moore’s first time working in the Latin American tech world. She previously spent four years living in Mexico doing web development on her own in San Cristobal de Las Casas. She primarily worked as a freelancer creating WordPress sites, mostly for nonprofit organizations and sometimes even pro bono. “I would find a museum I like, talk to them, and then rework their website,” she said. She used search engine optimization to get the museum more traffic and taught the directors how to enhance their online presence. “That kind of thing is still growing in Latin America, I’m finding,” she said. “It’s not as prevalent as in the United States for small businesses to have websites.”
Web-savviness isn’t the only difference. As with most people who make the journey away from the comfort of home, she wouldn’t say that everything is perfect. Some of the social problems that persist in Medellin were hard for her to stomach, for example, and she has recently gotten back to her globe-trotting ways, continuing to do contract work for Mobility while focusing more on her personal business.
Ultimately, this freedom to see new places and learn new cultures is something she values more than money. “My lifestyle is different than if I was living in D.C. or New York on the same salary,” said Moore. “Software development is very location independent, which makes it really easy to choose a place that you enjoy that can support the lifestyle you want to live rather than being stuck in a place just because that’s where the job is.”