USDS managed not only to recruit, and retain, technologists—they were able to recruit them away from some of the top companies in Silicon Valley. Companies that could afford to offer salaries much higher than any government agency ever could. So, how did they do it? How were they able to convince some of the most brilliant minds to move from sunny California to Washington D.C. and take a paycut?
The process was not easy, but the USDS created a methodology that city, county, local governments could implement to hire tech talent.
During Code for America Summit, Jennifer Anastasoff and Jenny Smith, both formerly with the USDS, presented these six strategies they used to hire tech talent in a breakout session.
Hire, appoint, and empower leaders with knowledge of modern technology.
While this may seem straightforward, most government technology teams are not representative of the demographics of today’s technology workforce as a whole. Find ways to create a wider funnel to bring these workers into government jobs—and empower workers with this knowledge who are already there.
Use private sector best practices to recruit and hire tech talent.
The most important aspect of this practice is hiring quality recruits by using subject matter experts, and the second most important is speed. When the USDS first started recruiting, the hiring process would take over 300 days. Once they fine-tuned their process, it was down to around 30 days. The hiring process is a candidate’s first experience with your brand and what they talk about with their colleagues. Make it worth their while.
Create the conditions for success.
Culture building is the key to attaining—and retaining—talent. One point that the presenters shared was that when you ask your staff to join an agency, ensure that they never have to do it alone. For example, when someone is tasked with making the case to increase the budget for advanced technology, don’t send them in alone to be the savior at an agency. Hire a team that can work together to achieve set goals.
Upgrade the technical skills and competencies of the current workforce.
Investing in your current workforce will boost team morale and productivity.
Build the brand and tell more stories.
While fancy tech companies can use salary as a tactic to attract top talent, government agencies may have a more compelling offer: the ability to change people’s lives. Most workers want to be involved with a mission that is bigger than themselves and their paychecks. Working for the government will give them the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on their community. Include this in your pitch when hiring tech talent.
Remove structural barriers and make operational excellence possible and consider ideas for future exploration.
Both of these strategies are critical to creating conditions for success (strategy #3). Make it easy for folks to make decisions and allow for autonomy.
Anastasoff and Smith were clear that it is not easy to hire tech talent into government jobs, or private sector jobs for that matter. Both emphasized that it will take an incredible amount of time, energy, and resources to adjust internal processes that will make it possible to attract quality talent. But, with dedication and a plan, it is possible.