An open letter to tech workers about careers in public service
Dear Tech Workers,
Careers are defined by moments.
Sometimes, these moments are meticulously planned out, and carefully strategized — a culmination of years of effort. A dream job, a long-awaited promotion or the successful completion of a noteworthy project. These moments recharge our professional batteries and propel us forward in our careers. Often, they also inspire us to achieve more.
For me (Camille), accepting an appointment to be part of the team starting a cyber policy office at the United States Department of Homeland Security changed my career trajectory. My understanding of how my career could evolve and the contributions I could make in and through cyber changed when I realized the benefits of a career that allowed me to move between sectors. I was able to support the drafting of Presidential Policy Directive-41 that outlines how the federal government organizes itself during a significant cyber incident.
I was then able to take that understanding and build out a federated security program at a large tech company, where I helped lead Log4j shell response efforts. Each sector provides a unique experience that, when combined, enhances your personal professional toolkit.
The federal civilian service has an opportunity that would greatly benefit from the expertise of talented technologists like yourself.
Other moments are unexpected. They catch us off-guard and force us to rethink everything. Maybe they even cause us to rechart our future.
For me (Thomas) — I graduated in 2000 during massive layoffs in Silicon Valley. I was laid off from my first job within three months. Although I was able to get another job and survive multiple rounds of layoffs, the instability made me rethink what was important to me. Service was always a part of my life, and I searched for opportunities to apply my tech skills to make a difference. It was the United States Peace Corps’ mission of world peace and friendship and its intention to promote mutual understanding between Americans and foreign peoples that drew me to apply as a volunteer for the agency.
During my two-year tenure as an Information and Communications Technology volunteer in the Philippines, I applied my tech skills to projects including the integration of technology into classrooms, developing an apprentice program for youth interested in computer repairs and developing a student information system for local teachers. The ability to foster innovation in a new environment and context changed the course of my career.
Despite record low unemployment five months into this new year, more than 170,000 workers at United States-based tech companies have been laid off – and suddenly face a unique, unscripted moment. In 2022, more than 140,000 tech workers were shown the door. This is a lot of highly skilled tech talent that is poised to take steps in new directions.
As senior leaders within our respective government organizations who have each faced similar unscripted, unanticipated moments; we invite you to view this inflection point in history as your chance to dive into government service. The federal government has a unique role in cybersecurity and IT, which creates distinctive career opportunities for people with your technology skill set.
We recognize that government work can have a reputation for being too bureaucratic. Additionally, budget cycles, set hiring authorities and traditional organizational structures sometimes make it difficult to quickly hire and onboard talent. But things are changing.
We are working hard to overcome these challenges and increase opportunities for technologists to join the federal workforce. The federal government has already taken many steps to capitalize upon this moment and ease the challenges associated with swift hiring into the public sector. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the lead United States government office overseeing the federal civilian service, has championed careers in federal IT for those impacted by recent layoffs. OPM has hosted industry-specific job fairs, issued new pay guidance to agencies to leverage funding from previous legislation and streamlined the process for applicants to find opportunities within government service — including working remotely.
If you’re not ready to make a permanent switch to a federal career, many short-term, high-impact, public-sector opportunities have emerged that allow for specialized and highly skilled digital talent to plug into existing avenues. For example, at the Peace Corps, we have Peace Corps Response, which recruits professionals with diverse skills who know how to hit the ground running in three-to-12-month volunteer assignments. In addition, we have launched the Virtual Service Pilot, an expanded service opportunity for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to donate their time as private citizens by engaging virtually with host country counterparts on projects.
The government cybersecurity landscape is equally in need of talent like yours. Recent estimates cite that demand for public-sector cybersecurity employees grew 25% through 2022, with more than 45,708 new job postings. This continued need for cyber talent ranges from cybersecurity engineers and network security architects to cybersecurity analysts and policymakers.
The Office of the National Cyber Director was tasked in the recently released National Cybersecurity Strategy to craft a cyber workforce and education strategy that will, among other things, develop concrete mechanisms through which a more diverse group of individuals with various education backgrounds and professional experiences can more easily find their fit within government service.
We have helped to champion interagency initiatives, such as techtogov.org, to serve as a resource for technologists transitioning into government service. This includes helping ease the transition of workers from the Big Tech culture to federal IT, organizing job fairs and standing up actionable hiring resources on the techtogov.org website.
As you survey the job landscape and think about your next steps, we strongly encourage you to consider federal service. From improved incentives to streamlined hiring processes, serving the American people with the United States government has never been easier or more fruitful. For those still unsure, short-term opportunities like those presented at the Peace Corps allow for fixed-period stops while Big Tech looks to reposition itself.
We both are incredibly confident that the federal civilian service has an opportunity that would greatly benefit from the expertise of talented technologists like yourself. We are excited for you to embark on your own journey to find that perfect fit, and we look forward to serving alongside you.
For jobseekers looking for tech opportunities within the federal government, visit usajobs.gov and techtogov.org for more information.
An open letter to tech workers about careers in public service by Walter Thompson originally published on TechCrunch