Level up your impact: Making the move into government tech

I joined Ad Hoc last summer after spending the first decade-plus of my career working in digital strategy at a large academic library.

Throughout the COVID pandemic, I began to see how crucial digital services were to the pandemic responses of all levels of government and became interested in using my tech skills in service of projects that had the potential to impact countless people.

My current role as a senior information architect is my first job at a digital services company, my first time working on an Agile team, and the first time I haven’t been one of the only experts in the room on web technologies. Here are a few observations I’ve had while shifting from working within smaller digital ecosystems to working on large-scale federal digital projects at Ad Hoc.

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The difference in scale

Simply put, the projects my colleagues and I are working on are huge. Within the single government agency I’m working with, there are scores of teams. Each has its own focus, but all are working on complicated tech stacks with tons of dependencies, meaning each component is reliant on and vital to the whole. And everything we do impacts the lives of millions of people across the country – an exciting but sobering realization.

Accessibility at the front

Ad Hoc helps government agencies build products that need to work for everyone regardless of their disability status, so we focus on making things accessible from day one. A lot of good accessibility work is happening in the government tech space, including our Accessibility Beyond Compliance Playbook, which provides guidance on moving from basic compliance to creating inclusive, human-centered experiences that are equitable for everyone. At Ad Hoc, accessibility is not seen as an edge case; it’s baked in from the beginning phases of design and development, rather than being an afterthought.

To help ensure accessibility is a priority in all our work, we share accessibility tools and techniques and have open channels for discussion and questions. Additionally, most of our user experience research studies are designed to include people who use assistive technologies like screen readers, and those findings are shared with other designers and developers weekly at research readouts. And we have a culture of continuous learning about accessibility, including an accessibility champions training program, which makes it easier for anyone to learn more about accessibility.

I’ve learned more about accessibility in the past 9 months than in the previous 9 years. There’s always more to be done, but it’s exciting that accessible, inclusive, trauma-informed design is part of everyone’s work.

Join us on June 4 for a virtual event: Remote Always: How Ad Hoc’s culture supports impactful work and work-life balance

You’ll learn about Ad Hoc’s remote-first and remote-always team and how to find a work-life balance that works for you.

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It takes a village – not just coding experts

In our work, collaboration is crucial, and we all bring knowledge and skills that contribute to the overall project. Our digital teams work cross-functionally, meaning that we are a mix of front- and back-end coders, UX designers and researchers, accessibility specialists, content strategists, and product managers. Because of this specialization, not everybody needs to know how to code. While it is a critical function within our teams, coding is one among many skills that combine to move the work along.

And while each team supports the larger project, there are some teams whose role is to provide a foundation for other teams by building and maintaining design systems, development platforms, and collaboration processes. But together, we build and iterate based on user feedback and ensure that our collective efforts are aligned on the common goal of supporting the people who will be using the product.

Work is in the open

Ad Hoc is a remote company, and because of this, we use digital communication tools to stay connected with our teammates and ensure seamless collaboration. We have so many teams working on multiple projects simultaneously, so we can’t afford to work in silos.

Two tools we use to promote a transparent work environment are Slack and GitHub. In Slack, most conversations happen in open channels rather than DMs, which means we’re able to hyperlink to previous conversations in other channels or in GitHub comments.

On GitHub, we manage both our code and our project requirements, milestones, issues, and other documentation. Together, Slack and GitHub create a much more dynamic and interconnected communications ecosystem, and because they provide archiving and search functionality, teammates are often able to find what they need without having to ask.

Blameless but still accountable

Our teams embrace the blameless approach to problem-solving, which asks: what if we assume that people make mistakes because of a systematic or cultural issue, rather than a personal moral failing? Rather than assigning blame to an individual for their mistake, we recognize these moments as opportunities to grow and learn.

Agile processes further reinforce this mindset through regular retrospectives and iterative changes. These processes help us create a safe environment where teammates can be vulnerable and openly discuss systemic issues like failure points without fear of reprisal. By holding our teams accountable for making improvements and correcting mistakes within a trusting and communicative environment, we strengthen our team and work more effectively toward our common goals.

Impact hits different

When working on products that have millions of users, one small change can mean a lot for a user’s experience – in both good and bad ways. As individual contributors working on teams, the decisions we make together can significantly impact how people interact with government services. We understand that no matter the size of what we are working on, what we produce has real-life impacts on real people, a humbling realization that balances out the days when I feel like a tiny cog in a big machine.

The people, though.

One thing I say often is that technology is people – and government tech as a field tends to attract folks who care deeply about outcomes for the people who rely on public services. I have yet to meet someone who is hesitant to share ideas, give advice, or otherwise help when needed, and I have learned so much.

If this sounds like work you would be interested in being a part of, we’re hiring! Check out our website to see what positions are available.

Join us on June 4 for a virtual event: Remote Always: How Ad Hoc’s culture supports impactful work and work-life balance. You’ll learn about Ad Hoc’s remote-first and remote-always team and how to find a work-life balance that works for you.