Software Of the People, By the People, For the People

by alex_gaynor

22 days ago I became a founding member of the new Digital Service team at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. We're a group of developers, designers, and other folks who are passionate about using our technology skills to make a difference.

Our goal is to dramatically improve the ability of the VA to use technology to execute on its mission of serving veterans. More broadly, my hope is that our work will demonstrate that all of government is capable of delivering fantastic user-centric sites and services. We work closely with the rest of the VA's staff, with the United States Digital Service, with members of the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, and with 18F.

I joined because nowhere else is there as much of an opportunity to translate the work I do into a positive impact on people's lives, and at no other time in history has government been more receptive to contributions from folks like me. I joined because I was asked to serve my country, and the best reason I could come up with not to was, "it seems really hard", and that wasn't going to fly.

The Federal Government has seen many challenges leveraging technology, none higher profile than healthcare.gov. However, from that project's failures and subsequent rebirth came an awareness by the government of the ability of technologists with expertise in shipping to make a big difference. The VA, and the Federal Government in general, needs developers who know how to develop and operate production systems, it needs designers who know how to design for the for the customers needs above all else, it needs project managers who know how to prioritize conceptual integrity above checkboxes.

The work will be hard, the challenges great, and the obstacles many. But that is nothing more than evidence that we need to start immediately; without immediate attention these problems will only grow larger.

Working for the government was not something I'd ever given much thought to. But I've always aspired to be the type of developer who shows up with a pull request, not just a bug report. This is me sending a pull request.

The challenge of fully living up to President Lincoln's words, "to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan" and the work of enabling the government to use technology to best serve the American people cannot be met with merely our tacit support, they must be met with our commitment to contribute, to carry out the work ourselves, to stand up and say, "You want to dig a ditch? I've got a shovel." The Digital Service at the VA is hiring1, USDS is hiring, 18F is hiring. I hope you'll join us.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

[1]The VA has a monthly hiring cycle, so we only accept new resumes for part of the month. Check back in a week or two!

Hi, I'm Alex. I'm a software engineer at Mozilla, working on Firefox security. Before that I was a software engineer with the U.S. Digital Service. I'm an avid open source contributor and live in Washington, DC.