Photo of Neil Sharma
Pronouns: He/Him
Community of practice: Engineering
City of origin: Bay Area, CA
Previously at: various Silicon Valley startups
Tour status: Alum

Neil Sharma

What’s your background?

Prior to joining USDS as an engineer, I worked mostly as a generalist founder at my own early-stage, consumer-facing startups in Silicon Valley. Moonshots were thrilling, and the excitement made going broke and moving back home with the parents (twice) totally worth it. I’m grateful to have the good fortune of parents in the Bay Area who supported my formative years as an entrepreneur.

What inspired you to join USDS?

After years of struggling at startups, the excitement faded away. Most of my startups didn’t move the needle — they had users, and sometimes even made money, but were not mission critical to anyone’s lives. I wanted to feel like I was adding value, not just in a business sense but also at a personal level. I also wanted to work on something I could contribute my whole self to, not just my engineering skills. I didn’t know much about USDS when applying; there wasn’t a lot of content online showcasing the work, like there is today. An alumni friend described working in government as “making America better while managing a headache from face-palming every day.” I figured I had thick skin from failing at a ton of startups, and meaningfully helping people at government scale seemed like it could scratch my itches. Honestly, it was a leap of faith more than informed decision. I packed my things and moved to DC knowing no one in the city. Turns out it was a fantastic decision.

How does your work make an impact?

I’ve had two primary endeavors so far. The first was to address the 300K+ person backlog of asylum seekers who wait years before their cases are adjudicated. We first identified a major friction point, and then designed, built, launched, and iterated on a product that streamlines processing applicants while saving asylum officers thousands of hours. My most recent objective has been reforming how the government hires. Our team has broken policy barriers and introduced modern technology to make the process fairer to all applicants. We’ve overhauled the applicant experience and upgraded the evaluation process so hiring managers are much more confident with results. With continued momentum and iterations, our efforts can help bring in thousands of new, highly qualified, senior talent into federal government every year.

What will you miss most about USDS when you leave?

USDS has massively impactful work I can’t easily find elsewhere. But if this were the only compelling aspect of it, the struggles of introducing change in government would’ve burned me out a long time ago. Where USDS shines is, first and foremost, the people. Never have I worked with such empathetic, supportive, and mindful teammates. Teammates who genuinely care a lot about everything and will go well out of their way to help. Who celebrate small wins as much as the big ones. Who so often step into leadership roles and introduce the change they want to see in the world. Who instinctively shed light on problems to foster healthy, on-going discussions and improve culture. The people are what ultimately drives change, and I will miss them tremendously.

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