He does not seem like the type of guy that willingly puts up with government b.s. He gets it, and after seeing him speak I believe in him.
When their talk was finished they got a ~5 minute standing ovation and even a few stray tears.
I know it's cheesy but the government simply needs to catch up and I think they are finally ready to try.
I applaud the effort and hope to help out in some way.
The phrase carries strong connotations for a certain subset of people and it would be pretty tone deaf of us as a community to repurpose it to mean "writing instructions for computers the government owns."
We need to stop promoting an idea of martial valor over all other forms of work, and stop coddling those who demand that everyone grant their line of work more respect than everyone else.
While there are plenty of people who spend their deployments behind a computer, don't assume it is so black and white.
Source: I am a Marine grunt
It's definitely an appropriation but I'm not sure this appropriation means "writing instructions for computers the government owns." I think they are implying there is a kind of sacrifice taking place, perhaps putting your country before your own personal gain. Translated literally it might mean something like "writing instructions for computers the government owns for meager compensation when you could be making +$100k per year working in the wider tech industry." Some similarities here with the Peace Corp whom does use the language "tour of duty" to describe time served in the Peace Corp http://www.peacecorps.gov/media/forpress/news/453/
I'd say that's inarguably more important then rolling out prettier government web sites.
For those who have worked in both types of environment (those that promote making things better vs those that punish you for doing something wrong) it's all too familiar.
After having spent a little too long in one of the more negative environments I made the mistake of attributing blame after a slightly disastrous event (while working at a much healthier company). My boss, rightly, told me that any blame was totally unacceptable in their culture. That's a lesson I've taken with me and I'll never forget. A culture of punishing honest mistakes will get you nowhere.
Things are bad right now, but they're getting better. As long as the Internet remains an open and free place, society as a whole will continue to progress and grow at a faster and faster pace.
Is that you, Obama? What is this nonsense?
>Things are bad right now, but they're getting better.
Things - socially, politically and economically - are continuing to get worse for the average person.
What world are you living on?
Even anecdotes are better than this nonsense. Here's one for you: even the poorest people I know, those without regular shelter, have access to communication services that would've been prohibitively expensive a generation ago, allowing them to find assistance when "things" - lack of food and shelter, for instance - get really bad.
Before asking OP what world OP is living on, perhaps you should ask that of yourself before trolling others. This isn't reddit or Slashdot.
I would beg to differ that things getting worse. I would much rather live in a world where the Internet exists and information flows relatively freely than 50 years ago where information was controlled by a few world leaders. Living and work conditions sucked 100 years ago for many people. Things, on the whole, have gotten better.
Poverty and sickness rates have never been as low as they are today.
Sure, there's a lot of room for improvement but it's undeniable that over the past century, humanity as a whole has been getting a lot better year after year.
> What world are you living on?
This breaks the HN guidelines twice: it's uncivil and unsubstantive. You could make it a much better comment by taking the substantive sentence ("Things...") and following up with some concrete reasons.
Don't be so shrill.
> Things - socially, politically and economically - are continuing to get worse for the average person.
Things are actually improving socially and politically. Scandals are being brought to light and quashed to a point where even untouchable edifices of the US hegemony are feeling the heat. Anti-vaxxers are on the outs. Climate deniers are on the outs. We're seeing the error in imprisoning millions of men because of racism. Factories in China are under scrutiny and almost every nation has an eye on ecology and our impact on the world. Birth rates are slowing, people are calling for more liberal policies across the world.
Economically, the middle class is finally being addressed. Basic income is on the table. There's an understanding that social safety and education are incredibly important.
But there is a lot of entrenched bullshit. And old money is nervous and reactionary. It's going to take a long time, but I believe very strongly that if we have the Internet of today for the next ten to twenty years, the entire world is going to look far more progressive than it ever could have without the Internet.
One of the most interesting bits to me was something said by Todd Park, a former CTO of the US and still a White House advisor. I was, frankly, suspicious that Washington's culture could really accept a lot of the Agile and Lean notions that are commonplace in the high-tech world. But he pointed out, correctly, that waterfall projects are enormously risky. A big reason Lean Startup advocates place such a strong emphasis on frequent small releases is that it helps us reduce risk by finding and fixing problems early. He pointed out that if bureaucrats really want to play it safe, using agile, iterative approaches is exactly what they'll have to do.
I don't know enough about Washington to say if this really will work, but improving government efficiency through smart use of tech strikes me as exactly the kind of thing people from all parties can get behind. I'm excited to see how it turns out.
given my experience with thorough, to the letter, under supervision of no-expenses-spared-top-notch experts implementation of Agile/Lean/Scrum - 2 years non-stop across pretty much the whole company, only very-super-important-critical-projects got exception - the government would love it - a lot of planing, reporting, meetings and other crap boggling down everything with actual product development slowing down to the crawl as a result.
Btw, the original healthcare.gov - the one that failed and required that emergency super-team fixing - was developed using Scrum, and as result it had all the characteristics of a Scrum project, chief among them - bad, to the point of straight failure, integration between components.
In my experience there are two factors required for a successful project:
a) Developer autonomy sufficient to modify core design/implementation if necessary--and developers experienced and talented enough to recognize when this is necessary.
b) Developer ownership of the project. By that I mean minimal power difference between "stakeholders"/"business owners" and the developers actually building the product. You don't want developers to feel like consultants working on someone else's project because they won't care when bad decisions are made and they will naturally do the least amount of work possible to satisfy each Scrum ticket.
However, the large amount of bathwater doesn't mean there isn't a baby there. And the places I see doing best at making the necessary culture shift are the ones with a sense of mission. So I have hope.
And honestly, even if this merely means a transition away from pure Waterfall to Mini-Waterfall, I think that will be a step forward. In the commercial world, the rise of the Internet has made 3-year release cycles untenable for most software; people now just scoff. So if we can merely get governments to emulate business in the shift from titanic failures to medium-sized failures, as a citizen I think that's a win. But still, from what I've seen, I'm hoping for more here.
Applying generic systems analysis (where it doesn't matter whether it is protein building, network protocol flow or software engineering process) one can easily see that Scrum is a highly synchronous low-latency process (that is the "baby" that management loves) which comes at the cost of dramatically decreased bandwidth. In addition, changing a team's process inside, Scrum indirectly completely changes how the team interacts with up- and downstream teams/components - in particular on practice eliminating any chance for early integration and for any iterations of the integrations.
That became obvious to me during the first day at the first Scrum course, especially after i tried to ask those questions to the teaching Scrum expert from the consulting company and received blank face with some blabbing in response. Some time later, different company with different consultants - that first hand 2 year experience i described in the previous post - the Scrum drawbacks on practice happened to be even worse than i thought they may in theory. We actually have great time right now at our BigCo. as after the Scrum fiasco, and quietly dropping the Scrum company-wide as the result, the management still seems to be kind of "in shock", and they haven't brought up any new fad in the process improvement so far, so we're just doing typical old-fashioned per-feature waterfall, and it just works as usual - which is huge achievement compare to Scrum :)
I think that's especially true for dramatic company-wide, top-down Agile adoptions, which I have never heard of working. I think people doing that cannot possibly understand Agile philosophy, which promotes local control and continuous improvement of top-down control and giant leaps.
My positive experience is mostly with smaller shops, but I've definitely seen many places where companies have grown up releasing early and often and have no problem working in what I'd consider good Agile style. Wealthfront, Etsy, and Spotify are all explicitly and openly like that. But I think there are plenty of other places that aren't explicitly Agile but ended up that way as a natural evolution.
For example, when I visited YouTube to study their process, there were a great number of developers, designers, and product managers all working in relatively independent small teams. They'd release at least weekly but sometimes more often. There was no overarching plan; each team had particular goals to pursue, and coordinated with other teams as needed. They never used Agile jargon and didn't think of themselves as Agile, but I think they were acting in ways that exactly matched the spirit.
EDIT: changed this sentence: "Much was organic and some top-down mandated" to reflect what I think was mostly due to popular upswell, though there were key executive decisions. The O'Reilly network has a lot of influential folks in DC too.
Imagine politicians with a stake in the project's failure hearing that: they will go full Benghazi on it.
You don't want to be seen having failures in your project (even small, agile failures that are for the good)... but you don't care if the project succeeds.
If you can plan out a waterfall project that won't complete until you're "out of office", then there is no negative consequences for you... even if you KNOW it will fail once you're gone, that's the next guy's problem.
Sad, but true.
Back in 2004 or so, I heard of a major company that only updated their website once a year. Even then that was considered ridiculous. Consumer expectations have shifted massively; plenty of places now release every week or two.
I have hope that the government culture could shift similarly, so that software projects that don't deliver anything for long periods are seen as troubled no matter how many Powerpoint decks and GANTT charts they produce in the meantime.
And I think the way to change that culture is by having enough projects that deliver early and often, so that people say, "Well, those guys are shipping monthly. What's wrong with your team?" So instead of keeping people from being blame-y, we get them to be blame-y about long project cycles.
I think that's definitely happened a fair bit in industry, so there's some chance it will happen in government, too.
If it's either a failed public project, or spending millions of dollars (that can be spun as creating jobs), what do you think they're going to take?
The challenge that USDS will need to overcome is one of culture and regulation bureaucracy, not one of throwing a unicorn cavalry at various IT dragons. You go pure "change from within", you'll fail. You go pure newbie/private sector, you'll fail. You need to find fresh and innovative eyes and pair them up with existing Fed ITers that haven't yet been jaded into submission.
Like you, I'm excited to see how it turns out. They need to succeed. If they fail, it will be a long-term failure, and that will do no one any good.
The question is: Can he convince others in government that, as another post on the HN front page says right now, we should replace middle management with APIs?
 https://github.com/18F/API-All-the-X and http://18f.github.io/API-All-the-X/
 https://github.com/18f/?query=api etc, etc
But then I don't think that should be a goal. (Good) middle management is precisely what Washington needs more of.
 The author would be well advised reading Peopleware, and understanding that middle management is often (usually?) an exception handling layer that handles the boundary between systems.
There are lots of comments here around the idea of whether you would work for a government if you disagreed with their political views.
What I love about working on GDS projects is the potential to improve so many people's lives. People often don't have a choice when it comes to interacting with government - it's often a legal requirement, and there's only one way to do it.
So, even if sometimes I may disagree with aspects of policy, the reality is there is going to be a digital service based on it. And I can help a lot of people by being part of making it as simple as possible.
Relevant XKCD, imagine this with lawmakers: http://xkcd.com/1425/
Imagine what would happen to the country if, after Obama was elected, every single right-leaning person employed by the government up and left. Government services rely on continuity, particularly stuff like welfare and social security (in the US). Imagine if you had to completely retrain that workforce every four years.
healthcare.gov wouldn't have worked if the geeks hadn't fixed it and without that ObamaCare would look different. I doubt anyone would disagree with me saying that ObamaCare was the most politically divided program in years which means that ultimatively the geeks made policy on a very controversial issue. I think you are underestimating the kind of influence your work will have.
To take a current UK issue: without geeks there is no way the government will be able to implement snoopers charter. In this century the politicians can't do anything without some geek being involved - and we can't ignore that.
This is exactly what scientists who commit war-crimes would say. I am not accusing you of anything like that but that's the logical extreme.
However, that's not normally the case. There may be aspects I disagree with, and if you get to do research, you can often show problems and affect the direction of the project. But after all, I could be wrong. I've done enough research to know that :)
That said, the objections I'm reading here are centered around supporting a government that actively tortures political activists and captured enemies. I think the phrase "if you [disagree] with their political views" trivializes that position.
Unless you're designing some kind of torture software, I think you're massive reaching to make one apply to the other.
Nothing about doing better e.g. tax software, road planning, or similar is going to help the US Government torture detainees.
Realistically there are millions of US Government connected jobs, it is just unrealistic for everyone to boycott them because another part of a massive government did something ethically and morally wrong.
I suppose you could counter that the abhorrent practice of intentionally wasting resources to ensure that subsequent budgets don't shrink will tend to prevent the torturers from getting the additional funds you free up with your advanced tax or road planning software, but there remains a good chance you'd free up resources for something within the department that would cause someone to be worse off than they were before. The only winning move is not to play. (OK, that was an opinion on the gov't)
Of course, that implies that U.S. citizenship is already tainted---if you aren't actively protesting, working for the government in an unrelated area isn't any worse.
I'll believe this is actually what it claims it is when I see it and its staff persist through a change of political control in the White House. Until then, I'm more than a little skeptical.
So unless you've written a really solid contract with solid, quantifiable high-quality deliverables, you're out of luck.
Think of it as the difference between scrapping a legacy system and patching it up so that it can run a bit longer. If you can't get the budget to rebuild it from the ground up, you might be better of letting it lumber on until you can.
Edit: Here's a good example: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8988897
It might be different if these offices/initiatives were part of cabinet agencies with functions and authorities in various statutes, but it looks like most of them are executive initiatives.
Which is not to say that the next President (Republican or Democrat) wouldn't want digital tiger teams, but there is no guarantee that one would either. If you are interested in this primarily for the advertised flexibility to cut across cumbersome government rules, January 2017 should loom large in your thinking.
Anyone used it? I guess it's now been rolled into the main filing system.
In the US, we pay state and federal tax so there may be difference in what you can deduct from one another. For example I didn't deduct my Health Care premiums from Federal because I used the standard deduction. Because of this I was able to deduct the premiums from my State taxes.
This is why we can't just confirm the declaration, too many variables at play someone could use for a deduction.
The telephone thing sounds great too bad its probably too security conscious to allow those methods.
I just dont understand why do people use this excuse. No one is saying that you have to implement a new idea for all Americans the next day.
Start a pilot project with 1 or 10 million people. See if the idea works. If it works, implement it nationwide.
> too many variables at play someone could use for a deduction.
Going to the moon involves too many variables, are you saying that building an website to handle taxes automatically (or atleast which does most of your work) is more difficult than rocket science?
(I wouldn't know, actually; I've apparently never had a "normal job".)
Every 5 years, file a P21 to check you're not due any refunds.
If you're self-employed, it's a bloody nightmare.
People using tax avoidance schemes through itemization or 'loopholes' wouldn't simply use a standard pre-filled form 1040 either, or rather, they wouldn't stop at that. Same goes for corp returns, dividend and interest income, etc.
With U.S. employers already transmitting wage and withholding data to the federal government, there's simply no good excuse not to 'autofill' it and/or just make the reconciliation & acknowledgement of those values easier other than an entire industry is vested in it being a complicated process most people would rather pay them (or use their products and services) to take care of.
Edit: I'm rather unclear what is objectionable here.
From what I hear, there were some bugs/loopholes built into the original system. For the new Java translation, the effects of the bugs have to be programmed in because of legislation and regulation rules. In other words, the new Java code needs to behave exactly the same as the original Assembly code. Not the easiest task...
You end up being 26 with a great education and a solid work experience under your belt. Seems like a win-win!
Hell, if they did that, I'd probably serve after my time in the Guard is up.
For example, I'm in the SF brigade and work on the BallotAPI project.
Wait, what? Is this like a yearly state park pass? Or is this paid every time you want to go take a walk in the woods?
You can see what a dayhike permit application looks like at the very bottom of this page: http://www.sgwa.org/permit.htm. Overnight (camping) permits are separate.
If you get a hiking permit, you are probably carrying a tent. The permits would allow the park management to limit and track the number of people out in the park wilderness areas at any given time, and prevent overuse or overly inconsiderate visitors. The permit application process may also discourage casual or inexperienced campers, who may have insufficient skill to explore backcountry trails without injury--including bear-related injuries.
There's been lots of interest in GDS from the US over the years, people over there saying "why haven't we copied it yet?". As far as I can tell the US Digital Service and 18F are that copying in a good way - taking lots of the lessons from GDS and applying to the US situation.
As an example of the kind of thing, see the UK's Service Design Manual https://www.gov.uk/service-manual - there are sections for developers, designers and so on.
So basically, if you're good at tech, and want better Government websites (who doesn't!), go help them :)
I now live in the Bay Area and work for 18F. GDS has been hugely inspirational for us, and we talk to them fairly often. Personally, it's their model of focusing on user needs, using continual user research to drive design and implementation that speaks loudest to me. Far too much public-facing government IT has been driven by department needs rather than user needs. If you talk to UK citizens about GOV.UK, they mostly seem pleasantly surprised by how well it Just Works.
GDS is very good, but GDS faces some challenges. Introspection takes humility.
Right now, the complexity of regulations and procedures is kept in check by the inability for bureaucrats to manually execute them. Full automation might not lead to a simplification of how people interact with the government; it might just result in the ability to add even more regulation, beyond normal human capabilities.
We have a world where bureaucratic complexity means few people can navigate it, but we might just be growing a world where no one can navigate it without paying a lot of money to established software companies to do it for them.
Automation is good, but we shouldn't let it hide the need to simplify.
The 18F Github contains a lot of interesting work, with reliance on contemporary frameworks and practices (Jekyll seems to be their choice for microsites) https://github.com/18f
I loved 18F's work with overhauling the Federal Register site (https://www.federalregister.gov/)...and even if you think the federal government's data efforts are paltry...then you haven't seen what existed before 2009...which is pretty much nothing. The wide array of data and information that has been machine-readable and public accessible via the Internet is pretty astonishing, and while I doubt that President Obama has made it a point to keep tabs on his IT, whoever has been whispering in his ear has been very effective.
Edit: a cool project I noticed on 18F's github: https://github.com/18f/mirage ...a Django/PostgreSQL project to assist procurement officers in surveying the market for vendors...another 18F repo contains the Chef recipe for its deployment.
The code for federalregister.gov can be found here: https://github.com/usnationalarchives/fr2
(Disclosure: I work for 18F.)
Here is an article from the launch of the site: http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2010/07/26/meet-the-new-f...
I think of 18F and USDS in part as pieces of an effort to make this kind of result less of an anomaly, and the kind of thing you generally expect your government to do. Cause after all, why shouldn't you?
1) Is an outfit like the U.S. Digital Service considering people who don't have undergraduate degrees, but have a consistent track record or are a part of established teams?
2) Is the salary roughly comparable with what's available in the private sector? I understand that the government might pay less in return for some of the perks of government work, but how close are they coming these days?
1) Yes, especially if you've worked for some big name, non-government tech companies.
2) Absolutely not. The salary is MISERABLE compared to what you could get in the private sector. That's the real problem.
The government desperately needs world class software engineers, but the private sector can effectively buy them all away. Who would try and fix the busted old immigration system when Facebook or Google will pay you literally four times more money to write way more fun stuff with modern technology, world class perks, and job security that doesn't depend on the next election cycle.
Joining these guys is a sacrifice. It's a service to the country. It's work that literally changes and even saves lives, but it's miserable, boring work, with little or no personal reward.
> 18F is working with a number of different federal departments. One of the biggest projects it has taken on is designing the website for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. That's the agency that processes applications from people hoping to become citizens and those covered under the president's executive actions who hope to obtain work permits. Godbout says the concept for the USCIS website is to make a virtual welcoming statement.
> He thinks of it as an "online Statue of Liberty. This idea of how do we present ourselves to people coming to America. Our digital process should be that beautiful, too."
That all depends. Many comp sci students are brainwashed to think that if a salary isn't at least 100k then it's not worth their time.
The fact is that it depends on location and cost of living.
For example - if you get hired to work for Google in their HQ in CA then you are guaranteed to get at least 100k salary. However, 90% of that will go towards food/rent (you will most likely rent as houses cost up in the millions...) - which making $60k in a smaller suburb area (where housing is in the affordable $50-$200k range) would arguably be the same net income as if you were working at Google.
I will say that you will earn more in the private sector - but I wouldn't use miserable to describe government salaries (more like underpaid). When I worked for the man it was defiantly an interesting experience but it was a very relaxed environment/startupy feeling.
In my suburban area - I could get a mortgage for a $100k house with at least 2br for about $500/month.
Of course people at Google probably don't get paid exactly $100k but keeping in mind a good sized chunk of that is just going toward living there.
 - http://www.calculator.net/take-home-pay-calculator.html?cann...
 - http://www.zillow.com/homes/for_rent/Redwood-City-CA/house,c...
To re-emphasize, 1k/month in lower rent is worth 15-18k of salary.
I have friends paying more than $2k/month more than me, which is around a negative 40k raise (I live in San Francisco, but share).
It's very easy for humans to misinterpret recurring costs.
Assuming $2k/month is $40k - that is almost half of $100k. So almost half your salary is going towards just rent.
Let's say you made $50k in a suburb area - using your numbers you would only pay $10k/year for a mortgage ($500/month) - with only $20k difference in salary.
$100k in CA ~ $60k
$50k in suburbs ~ $40k
Realistically you would probably make $60-$70k in suburb areas which, according to your numbers, would make the same if not more AND own a house.
Of course this is ignoring other factors like food, utilities, bills and taxes.
Miserable, boring work is all in the eye of the beholder - there is a lot of work that many here on HN do that some others would consider boring, even in the startup world. Even companies such as Facebook or Google also have boring work.
Re #2: Unless you are a contractor. I was shocked to learn how much the about-to-retire ~20-30 year guys were making compared to my mid/senior level long-term contractor position was paying.
I'm all for cutting out the middleman in that case, but I think the government needs to determine the price point at which they actually get the talent they need.
While the ATF didn't like my company, they liked a few of the people, and tried to get us on a government employees, either because we were good, or because they thought it would ease the transition.
Some of the higher-ups approached me, asked for my resume, and then tailored a job posting from my resume so that they could hire me to keep doing the job I'd been doing for years.
After applying though, I was unable to make it past the first level of H.R., who decided that I was unqualified for the job... possibly due to lack of a degree, though no degree was required by the posting, again, as it had been created from my resume.
The higher-up attempted to work it through, but I gave up before they did and took another position. I told them that if they got it through, to call me, and I'd be happy to consider it, and received a call a full 18 months later, at which point I'd moved on in both body and spirit.
To your point 2, again, I'd be shocked if they were comparable. Private contracting pays generously, but government employees are pay-banded in a rather rigid system. One can eventually make established-startup wages, but rarely without direct reports, as the pay bands demand it.
As well, with sequestration and a less and less elastic federal budget, the government benefits are rapidly dwindling. I live and work in the DC area, and job-hopping is still the preferred way to get a raise, though of course government jobs have the strong benefit of being nearly impossible to be fired from.
Pay freezes, cut conference budgets and crappy equipment have been the norm for the past decade or so, and with continuing resolution, even unpaid furloughs have become more and more common.
Again, I don't have any particular insight to the US Digital Service, but a LOT of experience with government work and contracting, and it's definitely not the panacea it once was, for better or worse.
That seems to rule out the major reason to work for the government...
Most engineering types I've met in the gov't have been in the 10-14 range, depending on seniority. 15's are usually dept heads or the like.
2) The max was 155k, but I couldn't make the finances work to relocate from SF with my family... and 155k wasn't enough to support our family comfortably in DC (even living in northern VA).
Anyone seriously considering this should also look at living in Baltimore and taking the commuter train into DC cost of living is much lower.
Protip: Contractor or FTE, make sure you specifically ask HR whether or not there will be an additional screening, and whether or not it is a 'public-trust' position and what level that would be following your hiring.
I was pretty miffed when 'they' told me after the fact that my position required an additional background check and that my continued employment would be predicated on the outcome.
A valid prescription (the little white pads with a doctors signature, not a pot club membership card) for medical marijuana protects you from criminal prosecution, but not from employer drug testing programs. Executive Order 12564, signed in 1986, explicitly makes the federal government a zero tolerance drug free workplace.
For a basic public trust it was just a credit, background and drug test (the same treatment you would get at any employer who didn't trust their employees).
Think twice before you provide material aid to the enemy.
PSA: I know it's not easy to tell from the outside, or from a website, but this is the real deal. Things are starting to change; by government standards, at ludicrous speed. The Healthcare.gov crisis really started a useful fire.
Todd Park, Mikey Dickerson, and the team he's building at USDS and the people he's placing into new "digital services" teams at other agencies like the VA-- if you meet them you'll quickly find out why they were superstars at their tech companies.
One important thing to understand is: yes, things really can be vastly improved IRL, not just in theory. It's not that government IT services ("IT") suck because the people responsible for it don't care. They're just in a completely different world, expectations and otherwise, and don't know how much better it could be.
E.g., they don't know there exists a hosting option that is more secure, more reliable, and less risky (and costs 90%/$90M less per year). Or that there exist software people who can build a far better user experience (#1: the worst UX is downtime, #2: product lead needs a) exist, and b) fight for the user on every decision), while still meeting all business requirements (for 80%/$20M less per year).
Some people do know, but they can't do it themselves , and they also don't have access to the right people to do it for them; their practical options are Lockheed Martin's "small-business" subsidiary, or ACRONYM's federal IT division.
USDS and 18F are fixing this, and much more. They need your help. I'm not sure what's public, but the progress is incredible. It's still going to take a long time. Most of all it's going to take more software engineers, designers, PMs, etc. The tech gap between Silicon Valley and DC is unbelievable until you've experienced it. Go east! (Or west )
It's definitely frustrating to work for/with the government (not sure how it compares to other institutions that provide many real-world services to a diverse 300+ million population), but if you're put in a position where you can actually change things, the impact is enormous. And now you can do that as a software engineer/technologist with no existing clue about government, because USDS/18F has leverage and the ability to place you where you can make that impact. 
The federal government deeply impacts all of our lives  and whether you think it should do more or less, there's no reason for what exists to be so incredibly inefficient and customer-unfriendly, especially when there's a huge pool of tech people with the skills needed to fix it, and now, a pipeline that can get them (you!) to the right place. Please apply!
(There's also small teams of engineers  on the inside tackling this problem, if you prefer that (less direct, but avoids gov. pay being capped at ~$150k or so and the strict background checks.) Contact me if you want more details.)
 They're also too busy trying to keep their heads above water in a bureaucratic system that seems to function only because many of the people in it work so hard, but I digress.
 AFAIK, USDS is based in DC (and I think has positions in Boston), 18F is mostly in SF (Civic Center) and DC, with a few remote people around the US.
 Imagine if you could direct and organize a team of people to rescue expanded healthcare coverage in the US (oops, Mikey did that already)
Imagine if you could help 22 million veterans get the care they deserve on time, instead of hundreds of days late
Imagine if you could help "fix" the IRS with auto-prepped tax returns (definitely seems like the hardest one on this list-- but it's also one that everyone wants to see happen. And yes it's a policy problem, but it's also a technical problem-- imagine policymakers having to trust the system that resulted in the original healthcare.gov. And informed engineering opinions have much more weight than you'd imagine.)
 Yes I know there's a whole world outside of the US, especially on the Internet :)
 "startups" and "small businesses" both have connotations on HN that I'm trying to avoid...
Actually, its mostly hard politically, because not everyone wants to see it happen. Particularly, tax preparation firms and tax software sellers want tax returns to be difficult so that their business stays in demand, and lobby heavily against government pre-preparing returns, and the political right wants the personal tax process to be as painful as possible so that they can leverage anger at that process to get behind tax cutting moves.
We can create that world.
When I first jumped into the world of healthcare.gov last year it was a crazy experience, but over the last year I've come to believe that anything is possible, which is why I'm still working to creating software that radically improves how government serves people.
However, government is indeed a different world. One of my friends complains how he has to file a request in order to get permission to do anything (he is a contractor for the Department of Energy) - this is normal based on all I have heard from my ~4 years in the area. I heard in another organization, they are forced into short product cycles by the requests of representatives and senators for investigations. One forward thinking VP of Engineering came into a different organization and shored up a lot of the tech & brought a modern stack to the organization, making all of the developers very happy, but was ultimately sacked (I forget the exact reason told to me, but I remember it not reflecting well on the federal government).
Also, when a consumer of software created by government contractors finds a critical bug that causes a non-functional app and reports exactly what is failing (important scripts not loading), good luck getting the contractor to fix it - I've seen it take 10 months to get an acknowledgement of the problem, which affected the entire Marine Corps in not being able to satisfy a required class for that duration since it was required to complete it online.
The federal government needs to change how it runs things - I'm hoping that the USDS can make waves, but having been in the federal government world myself, I don't want to touch that beast without much better compensation & work environment.
I am completely supportive of any effort to cut through the BS and make the government more transparent and accessible. So easy-to-use portals, apps for accessing benefits, publish-subscribe services to find opportunities? Dang, there's a lot of cool stuff folks could do. Great idea. Let's go do it.
I am completely concerned about the idea of both automating enforcement and the collection/cross-indexing of data. I have a choice whether or not I let Facebook rape my privacy and anonymity online. I do not have a choice about what I report to the IRS. I'm extremely unhappy with the Facebook situation, and the government is a completely different animal.
Laws and regulations -- centuries of them by now -- were made to be enforced by humans, not computers. That's why we have so many of them and they overlap so much. Anything that takes us closer to automatically fining me when I drive 5 mph over the speed limit, schedules an audit if I make a math mistake on my taxes, or tells me what I can do or not do based on data processing that was impossible ten years ago? Screw that. I want no part of it. In fact, I would make a strong case that such activity is antithetical to a free and just society.
I'm also concerned over the difference between a PR move and something tangible. Show me the next idiot in the White House of a different party that's doing this, and I'll be much happier. Otherwise, not only do I have the reservations that I currently have, I've now added a new one: that all of this automation and assistance is only happening by supporters of one political party. Not good.
Don't get me wrong: I like the idea. I want to see some clear ethical guidelines and permanence across political parties before I could support this, however. Right now it looks like a bunch of political BS.
BUT... I was told three times during the interview that teleworking would be o.k. and that I might have to travel about once a month or so.
Source/disclaimer: I'm a UX designer with the CFPB who just started said fellowship, who lives and works remotely from Chicago.
Time to dream big.
I know that during the Healthcare.gov debacle, many people with software experience legitimately wanted to help. We look around at our communities, cities and states and see problems that could be fixed and software that's dying to use common sense modern best practices. But government bureaucracy is an impermeable wall, sometimes for the right reasons but often due to turf protection, intransigence and lack of funding. I would be happy to volunteer my time and experience, to work collaboratively with others and to work within strict standards and specifications in order to improve the quality of government technology for everyone. But the information about how to do so is hard to find and the process isn't very encouraging. I understand that this is a bit off topic, but when I hear "US Digital Service" I think "Peace Corps" for technology.
From wikipedia: "The stated mission of the Peace Corps includes providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States to understand American culture, and helping Americans to understand the cultures of other countries."
WTF aren't we doing this for technology? Provide assistance, help the government to understand tech culture and help tech people understand government culture. If we train volunteers then we don't need to give high priority projects like Healthcare.gov to the contracting firm with the lowest bid and the snazziest powerpoint presentation. Government agencies would have their pick of people who'd proven their technical skills and reliability on projects at the local, state and federal levels. Citizen programmers could feel like they were making a difference for their country, even just a small one, which is something you can't put a price on. Government at all levels would reap huge benefits and improve services for a fraction of the cost, which would increase the general satisfaction of millions of non-technically inclined citizens.
The obvious problem with volunteer labor is that it's hard to hold someone accountable if things go wrong, and the speed and quality of ongoing maintenance and support can vary. But my thought is, the current system isn't exactly working out great either. We have catastrophic disasters at the national level and outdated and incomplete software at the local level. There are millions of people who could help, and working together they can do more good than harm. The greatest asset of the United States has always been the ingenuity and dedication of its human resources. If technology isn't the greatest opportunity and threat of the 21st century then I don't know what is, and it seems like a good time to marshall those resources to make the most of it.
It's frustrating that the national face of US technology for so many years now is the NSA and related intelligence agencies.
It would be very, very cool if something like the US Digital Service were externally philanthropic, showing the States is more than what sells newspapers.
"Are you eligible for veteran preference?
"Are you a current or former federal employee?"
Are these civil service positions?
You can work on projects that have absolutely nothing to do with the human rights violations via technology. The US federal government is _huge_ and, in some of its functions, does real, measurable good.
Or are you arguing that any software that has ever required a patch is horribly insecure?
The tech industry is great. At a consumer tech company you get to work on products that people love and are important to their lives. Working for a social service agency can also be great. You get to work on projects that help people that may have a lot of disadvantages.
Here's a story: I had a small mix up in my taxes that caused the government to think I owed them over $10,000. I called the IRS over and over again and was unable to ever get to speak to anyone. It literally took 5 phone calls to figure out how to get into a queue, and then it had a two hour wait, and it's only open 9-5 so it could only be done during the work day. I'm lucky: I have enough money that I just hired an accountant to tell me what to do and the result was that the government ended up giving me back over $1000. Alternatively if I hadn't responded within 90 days I would've forfeited my right to appeal it at all. For so many people they need to take an entire day off of work just to wait in line, either on phone or in person, just to figure out what the issue is. Hopefully they can fix it on the same day and it doesn't end up costing them another day off which can put their job at risk. There is so much mind boggling inefficiency and it really ends up hurting the poorest people the most. So don't feel like you have to be some kind of NSA supporting, jingoistic jerk to work for the government. There's important, non-politically-controversial stuff to be done there that can have a big positive impact on peoples' lives.
I'm not going to get sucked into a debate about which is worse, but I'll give you my perspective on working with federal gov't IT. Yes, policy sucks, thats not going to change any time soon but it is moving towards something halfway decent. There are plenty of skilled, intelligent and motivated IT professionals who you would actually be working for. You don't do the bidding of every politician out there, but you do follow directives from offices higher up such as the white house. Btw, the respect these people proffer to devs is immense because they know you could have worked anywhere else and make more money but you decided to work for a cause they believe in as well.
So please be considerate when you make these sweeping assumptions about the govt.
At best they could be as clueless as you and believe in "the cause", at worst they see how it is in reality and they see you as a sucker working for less than you deserve.
"Be the change you want to see in the world" and all that jazz. Gives me something to do until Watsi or someone like them needs an ops/infrastructure guy.
"You can do a hell of a lot more damage in the system than out of it."
- "Stevo", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oi2y9-Mxq-0
But seriously, government is what we make of it. We can sit here as sheep and accept the way that we're governed or we can take the leap and try to change it by joining it.
I can't promise that it will ever get better if you sign up to help but I can promise that it won't if you don't.
See also: http://codev2.cc
Granted, he was talking about how the private sector can fill in where government doesn't go. Yet even on the inside there are choices to be made and influence to be exerted.
If you care about policy, you put in the time, and you know what you're talking about -- you'll make your mark.
But 18F convinced me that they have the key to change that - completely with regard to their own work, and then with a wider ripple effect. That's something I couldn't pass up; I turned down a dream job in the private sector for 18F. Six months later, I'm more convinced and excited than ever.
It's important that 18F is a brand-new organization with great autonomy. This is not an effort to make an existing Federal agency "get" open/agile. That would be noble but very difficult. Rather, 18F is built from the ground up entirely of people with real devotion to and real experience in the principles. That especially includes the people at the top (to the extent we even have a top, it's really quite flat in here). And 18F overall has the leverage to do our work our way, because many other groups within the government believe that we can and will deliver (and are delivering) effectively... there's more work lined up for us than we can possibly fulfill (even if you all DO join us). We can say "no" when we're asked to work with conditions that would change us into what we're trying to fix.
All that said, we are a bunch of idealists, too. Has our optimism run away with us? Well, we'll certainly deliver excellent product. Time will tell how far the ripple effect will go.
What industry is that? Because in the tech industry I work in, the clueless politicians you speak of are replaced by clueless business-people who are equally obsessed with playing politics. Sure, there are a few "enlightened" companies that empower their technical staff, but those are a small minority.
If you've worked for a large, bureaucratic private-sector organization (like Intel), then you'll have a pretty good sense of what you're in for.
Remember: every committee, every rule, every baffling thing that seems to make no sense is there for a reason (even a picayune, trivial, bad reason)--that's life in an organization that's had 10,000 hands in the cookie dough before you came along.
The difference is that public-sector work is something that conceivably we all have a stake in and can benefit from, while the beneficiaries of private sector work at any given company are distinctly more narrow in scope.
I mean, hopefully the program is really effective and creates a very concrete high-level goal and lets the tech creators go wild and do their thing, but I really do imagine it being bogged down by nonsense.
Also, long ago I did a contract for a state government. There was definitely some nonsense. But honestly, I was surprised how many sincere public servants there were. Sure, there were people who seemed useless, and there were definitely perverse incentives at times. But our project managed to get something useful and exciting done (on time and within budget, even) mainly because there were people at all levels of the government who really believed in doing good things for the state and its citizens. It was a very positive experience, and I can imagine something similar happening here.
Everyone is glued to their phones so much they don't have the mental bandwidth to even think about where the country is going. This would make the problem a lot more approachable if successful.
Not sure you actually want to put that on record with your own picture there. Knowing what a massive mess the whole thing is.
I think the guy that lead them is now the director of the US Digital Services too: http://www.wired.com/2014/08/the-white-house-dickerson/
I got to that link from this working site: http://healthbenefitexchange.ny.gov/ which I got to from Healthcare.gov
Edited to add: healthcare.gov, unsurprisingly, is a fair bit nicer than the NY site. I live in NY and was looking at the individual marketplace out of curiosity, and I've (somewhat) read up on how US health insurance works, and I got a bit lost at the website. Healthcare.gov's UI explains a the Obamacare-specific parts (such as the "metal levels") right when you log in, and also lets you filter/sort by monthly cost (premium), which for some reason NY's doesn't let you do.