My tour of service with the Colorado Digital Service

By greggles, 24 November, 2020

I had a genuinely fantastic time working at the Colorado Digital Service for the past 9 months. They are hiring more folks for a variety of technical roles. It’s a great fit for digital project folks with “T-Shaped” experience, e.g., deep experience in building APIs, but a breadth of experience across the entire range of skills required to ship and maintain a digital product. One of their goals is to bring in folks who might not otherwise work for the government. Part of that is the commitment to terms of 6 months to 2 years. I started right as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US, which became a rather dynamic moment to join the government.

I worked on more traditional “digital service” projects like analyzing the contract of a significant Child Welfare system modernization project. I also worked on the evaluation and launch of the novel Exposure Notification system from Google and Apple. Within a month of launch, over a million people are using that software. Code I wrote has helped thousands of people receive prompt notice they were near someone with COVID. I hope someday I will work on impactful projects as impactful as that, but it’s not guaranteed. All this to say: Digital Service programs are a tremendous opportunity, and you should consider joining one. Find one near you: 18F, USDS, Colorado Digital Service, etc.

Some of my favorite lessons are in the form of one-liners the team uses to describe particular work elements.

  • “Scout and scale” helped remind us not to invent things but to find people doing good work and then support those people and amplify that work.
  • “Find the truth, tell the truth” was something I repeated in 2 situations. It helps motivate folks to keep doing primary research, like reading the fine print on page 73 of some big technical contract. It also helps focus conversations away from pleasantries and toward impactful, empathetic knowledge sharing even when that might be difficult.
  • “Demos, not memos” is a helpful reminder of the power of shipping work in increments.
  • Another common talking point for our team was the idea of digital service being a long-distance relay race, not a sprint. In my 9 months, I worked on individual projects and aimed to improve the way we did work to make it easier for the next people in my role.

I sincerely appreciate my teammates in the Colorado Digital Service and the many wonderful folks I met along the way at various roles in the state. It’s rare to work with a group of thoughtful, intentional, educated folks who deeply care about each other, but this group has it. Again, consider working with them. They are great.

Now that I’ve finished my tour of service with the Colorado Digital Service, I am back doing significant work at Morris Animal Foundation. We’re connecting resources to scientists working on animal health. It’s an exciting field, and the team at Morris Animal Foundation has been busy while I was gone making significant progress on various initiatives. I feel like I left this engineering team 9 months ago we had built a wheel and some handlebars and as I rejoin the team they’re riding along on a full bike. I'm really looking forward to working with these folks for years to come.