What’s your background?
My fascination with computers has been going on most of my life, but more directly back to when I was 12 or 13 and we got our first computer at home. It was delivered on a weekday afternoon… and my mother was not home (big mistake). I immediately disassembled the thing to see how it worked and then put it back together — with only a couple spare parts. My mother was not happy, but at least it still worked!
I quickly moved from hardware to software, writing small games in BASIC and then Visual Basic. I spent my high school years learning C++, programming games for the TI-82 calculator, and building my first web sites. Building things for the web was eye-opening for me (and a lot of people) because our work was immediately shareable across the globe. Creating web applications (front and back end) has been a focus for many years now. Immediately before joining USDS I was teaching front end engineering at a code school here in D.C. and speaking at numerous conferences around the world.
What inspired you to join USDS?
Living in D.C. I probably had more knowledge of what USDS had done than others. The developer community here is strong, and I enjoy actively participating in it. That’s where I met Robbie Holmes, another USDSer. He’s a very charismatic proponent of the good work USDS has done and bought me a beer to chat about it when my last job was coming to a close.
I was moved by the impact that his work and others had on the American people. I had felt a similar sensation from my impact on my students at the code school, and this seemed like a natural extension — and escalation — of that feeling. I attended a roundtable with a few other folks and was inspired by stories from other folks working against an almost overwhelming tide of stagnation of technology. I felt like I could help shift that tide, if only a little.
What has been your biggest challenge?
We face push back in our jobs almost every day. Not that people don’t think that technology can be better in the federal government, but because they think that their long-held processes and beliefs couldn’t possibly be wrong. Helping government employees see a better way to do things is extremely satisfying, but it requires care, and persistence. We can’t be afraid to push, and sometimes to push hard for what we know will be a better future.
How does your work make an impact?
At the Defense Digital Service I help make the lives of service members better, and safer. Our team literally keeps people alive in some cases. I have a big hand in projects that could create positive, foundational change for other technology projects. One of those is code.mil, helping the DoD open source code. This opens doors for more secure code, and a more transparent government for the American people.
What do you want to do after USDS?
This is a question that nearly every USDS member gets asked on a regular basis starting around 6 months in. You may wonder why so early, and it’s because this is a difficult, draining job. There’s a saying around here: it’s the best worst job I’ve ever had. So it’s natural to think about what’s next. I’m approaching my one-year anniversary, and I’m not done just yet. There are some big projects I want to see through first. It’s really difficult to think about what’s next simply because I don’t have much time to. That said, I can clearly see myself continuing to engage with the local community, help others succeed, and promote good technology choices.
Luckily for us, the network and community you have here at USDS is second to none. I feel confident that I will have the support of a large group of people once I’m ready for my next challenge.
What will you miss most about USDS when you leave?
The community, without a doubt. It’s not just about the network I’m building post-USDS, it’s also about the support we all feel while here in the trenches. I am surrounded by extremely capable, dedicated people that I would trust to work on any project with me. Having worked at numerous digital agencies, large and small organizations, and both public and private companies I can honestly say that I have never trusted my coworkers more than I do here.
“I’ve been involved with so many things I am proud of, but probably the most meaningful contribution is making the civil service stronger.”
“I think that President Obama instilled in all of his staff the sense to do what is right, not always what is easy.”
“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.”
“Improving the aging technology that government and its services runs on was an extremely compelling goal.”
“I was inspired to join USDS because technology can do more than entertain and amaze us. Combined with good government, it can be a force for good in people’s lives.”
“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.”
“I am intrigued to see what will be able to engage me and feel as impactful as my time here!”
“I love that we prioritize delivering the most meaningful impact to communities that need it the most.”