This post originally appeared as a thread on my Twitter account. I’ve reposted it here for posterity with additional context. This was originally a very short thread, but if you want to delve deeper into these topics, I highly recommend reading Cyd Harrell’s fantastic book, A Civic Technologist’s Practice Guide.
I see many of my former technology-colleagues now suddenly eager to return to government – or join for the first time – and I’m very excited to work with you all again! That being said, here are a few thoughts from someone who stuck around for the hard parts over the last 4 years.
1. “Move fast and break things” failed. As a result, we inherited a lot of fast-moving broken things. Sustainability is the most important principle in government tech today. “Move carefully and fix things.”
2. “Build with, not for” — @elle_mccann
(that one is still the most important and gets its own tweet)
(note) Laurenellen’s talk at CFA Summit in 2014 begins with “At the risk of creating a massive existential crisis…” and the following five minutes created one for me. It completely changed how I look at the world and approach The Work.
3. Technology is almost never the solution to the problem. You need a deep understanding of culture, policy, budget, acquisitions, etc. to be successful. We don’t need ANY more shiny new websites or hackathons. Your first year should be spent understanding the systems.
4. Fam, choose boring tech over shiny. Those mainframes and COBOL still work just fine after 50 years of service. Those React apps you’re writing are legacy before they launch, at a hundred times the cost, and no one can run them when you leave — making them abandonware.
5. Government doesn’t need disruption, or even innovation. Many of us who came in as “innovators” are now the career bureaucrats just keeping the place from burning down. Listen to our expertise and work with us.
6. People don’t want to hear this, but… this isn’t a job for tourists. Building relationships to cause change takes time. If people know you have one foot out the door, they’re not going to trust you. Think about what you’re willing to sacrifice before signing up.
That all being said… Welcome Home. I’m looking forward to collaborating with you all soon.