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GCN : January and February 2017
tactics WORKFORCE BY AMANDA ZIADEH Code for America’s founder said change agents still have plenty of opportunities to make a difference at the federal, state and local levels Retaining and sustaining tech talent under Trump Organizations dedicated to civic technology that formed under former President Barack Obama, such as 18F and the U.S. Digital Service, have been mag- nets for technology talent. With the uncertainty surrounding the policies of the new Trump admin- istration, however, it is far from clear whether the federal government’s digital professionals will leave, stay or shift to working in state or local government. Jennifer Pahlka, founder and ex- ecutive director of Code for America, told GCN, “I think that a lot of them will [stay], not all of them.” Some will stay because they want the govern- ment to work well, regardless of who is in charge, she added. And although Pahlka helped launch USDS during her stint in the federal government, Code for America has always focused on technology that helps state and local agencies. She said change agents who want to leave Washington but continue that kind of work could find fantastic op- portunities at other levels of govern- ment. “Whether they’re coming out of 18F or USDS, or just coming into this space and wanting to contribute to the cause, cities and states every- where are a wonderful place to do this,” Pahlka said. State and local governments that want to recruit or retain talented technology professionals must under- stand that such people go where they see opportunity, Pahlka added. When she recruited for the Health- Care.gov rescue, for example, can- didates were focused less on pay or vacation time than on the chance to make a real difference. “When you’re recruiting mission- driven folks, that’s what leadership in government needs to communicate,” she said. Strategies includes welcom- ing change agents and creating an environment that will allow them to have an impact. “Right now, we’re at a time where I think a lot of people are just feeling a lack of visibility into what will happen from the top down,” she said. “That lack of visibility I think will resolve itself over time.” Pahlka has her own uncertainties about the new administration. She and former U.S. Deputy CTO Nicole Wong were recruited to work with Hillary Clinton’s transition team to assess each agency’s technology and innovation landscape. “That obviously didn’t happen,” Pahlka said, and though she thinks it was a good idea, she does not know where President Donald Trump’s team stands on those issues. “I have hope that the folks who are appointed to positions that can influence the di- rection of the federal government’s approach to digital understand the progress that’s been made in the last four years.” That progress includes the kind of user-centered, iterative and data- driven development that has led to re- forming how the government handles procurement, how people are hired and how the government interacts with users. And although not every project has been 100 percent successful, Pahlka said the point is to ensure that the progress continues. “I have very high hopes that the people will join and want to continue that [work] and will have new ideas to add,” she said. She argued that agencies should continue to invest in their employees FLICKR.COM/NACTO 30 GCN JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2017 • GCN.COM 0217gcn_030-031.indd 30 1/31/17 1:48 PM
October and November 2016