Why am I here? As you may expect, the answer to that can range from the practical to the aspirational and the personal to the professional. Let’s focus on the practical and professional.
I spent the last three years implementing a federal program in the tech sector. I helped code schools get approved for the GI Bill, creating pathways for veterans to get into tech. It is not an easy program to navigate and has a tremendous impact. 1 million veterans receive educational benefits from the VA totaling about $13 billion a year.
The implementation of this federal program varies by state – approval processes and timelines vary widely. Across all states, it is a paper-based process that struggles to capture and use data. State regulators do their best, but they are understaffed and the regulations are not exactly easy reading. The work is further limited by the VA’s legacy IT and software. Code schools are an odd fit, as the system is structured for traditional higher education. Yet code schools, veterans and the GI Bill are a great model for modern workforce development. The system would be amazing if it were re-imagined with a digital mindset. The lessons learned could improve higher education and provide a blueprint for career transition for everyone.
Working on this in Seattle and talking to code schools across the country, I would often hit barriers (usually - you can’t do anything, it’s federal law). I felt a growing pull to DC to understand the limits and opportunities of our federal system. We often get stuck in the negativity and shortfalls of government – it feels impossible, irrelevant and maddening. Technology is in a similar spot right now – we’re awash in data breaches, cyber threats, AI (killer robots!) and non-stop streams of (dis)information.
But there is something magical about government and technology too, and both impact every single one of us. Government is our social compact to pool resources and address issues as a group. I can’t create the interstate highway system, but we can. Technology is (or can be) a tool for transparency, efficiency and a....force multiplier. Sadly, that’s not how it’s used now, but we can change that.
TechCongress offers an amazing opportunity to work in civic tech and move the needle – a ragtag group of technologists embedded in Congress to help inform tech policy and impart a digital mindset. In return, we get to see the inner workings of the first branch of government and contribute to the greater good. Whether we stay in DC and public service or return to the private sector, we’ll be better for it and hopefully have an impact.