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What are the pros and cons of working in Government?

Bridget Community Manager Aug 17, 2020

Hi everyone! 

I was recently asked by a student from my alma mater about the pros and cons of working in tech. I thought it was a really excellent question - we often advertise the highlights of our industry to young people who are interested, but rarely share the downsides! 

So, I'd love to hear from you - what are some of the pros AND cons of working in Government that you would share with anyone who is considering it for their own career? (What do you wish you'd known before getting into the industry)? 

Can't wait to hear your answers :). Happy Monday!

Bridget

2 comments

Well I've worked directly for the Government or Government adjacent (defense contracts, etc) well over 20 years now in various aspects of IT.

 

For me the biggest pro is getting to play with new tech both hardware and software. Government takes that up a notch because you might get to play with tech that regular companies might not be able to afford. Like right now we are involved with fiber distribution though our community no small or even medium sized tech company is going to have the millions to sink into something like that

Another big pro is pacing EVERYTHING moves slow in government including technology implementation so it gives you time to really work at perfecting things though that does have the down side of when a crisis DOES hit your not conditioned to respond well to it.

Probably the biggest DOWN side of working for Government is that its government. Implementing tech should be a cold and rational process and when you mix political interests and personal ambitions for appointed positions with tech it NEVER ends well for those in IT. I've personally be involved with project that would have saved hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars that were purposely buried in favor of more expensive options simple because certain people who held the voting approval for the capital spending felt like they were not including enough in the pilot program we did to validate things. 

Its definitely hard if you come in as a contractor or vendor (half of my time was spent in this capacity) you get all of the grunt work but little weight to your professional opinion on matters even if you objectively have way more practical experience in an area than others do. Though if you can prove your worth in that kind of a limiting environment your more likely to get hired on as an actual government employee which is how i got where I am. Best advice I can give is develop a love and passion for the THING  you are doing NOT for WHO you are doing it for because the WHO will change so much it will make your head spin sometimes. Plus focusing on the thing at least for me helps drown out all the non technical white noise you get from working IT in a government space.

Hopefully that helps i'm open for dissenting positions as this is obviously colored by my own professional career

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Bridget Community Manager Aug 24, 2020

@Ryan Strope , thank you so much for sharing!! 

 

Wow - I didn't consider the slow pacing of government to be a good thing, but I totally see your point now. It would be nice to have the time to do things perfectly (and I'm sure there's less of a margin for error in government roles too).  

Slightly funny that a downside of Government is the internal politics. I guess to be expected 😉 Happy to hear that all of your valuable grunt work set you up for success. And your advice about developing passions for the THING you are working on not WHO you want to become is pure gold. 

So helpful - thanks again!

Ken Urban Atlassian Team Aug 18, 2020

I spent just over 10 years as a CIV in government and another 3 as a contractor to them,  before that I spent my time working in IT for a University.  

There are a few things I would point out as a pro to working for the government. You have a lot of flexibility in how to do your job (at least in IT).  My official position (i.e. according to HR) was computer engineer and I was hired to write C++ code.  That lasted less than six months before mission needs pulled me into another position within the same team.  My job then took the direction I wanted it to go.  I set policies, I led the staff.  I made the decisions on how multi million dollar systems would function.  At least in our agency being a CIV meant you go to decide what YOU wanted to do - within the confines of the agencies mission and your teams goals of course.   If someone on my team wanted to do something else we found a way to make that happen.

That flexibility also enables you to be the change you seek.  I was able to stand up an entire stack of Atlassian tools to fundamentally alter the way development was done within the agency.  I wasn't the only one doing that either.  I saw friends and coworkers filling needs by doing extra work or championing causes like improving the hiring process etc. As an actual government employee you are given a voice and if you couple that with a reasonable passion you can accomplish much. 

This is both a pro and a con:  There is a policy for everything.  The pro of that is you have guidance.  The con is that sometimes those policies are wrong but you will run into fanatical adherence to them. Remember where I said you can be the change you seek?  That counts here as well.  As a government employee you have an amazing ability to try to get that changed or in some cases to justify not following it.  Obviously that doesnt apply to laws or Executive orders ;).  

I will second what Roberto said above about new tech. We were operating on a scale that only a few of the largest companies in the world operated on.  That puts you in a rare crowd and makes "off the shelf" solutions hard to find.  Consequently you either blazed trails or play with the hottest new thing to see if you can accomplish your mission.

The last thing I will point out is that people who work for the government usually have a passion for the mission of the agency they are working for.  Because, for a lot in tech, one of the biggest cons is the pay disparity.  You wont become a millionaire working for the government.  In fact you might earn significantly less than your peers in private industry.  But many people I worked with, myself included, didn't do it for the money.  We did it because the mission needed doing.

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Yeah I didn't think to mention the pay in my comment I've always focused more on the love of the job the pay is an afterthought for me.

 

Great insight by the way!

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