Joining The United States Digital Service

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This week marks my last as an employee at LivingSocial-slash-Groupon.

I joined the team back in September, 2015 with the goal of corraling front-end development efforts across the company’s sprawling engineering organization. Life often throws you curveballs and my time at LivingSocial-slash-Groupon provided ample opportunity for some serious batting practice (to stretch a thin sportsball metaphor). Perhaps I’ll write more soon reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned and the people I’ve come to know over the past year and a half and the lasting impression the experience left on me.

But! Today, I’m looking forward. I’m leaving the private sector to join The United States Digital Service (USDS).

Record scratch. Freeze frame.

Jason… you’re joining the Federal Government? Now?

Right? I agree. On the surface, this is a little crazy, but hear me out.

Irrespective of any opinions regarding November’s election (and believe me, I have opinions) and the events transpiring literally every day since (again, opinions), the fact remains that the American people deserve an effective and efficient government that meets their needs. Specific to my particular skill set, the American people deserve effective and efficient digital interactions with their government. Given the current state of government information technology, the work in this realm is plentiful.

With our country’s politics in what may be described charitably as a death spiral, I don’t begrudge anyone for leaving government or for not getting involved in the first place. I understand. Bigly.

For me, though, the choice is binary: I could stay in the private sector, lament the increasingly distressing state of affairs, and hope others would fix the problem or I could roll up my sleeves, run into a metaphorically burning building, and do my damnedest to make things better.

I’m choosing the latter.

Steve Jobs famously asked then-Pepsi-Cola president John Sculley:

Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?

Selling coupons for bikini waxes won’t change the world. Building the next disposable media creation app won’t change the world. “Disrupting” grocery shopping for wealthy urbanites won’t change the world.

Fixing a broken health care registration process for veterans will change the world. Streamlining student loan repayment will change the world. Bringing immigration application and refugee admissions systems online will change the world.

These are three examples of the kind of work done by the teams at USDS. In their short two-and-a-half year existence, they’ve begun to reshape how government approaches technology and design projects. USDS recruits technical talent from the private sector for term-limited tours of duty and seeks to foster a spirit of public service among technology professionals. You should give USDS’ mission statement a read. It’s solid stuff.

The Best and The Worst

At the beginning of our conversation, the first thing Chris Lynch said to me was, “This will be the best and worst job you’ll ever have.” He used more, um, colorful language than that, but you get the idea.

The work won’t be easy, I’ve been assured of that during every step of the interview process. Nor will the work be cutting edge, I’ve been told. The work will be meaningful. The work will fix things that are broken. The work might even change people’s opinions about their government.

It’s going to be an interesting—and rewarding—couple of years.