Geek of the Week: Toby Crittenden mixes politics and technology at Washington Bus

Toby Crittenden, program director at Washington Bus. (Annie Laurie Malarkey photo)

Toby Crittenden is a political geek — part of a generation that makes intuitive use of technology as a natural part of the democratic process.

Our latest Geek of the Week is program director of Washington Bus, a non-profit organization that combines old-fashioned transportation with new technology, using everything from road trips to cutting-edge Facebook projects to get young people involved in politics and voting.

Continue reading for details on those topics and much more — including his inexplicable love of hats —  in his answers to our questionnaire below.

Name: Toby Crittenden

Job, hobby and/or other geeky pursuit: Program Director at the Washington Bus, DJ with Last Night’s Mixtape, and lover of truly terrible puns.

Coolest thing about what you do: The Bus is utterly unique in that we get to do hugely impactful and important work (engaging young people into the political process, training effective civic leaders, giving democracy a helping hand in general), while at the same time having more fun than anyone should be allowed to have. That means we get to hold Candidate Survivor (a candidate forum that doubles as a game show), organize Trick or Vote (our massive costumed Halloween get-out-the-vote event), and run the Summer Fellows program, which produces young civic leaders capable of running campaigns, running for office, and generally running the world.

How is Washington Bus using technology to accomplish its mission? We work primarily with Millennials, the most tech-savvy generation of all time (which is only partly due to the fact that the 1955 version of the iPhone was the size of an office building). For us, that means using social media and our online presence to engage our audience in the civic process, whether that’s registering to vote, getting information about upcoming elections, or finding new ways to get involved. Last year we worked with our partners at New Era Colorado to distribute MyBallot, a Facebook-based peer-to-peer voter guide. We’ve got some bigger and better plans in the works for 2012 too …

Best thing that’s ever happened on one of your bus trips? Oh man, where to begin! We’ve done Bus Trips to every corner of Washington, and over the years, two things always stick with me. The first is the young people who came on a Bus Trip as their first taste of political engagement, and who today are helping run the show. In particular, one of my favorite people in Spokane came on a Bus Trip two years ago, which was his first large political action — today he’s a staffer to a State Senator. The other moment that I love is the moment right after we return from a Bus Trip to Bus HQ in Seattle. Our volunteers have just put in somewhere between six and eight hours going out and support civic engagement, and yet they are always still energetic, still positive, and often move the party to a bar. It’s that combination of results and pure enjoyment that make the Bus tick.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life: Oh jeez! I encourage our staff to make non-work commitments that require them to leave the office at a certain point of the day, like an evening yoga class or some other healthful activity (there are quite enough happy hours involved with our work as is). Other than that, I think having something you really get life points out of that is, at the most, only tangentially work-related is crucial. Many folks who work at the Bus play music or do other creative pursuits, which is perfecto.

Why do you own so many hats? A gentleman never tells.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac.

Kirk, Picard, Janeway or Sisko? Gotta be honest, I’m a Star Wars guy. But seeing as we don’t have enough women in leadership positions, I’m going to go with Janeway.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter! I could be writing this from the beach in Rio, and home in time for dinner.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Launch a (moderately sized) media empire that does for political news websites what the Daily Show does for television audiences. And I would hire the many brilliant young people who the Bus has been lucky enough to work with over the years. And I would buy some more hats.

I once waited in line for … Oh man, lines give me the willies. I’d rather be helping run the event behind the scenes.

Your role models: My family, without a doubt (yes, cheezy). My parents and my two older sisters are all public servants in the best possible use of the phrase, despite doing drastically different things. They’re absolutely my moral and values compass.

Greatest Game In History: Soccer! Seriously.

Best Gadget Ever: I always wanted that laser tag helmet/laser gun combo. Never happened, but man were the 80′s awesome…

First computer: Growing up, we had an old school Mac, which was mainly used for really slow typing and playing Oregon Trail.

Current phone: Just upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S2

Favorite hat: A snapback collaboration between Gold Coast Trading Company and Dutty Artz (pictured here). GCTC is the label of a buddy of mine, who is amazingly talented (keep your eyes peeled), and Dutty Artz is a blog/record label/DJ collective that pretty much sets the standard for quality, in my humble opinion. Just good design and people all around!

Favorite app: As a non-car owner, One Bus Away saves my life on a regular basis. It may not be the newest or sexiest, but it fills an absolutely necessary part of my life, and for that I will always be thankful.

Favorite hangout: Cafe Selam on Cherry Street in Seattle. Best food, coffee and company, plus more World Cup matches than any one establishment should be expected to show.

Favorite cause: The Bus itself, of course! Actually, there’s a small but growing organization in town called AGE UP Seattle, which stands for All Girl Everything Ultimate Program. It’s a leadership and life skills program cleverly disguised as an ultimate frisbee camp. Their work is authentically engaged in high schools that serve some of Seattle’s most at-risk students. So rad. The folks behind AGE UP are some of the smartest, most dedicated folks I’ve ever come across, and I highly advise anyone who can to support them.

Most important technology of 2011: I think the continuing evolution of CRM’s like Salesforce is hugely important and awesome. The more multi-platform integration and flexibility that shows up, the more effective everything is getting. It’s been exciting to see so much convergence after social media flipped the script.

Most important technology of 2015: I’m hoping someone brings back the Ironic Fax.

Words of advice for your fellow geeks: At the end of the day it’s always about people, but you knew that already. Technology has already rewritten the face of politics and civic engagement, and we’re just at the tip of the iceberg. Regardless of what field you work in, there’s always a way to keep the idea of a public interest and a public good in mind. The more we come together around increasing access and efficacy through the power of tech, the better and stronger a society we will have.

Sites: washingtonbus.org, lastnightsmixtape.com

Twitter: @tobycrittenden @washingtonbus @lstnghtsmxtp


Geek of the Week is a regular feature profiling the characters of the Pacific Northwest technology community. See the Geek of the Week archive for more.

Does someone you know deserve this distinguished honor? Send nominations to tips@geekwire.com.

[Geek of the Week photography by Annie Laurie Malarkey, annielaurie@geekwire.com.]

  • meks

    When a guy as good looking as that, and as well spoken and apparently popular with others, gets called a geek… well the meaning of that word has truly, truly changed.

  • Whatever

    Dude is a tool. What are the statistics on wa bus? Have they increased voter turnout among young voters? They are great at giving themselves credit, but they have affected jack. Look at bobby forch. He had the support of all the young folks. How good a job did the bus do at turning out young voters to help him? Well…he lost.

    • Meks

      Clearly this guy is a troll from the Washington Short Bus :)… Seriously though, your post is unsubstantiated nothingness.