What’s your background and how did you end up at USDS?
I have 23 years of experience. I started out working in state (New York State Department of Social Services) and city government (the Human Resources Administration for the City of New York), from the help desk up to managing a network operations center. I moved from IT to development and into private industry working for Sony Music, Zagat Survey, Google, Johnson & Johnson, IDT Telecommunications, and Phase2 Technology. My roles spanned from individual contributor to manager and eventually director of engineering. Two years ago, I read a blog post about Obama’s Geeks and was hopeful that this was a group of folks that aligned with my values, and I can report that they are :).
Why was this an important factor to you joining USDS?
The blog post talked about the problems that were encountered when trying to assist with healthcare.gov. The way that this was described and tackled was very straightforward and practical. The issues weren’t overinflated and were tackled one by one — this situation matches the USDS value “Find the truth. Tell the truth.” We expect our people to be humble, not quiet, and challenge the status quo wherever data supports it.
It is something that I talk to USDS candidates about often. Not every problem we encounter is a super complicated engineering task, but solving the problem right in front of you.
Let’s talk about imposter syndrome. What is it and how have you dealt with it in tech?
For me, imposter syndrome is a person feeling like someone is going to believe that you aren’t qualified or don’t have the skills to do the job, basically a fraud. Also, maybe staying at a job that you should move on from because you are undercutting yourself in the application and interview process for new jobs. I try really hard to stay connected to local technology communities, through meetups and events. Through listening to podcasts I have been able to stay current in topics that allow me to talk about solutions and technologies. If you are person that learns through reading, listening, or watching, do what works best for you, so you can continue to grow in your field. Be a lifelong learner, because if you know the nomenclature and verbiage of a technology you can feel more confident in your interactions within your job or community.
What advice would you give someone who is dealing with imposter syndrome?
Try to learn one thing at a time. Don’t spread yourself thin by trying to learn multiple things at once. I have told folks on a project if you feel comfortable with all aspects (language, libraries, frameworks, etc.) then consider trying to use something new that you are interested in learning — be that a tool like IDE or text editor, a new library of framework, or applying a new paradigm.
How has your work at USDS made an impact?
The first thing I worked on was helping to launch a digitized version of the form that allows veterans to apply for healthcare benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs Form 10-10EZ. We were building a mobile-first responsive application that was replacing a hosted PDF that only worked in Internet Explorer 8 and below and Adobe Acrobat 7.5 and below. Less than 10 percent of veterans could submit the previous version of the 10-10EZ form. By making a modern, mobile-first, responsive online application we saw an increase of almost 10x the submissions within the first three months.
Over the last year I have been heavily focused on interviewing and assisting the talent and recruiting team. I am hopeful that I am impacting the future of USDS.
What do you want to do after USDS and what will you miss the most?
I want to continue to help folks after leaving USDS. I am intrigued to see what will be able to engage me and feel as impactful as my time here! I’ll miss the people that I work with. This is an amazing group of humans that are technically great and also emotionally engaged. USDS is a diverse group of folks who I am hopeful will continue to crisscross my life and career in my post-USDS life!
“The biggest challenge for me has been to face my own imposter syndrome.”
“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.”
“If you are thinking about totally disrupting your comfortable lifestyle and moving to Washington, D.C., for a family adventure like we did...”
“My friends here inspire me. When the work demands 110% from us, we lean on each other until we get “all the things” done.”
“Improving the aging technology that government and its services runs on was an extremely compelling goal.”
“Everyone I worked with at USDS brought talent, a can-do spirit and a belief that together we could make the country better.”
“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.”