For the next year, Joshua Patterson will take the MARC train from his home in Baltimore to Washington, where he'll join other technologists, entrepreneurs, executives and innovators in an elite class of presidential fellows on a mission to shake up federal bureaucracy.
The 29-year-old Mount Vernon man was tapped to use his degrees in economics and his background in data analytics to help Washington decision-makers and the public better understand the challenges facing the United States.
It's an open-ended mission that Patterson sees as an opportunity to provoke change on a national level.
"Data is very honest and transparent," he said. "The more we can expose data to the public, the more we'll build a certain relationship with the government and the U.S. people. It will allow people to have a more honest conversation about what actual issues are and how they can be improved."
If he's daunted by one thing, he said, it's the success of the fellows so far. President Barack Obama signed an executive order this month to make the 3-year-old Presidential Innovation Fellows a permanent program.
"My hope is this continues to encourage a culture of public service among our innovators and tech entrepreneurs, so that we can keep building a government that's as modern, as innovative and as engaging as our incredible tech sector is," Obama said.
"To all the fellows who've served so far — thank you," he said. "I encourage all Americans with bold ideas to apply. And I can't wait to see what those future classes will accomplish on behalf of the American people."
The fellows, who are paid about $125,000 for their year in Washington, team up with federal employees and use their backgrounds in the private sector to work on projects involving education, job creation, personal health and any other matters their agencies take on.
Previous fellows have partnered with the Food and Drug Administration to post millions of online reports detailing adverse drug effects and medication errors, created a new system to help small businesses bid on government contracts, and doubled the reach of the Green Button website to help more than 60 million households access their personalized energy data.
Smita Satiani, director of engagement for the Presidential Innovation Fellows, said the highly competitive program has recruited nearly 100 tech-savvy fellows and paired them with "the best change-makers and innovators inside government."
"We really have been working for three main goals: to improve government efficiencies, to save millions of taxpayers' dollars and to improve millions of Americans' lives as best we can," she said. "We want to transform the way citizens interact with their government."
The program has 33 fellows, Satiani said, and is continuously recruiting more. Based at the General Services Administration, they team up in groups of two to four on one or more projects.
Satiani said federal agencies submit project proposals for fellows and federal employees to work on.
"Our fellows are so creative and entrepreneurial at heart," she said. "Rather than have agencies come and say, 'This is the solution,' we'd rather have agencies come and build that solution together."
Patterson, a South Carolina native, will be assigned his first project in the next week or two. He is part of a group of six fellows announced this month. Another Maryland fellow is Kate McCall-Kiley of Kensington.
"You can really do very impressive things in a short amount of time," Patterson said. "Taking the team approach, you can create a lot of change."
He moved to Baltimore about a year and a half ago. He lives with his wife, Ruth Adekunle, a physician at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
Patterson, who worked most recently for the global consulting company Accenture, said he's been focused on "big-data technology, analytics and visualization." He said he helped create several websites that feature massive amounts of data in user-friendly ways, such as HotShotCharts.com, which provides information on basketball players, teams and shots.
Patterson said he spent much of his career asking the question: "How can we efficiently build a system to analyze the data faster?" His focus has been on "making things go really, really fast, turning eight-hour algorithms into 50 seconds."
He applied for the fellowship early this year, and learned he had landed it about two months ago.
"I've always wanted to give back to the government," Patterson said. The fellowship bridges "that gap between those who want to give back and are passionate about innovation and making things more efficient."
A third of fellows have stayed in federal government after their 12-month stint has ended. Former fellows are now the chief architect of Data.gov, chief data officer for the Department of Commerce and chief technology officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"There are so many Americans that want to serve the federal government or serve our country who don't know necessarily how to use their technical chops for good," Satiani said. "This is a wonderful opportunity to better deliver services to the American people."
Family: Wife, Ruth Adekunle
Home: Mount Vernon, native of Columbia, S.C.
Education: Bachelor's degree in economics from University of North Carolina, 2006; master's degree in economics from the University of South Carolina's Moore School of Business, 2009.
Experience: Data scientist at Accenture Technology Labs; economic and quantitative research analyst at Freddie Mac; market research project manager at Fannie Mae; vice president of Operations at PatCon Industries, a commercial construction company.
Interested in applying to become a fellow? Go to pif.gov.