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Sunday, July 14, 2024

The Government Is Now the Hottest Tech Employer in Town

And interest in government jobs among tech workers remains strong. In late October, more than 3,000 people registered for a Tech to Gov career event, held by the Tech Talent Project, a nonprofit that helps the US government recruit for tech roles. One thousand more had signed up for a waiting list.

“It’s not just layoffs—what I have definitely seen is folks pausing in the tech sector,” says Jennifer Anastasoff, executive director at Tech Talent Project. “This has been a moment where folks have started pausing and started thinking about where they can make the most difference.”

A federal tech job portal had 107 openings as of mid-November. The salaries range from around $40,000 to nearly $240,00. The Office of Personnel Management, the human resources arm of the federal government, made a pitch to laid-off tech workers earlier this year, hoping to scoop up some 22,000 people into public sector tech roles. That office did not respond to emails seeking updates on the hiring process for tech jobs. But smaller government agencies around the country have made strides in luring high-profile private sector workers.

New York recently hired a former high-ranking employee from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts to serve as the state’s first chief customer experience officer. Shelby Switzer took a job as the director of Baltimore’s new Digital Services Team earlier this year. Three new employees were hired underneath Switzer—all from the private sector. The group’s first project was to modernize permitting; instead of going to several offices in person to obtain permits for events and street closures, people can now apply online. It seems simple, but for the local government, that’s a huge deal.

One of those benefits came in hiring a UX designer, says Switzer. “Having somebody who is the expert in thinking about the usability of services in technology is just totally new.” But working in government can mean one tech team is trying to innovate while stuck in a bigger, slow-moving pool. “There is a ton of organizational inertia,” Switzer says. “Government wasn’t really designed to be efficient.”

These kinds of small changes are hard to come by in government, but there’s a trend to more cities and states making investments in tech infrastructure. In early November, in Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Office of Digital Experience, or CODE PA, launched a system that lets residents, businesses, charities, and schools look up if they are eligible for a refund after paying for a permit, license, or certification, and then request a refund.

Pennsylvania is investing big in tech and AI under Josh Shapiro, its new governor. It hired Amaya Capellán, who moved from Comcast to the Pennsylvania government this year, trading corporate life for the role of Pennsylvania’s chief information officer. Some initial priorities for Capellán include finding ways for governments to use generative AI and updating permitting and licensing.

Capellán says people may be realizing that tech companies are treating them as replaceable, pushing them to reconsider roles in tech. “It’s really inspiring to think about the kind of ways you can affect people’s lives for good.”

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