A few weeks between Harvard Business School graduation and his next job, at the language learning company Duolingo in Pittsburgh, was all it took for Jackson Shuttleworth to put together Count the Vote — with his infant son, Benji, on his lap much of the time. The website promotes the virtues of being a poll worker, a job drastically understaffed even before the coronavirus pandemic, and puts application forms for 3,000 cities, counties and states just a click away. It's Shuttleworth's first professional foray into civic engagement; he was a management consultant for six years after Boston College and his last venture at B-school was creating Jova, a cold brew coffee company. His answers have been edited for clarity and length.
What's the tweet-length description of your organization?
Making it easy for young people to sign up as a poll worker, anywhere across the country.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
It might be "fake" civics, but I was the lieutenant governor at Kansas Boys State in 2007. I'm not sure how indicative it was of how Kansas politics work, but being a part of 300 young men play-acting at government for a long weekend was certainly an experience.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
I moved to Munich to launch the German office for my design consultancy — and still remember my first company-wide presentation in German. I wasn't ready (my boss was having connectivity issues and couldn't be heard) which made the entire presentation more thrilling. Terrifying, really. I had only been learning German for two years, so it felt like a huge accomplishment when hundreds of people could understand and engage with what I was presenting.
And your most disappointing setback?
When I graduated high school, I thought I wanted to be an engineer, but I almost failed out of my intro-level physics class during my first semester in college. That's when I learned the cruel lesson that what we're interested in and what we're good at don't always match up — and no amount of committing physics formulas to memory would make me understand them.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
It requires me to make sure I'm not always building for myself as the user, because a lot of our government has been designed by and for educated white men — and there are a lot of issues in what's been built. It means being intentional in getting diverse perspectives and opinions on what I'm building, and making changes that don't always line up with what I think, because it's not about just me and my experience.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
"People won't remember what you said or did, but how you made them feel," an aphorism mainly attributed to Maya Angelou. Also, "The words we say have meaning. But it's our actions, that either back up what we say or contradict it, which matter more."
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
I'm not sure how a company based in Vermont hasn't discovered the New England genius that is Moose Tracks: vanilla ice cream with mini peanut butter cups and fudge. Mine would not be standard Moose Tracks, but maybe with some salted pretzels thrown in for good measure.
What's your favorite political movie or TV show?
Definitely "Veep." As someone who's never officially worked in politics, I assume that HBO series shows how politics actually works. I've yet to be convinced otherwise.
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
I wish I could say something more cultured than "Scroll a bit further on Reddit." But it's typically "Scroll a bit further on Reddit." I start every morning with the New York Times on my phone, though.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I love the mediocre single-serve coffee you can make in so many hotel rooms. You can have your fancy, overpriced Starbucks in the lobby; I'll brew my own on this bizarre device that hasn't been changed in 10 years.
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