Phylly means never leave real nerds ALONE.


Nerds MUST always participate. But pilot the ship alone? Almost never.

Phylly means never leave real nerds ALONE. /img/philly-fighting-covid-logo.jpg

“A group of college friends wanted to help during the pandemic. They had tech skills, so they used 3D printers to make face shields. Then they organized as a nonprofit, Philly Fighting Covid, and opened a testing site in a Philadelphia neighborhood that didn’t have one yet.”

So starts a report, published last week, about the failings of a vaccination startup in Philadelphia, led by a 22 year old.

The startup leader, A. Doroshin, is “a 22-year-old graduate student in psychology at Drexel University, with no background in health care.”

The startup began as a non-profit that 3D-printed face shields, and ran COVID-19 testing sites in Philadelphia. Then it moved to help with vaccinations, presenting a complete plan he described as “a wholly Elon Musk, shooting-for-the-heavens type of thing”.

Let’s disrupt vaccination

Reportedly, Doroshin had “approached the vaccination effort as if he were a tech mogul focused on disrupting norms”. He made a point to explain that the startup didn’t think like a traditional medical institution: “We’re engineers, we’re scientists, computer scientists, we’re cybersecurity nerds. We think a little differently than people in health care do.”

“We took the entire model and just threw it out the window,” he added. “We said to hell with all of that. We’re going to completely build on a new model.”

The plan included cool (seriously!) ideas like public inoculation of local rappers, to convince as many young residents as possible, in order to vaccinate between 500,000 and 1.5 million people, billing the US federal government 24USD per dose.

Being unsurprisingly eager to control the pandemic, the city of Philadelphia accepted the plan in early January 2021, turning over part of its vaccine allotment to the group.

Then Philly Fighting Covid got lost

When the partnership started, only 12% of vaccinated Philadelphians were Black - in a city where 44% of residents are Black. Aiming to fix that problem, the city administration gave the startups its own “lists of residents newly eligible for the vaccine, based on the city’s own prioritization scheme”.

After the first vaccine event, bad news started to pile up: lost data, no more testing, broken vaccination scheduling systems and more. So Philadelphia cut ties with Philly Fighting Covid on Jan. 25, 2021.

Deja-Vu is strong with Philly Fighting Covid

At first sight, being about COVID-19, this whole story looks like Contact Tracing all over again: let’s make an app that is totally disconnected with everything else done so far, and everything will work.

At a second look, a more appropriate label for Philly Fighting Covid may be Facebook 2.0: some “kids” who are only able to code, and therefore think they know enough, find a new way to “move fast, break things”, and everybody else lets them roam free only, and precisely because they can code.

The problem is not age: it’s the attitude. Not of nerds, of the others

Please note the quotes around “kids” above. In itself, neither young age nor coding skills would be a problem. Quite the contrary, probably. Heavens know how uselessly complex current organizations are, not just in healthcare, how many of them may use a reboot.

It is also easy hard to ignore that hell could freeze over, if we waited for such problems to be solved exclusively from the inside, by the same people and thinking that made them inefficient, or unfair.

What is wrong in this story is nor age nor coding skills. It is the attitude, both in the nerds, and in those who let them alone on the command deck.

But that attitude is all too often alive and kicking in people who may very well be Doroshin’s parents.

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