What’s your background?
I was born in Somalia and know firsthand what it’s like to be a refugee. The experiences I had growing up in Kenya, Europe, and eventually the United States, influenced my decision to take a job working with new immigrants and future Americans just arriving in the U.S. I enjoyed the work very much and wanted to scale my impact, leading me to join the Department of Homeland Security, where I was assigned to the White House Domestic Policy Council to work on several federal immigration policies. I led the Taskforce on New Americans, focused on the social and economic integration of our newest citizens, and ran a national campaign aimed at providing assistance to local governments building welcoming communities for refugees.
What inspired you to join USDS?
During my time on the WH Domestic Policy Council, I became aware of a handful of folks in my neighboring office wearing hoodies and jeans on the otherwise very formally dressed Presidential campus. I soon learned about the U.S. Digital Service and their work to digitize the naturalization process for new Americans. When I learned more about the mission, I jumped at the opportunity to continue serving the American public in an area I was passionate about. Since USDS is part of the White House, they have a lot of convening power to bring agencies together to harness and scale repeatable best practices across the federal government. Our mission and the grounding thing we often say is that we’re doing the “greatest good for greatest number of people, in the greatest need.” I love that we prioritize delivering the most meaningful impact to communities that need it the most. Our explicit focus on how we can help actual human beings is at the core of what influenced me to join USDS.
How does your work make an impact?
When we think of government services, regulations, policy, and compliance are the backbone of those services. Not only is modernizing the technology important, but it’s also critical to understand how to modernize the policy. USDS really understands the need to combine these two facets of a government service — both the spirit and the implementation — to build usable, modern solutions that serve all Americans. This has led to the work I’m currently doing at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to improve the experience of public servants across the federal workforce, as well as the millions of customers that rely on OPM’s services. As we are building towards a 21st century government, we must have an employee experience that is on-par with what the private sector has been delivering for decades.
What will you miss most about USDS when you leave?
The people! Without a question, the talented and awesome humans I get to call my colleagues are the best thing about USDS! It’s inspiring being around a group of people who are not afraid to dive into complex problems and constantly challenge themselves to think about the end user — the Veteran or the immigrant or the federal employee — who rely on these services. USDSers are the most empathetic group of people I’ve ever come across. Regardless of the problem we’re trying to solve, we always put ourselves in the shoes of the users and the people who will be impacted by our work. Not only are most people who join USDS driven by the mission, there’s a continuous challenge to ensure that our work truly addresses tangible human need. We constantly question the solutions we design and ensure they truly meet the needs of the people that we’re serving.
“I love that USDS is intentional about selecting projects and is dedicated to helping underrepresented communities, such as veterans and immigrants.”
“I have many avenues to create impact at USDS, which is what keeps it interesting and fulfilling.”
“Serving a tour of duty with USDS is not only good for the country but also a great opportunity for you as a technologist.”
“It’s not about how can we maximize digital ad space or make conversion rates better, but how we can use technology to really make a difference in someone’s life.”
“But when you serve at USDS, you wake up every day, serve your country, and have the opportunity to change the lives of millions of Americans.”
“Making sure we can improve, design, and iterate on a printed piece of paper, while explaining policy in a more human-centered way was a challenge I wasn’t expecting.”
“I was a little concerned about whether I could make a difference in three months, but after my experience here, I wholeheartedly recommend that you should consider doing it for as long or short a duration as you can.”
“At the Defense Digital Service I help make the lives of service members better, and safer.”