You’ll Never Be The Same Again
Mikey Dickerson, Administrator of the U.S. Digital Service, says farewell and reflects on the importance of building a tradition of public service in the tech industry.
By The U.S. Digital Service
Jan 17 2017
The United States Digital Service is a startup at The White House, using design and technology to deliver better services to the American people. http://www.usds.gov
When I first came out to Washington D.C., I had agreed to spend three days away from Google to join the team looking at HealthCare.gov. Three days became three weeks became three months, and not soon after, I traded in my Google badge and phone for a PIV card, a Blackberry, and a position with the Federal government. At the time, I had a lot of conversations that went something like this:
“So where are you going?” a friend would ask.
“Washington D.C., to work for the government.”
They’d laugh, then after an awkward silence, they’d reply “Oh, you’re serious? Working where?”
“A place that doesn’t exist yet; a startup at The White House. The President wants to rebuild and redesign the government’s most important digital services.”
From there, the awkward silence got even longer. People who had worked in the government themselves were the most skeptical. “That’s a cute idea, but it’s the Federal government. Do you actually think you’ll be able to get anything done?”
“Honestly. I don’t know. But if we don’t try, we never will.”
And away I went. People made bets about how long it would last.
From 6 to 200
After 893 days and 2 hours serving President Obama, my appointment as Administrator of the U.S. Digital Service ends on January 20th. I’ll be honest — this has been difficult. I, and so many others, have invested figurative blood, literal sweat, and too many literal tears into this work. The team tends to poke fun at my flat affect and often serious facial expression, which has earned me the nickname “Grumpy Cat.” But when I look back on my time here, I can’t help but pause for a moment and (almost) smile when I think about what we’ve accomplished.
The U.S. Digital Service started as a half a dozen people in an unheated basement in the White House complex, tasked to work on three projects: HealthCare.gov, modernizing immigration, and Veterans’ benefits. We knew we’d need a lot more people to meet our goals, still I wasn’t convinced we could recruit even ten who’d trade the comfort of the tech industry for the complexity of government technology. Fortunately, I was wrong.
Two years later, the team has grown from six people in a basement to 200 folks spread out across a dozen agencies, including Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans Affairs. Three projects became five, five became ten, and ten quickly turned into dozens. Recently, we published a rundown of our most important work to date, linked below. It’s humbling to see all of this in one spot.
You’ll never be the same again
Earlier in the year, a few of us came across an interview with Steve Jobs where he reflects on finding purpose in life. One part seemed particularly relevant: