Tips for Finding Ways into Public Sector Work
No decision is insignificant when creating a government service. Everything from strategy to procurement to implementation impacts each other, compounding into how the public understands and interacts with a government service. Working in any government context is one of the biggest opportunities to make a large, lasting impact felt by hundreds and thousands of people every day. As more of these services are modernized and made digital-first, improving things like operational overhead, there is more of a need for folks with experience and expertise in technology to help create high-quality services.
To help government teams staff up with more technologists from the private sector, organizations like the United States Digital Service, 18F and United States Digital Response, exist to help technologists engage in the public sector at the federal, state and local levels. But beyond being staffed to government teams through these programs, there are opportunities that exist for technologists every day — it’s just a matter of finding them.
Our team spoke with Bob Nogueira, Chief People Officer at the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology (OIT), to get tips on how technologists can find opportunities to work for the public sector. Bob left the private sector two years ago to work for the State of Colorado where he leads OIT’s Human Resources team. He and his team work with managers to create strategies that enable OIT employees to tap into their whole selves and experiences to bring meaningful change for all Coloradans. OIT is leading a remote future of work for most IT professionals, providing the opportunity for employees to work from virtually anywhere in Colorado. As the eighth largest state in the US by land area, there are lots of places OIT employees call their workplace.
“We’re in it to improve lives for all Coloradans. We are always trying to bring value and we always have to make something better than it was yesterday.”
Consider these novel strategies as you seek opportunities to work in public sector technology.
Tip #1: Follow your state agencies and local leadership to find opportunities — don’t just look at job boards.
“Job boards are a great way to get exposed to jobs and opportunities but it won’t get you exposed to work and people and what value you might be able to add. Whenever I speak with someone interested in working for the state, I encourage them to follow the Governor and big agencies on social media.”
Bob recommends not just looking at the traditional job boards for opportunities to work in the public sector, but to actually follow along with leaders in your area. For example, in Colorado, you can follow state agencies for updates on the work they are doing as well as be among the first to see important job postings directly from the agency. Not only will this help give you more context about the agency, it provides you with information to bring to your interview that helps to distinguish yourself amongst other candidates.
Tip #2: Go beyond just reading blogs/posts/interviews by connecting and learning from the interviewees directly.
Sites like StateScoop and GovLoop are great places to get connected with what is happening in public sector technology. These websites discuss best practices and provide case studies from government technology and technologists, but this isn’t as good as directly tapping into a peer network. Bob’s recommendation is to not only read these posts that highlight things happening in your state, but actually engage with the people who are being interviewed.
“In these articles, there are the names of people at the Governor’s Office of Information Technology that are still here. Follow their posts and then reach out to them on social media and ask about their experience.”
Most importantly, this networking can help you find opportunities that you may not be exposed to in a traditional job board because these folks can translate and navigate the specific language that may be used in a job posting.
Tip #3: Understand legislative and budgeting cycles to know when there may be an influx of opportunities for new hires.
Don’t let the fear of not being familiar with civics get in the way of pursuing a technology career in the government. As you enter the government workforce, you’ll have many opportunities to learn from people who have been around a legislative cycle or two. Bob says that having a deep knowledge of government isn’t necessary, but there are three things that help to give you an edge as you consider a transition to this space: 1) understanding how the different branches of government interact and affect each other; 2) understanding how government budgeting works; and 3) a deep desire to serve all Coloradans.
“Having an understanding of how the budget works is important. Our legislature doesn’t convene all year round. Other states do. While we are always working, we’re not always in session and this impacts how policy and budgets work in the state.”
More importantly, understanding these legislative and budget cycles can build context about when an agency or organization is looking to hire. Following, even at a high level, the agenda of your local legislative system will help to inform if there are new divisions spinning up, new committees being created, or other opportunities to infuse technological expertise into government work.
Tip #4: Don’t give up! This is an opportunity to make a real, direct impact on your community.
Any project or service you have a hand in creating in the government has an immense impact on hundreds and thousands of people in your area. Bob shared with us an example of how someone with an engineering background could find an opportunity with the state when dealing with an ecological emergency. As context, the State of Colorado recently dealt with an emergency at Glenwood Canyon when a mudslide damaged a large portion of a highly-trafficked roadway.
“[This was] a big deal for the local high-country economies, but also for the national economy. I-70 is a major economic pass through for major goods across the country.
Glenwood Canyon itself was an engineering marvel and repairing it was the same. Many agencies needed to collaborate and work together — Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS) and other agencies.
Let’s consider a few things — How did they get that drone footage? How are they mapping out when and where these events are going to happen? How are they going to predict what’s next? Who did that? This work required someone who can mix meteorology, technology and geology. If I were someone with an engineering background, I could connect my own experience to work we do here in the state.”
There are huge opportunities for technologists in a government team to solve real, everyday problems. Knitting solutions that bring together civil servants, the public and technology can help to improve the lives of all members of the community.
Working in public sector technology can feel different than working in the private sector. You may find yourself explaining what you do to people who haven’t been exposed to it or struggling to contextualize your tech work with the process of making legislative rules and policies. While there certainly are growing pains to transitioning to a career in government, there are no shortage of allies who want to put in the good work with you.
“I’ve never been more proud of the work or excited to do it. Everyone is here for the same reason. When you know we’re going to get through it together, that’s so meaningful.”
Quotes from this post are taken from a conversation with Bob Nogueira.
This article was written by Ploy Buraparate from guidance and candor from Bob Nogueira.