Hi I’m Matt Cutts, Administrator for USDS, AMA 🔥

Matt Cutts
35 replies
We were founded in 2014 by the President to fix Healthcare.gov (http://healthcare.gov/) when it went down. We’re ~180 technologists from tech communities across the United States, not just Silicon Valley. Diversity is important to us. We’re ~50% women in leadership and 50% female overall. Our work serves all Americans including Veterans, military service members, immigrants, refugees, small business owners, farmers, students, and Medicare patients. Excited to be here and answer your questions. And if anyone wants to check out the US Digital Service or apply, check us out at https://www.usds.gov/ !

Replies

Levity saves lives
You've been a very public-facing figure for a long time. Has your time spent being so open to the tech community had a significant effect on your approach to public service?
Share
Administrator, US Digital Service
@emersondameron absolutely. One thing I've learned (but continue to keep working on) is listening. At Google, when someone had feedback--even angry feedback--it was important to listen for the kernel regarding what could be done better. Listening first before proposing solutions is also critical in public service. That can be listening to our partners in federal agencies, or trying to make sure that we bring in the voice of the user to give feedback on services. Another thing (which again, I'm still working on) is trying to give credit where it's due. In government, it's important to realize that most of the best ideas will come from civil servants who have been steeped in issues long before we arrived, and who will still be serving the public even after an engagement is finished. One big difference between the private sector and the government is that government serves everyone; you can't cherry pick a certain segment of the population like you can in the tech world or at a startup.
Share
Entrepreneur & Product designer
Hi Matt! What types of technologies do you use to improve healthcare?
Share
Administrator, US Digital Service
@aleksandr_lanin you have to bear in mind with Medicare payments is that system is 40+ years old, running on a mainframe, and written in COBOL and assembly. So from that perspective, most of the technologies are an improvement! :) Almost 60 million Americans, which is roughly 1 in 4 people in the US, rely on Medicare to work well, so that's a huge impact. For our project on Medicare payment system modernization, our team at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) worked with partners at CMS. We started by taking one chunk of the monolithic code (a pricing module), breaking that out from the mainframe, and actually putting that code in the cloud. Then we added a mechanism so the mainframe code could call that code in the cloud. The new code runs significantly faster. Modernizing a system like this will require multiple years of effort, but it's a pretty robust process to refactor or separate out a piece of functionality, rewrite it as clean code, and host it in the cloud. And as more of that functionality gets pulled out, it also provides an opportunity to collaborate with our federal partners so they build those skills/muscles as well.
Share
Hidden comment
Entrepreneur and Investor
Hi Matt, long time no hear. We met at SMX New York may years ago :)
Share
Administrator, US Digital Service
@stewdog79 hey, good to hear from you! You were based out of the UK, right? Hope you're doing well!
Entrepreneur and Investor
@mattcutts thats the one... from the DaveN, EvilGreen monkey, phantomaster days etc. I changed from search... now building software. Best of luck to you sir with you new projects
Jackson St. Capital
Good evening, Mr Cutts... why has the US taken so long to join the rest of the world in providing exclusively taxpayer funded healthcare for all residents?
Share
Administrator, US Digital Service
@hasan_diwan that's an interesting question. I view the goal of the US Digital Service as non-partisan and trying to make government work better for the American public through technology and design. That can be helping a Veteran apply for her health benefits or assisting a small business become certified to participate for contracts. It's vital work and we need more engineers, designers, and product managers to come help. For larger questions like this, it's better to look toward elected officials.
Jackson St. Capital
@mattcutts It's not a question of who to look to to sort it, it has not been done. And the fact that it has not been done is the primary reason my wife and I no longer live in the United States.
Life's a game. Just playing along.
Hi @mattcutts You’re doing some awesome work! I feel, based on experience, that individuals with learning differences are overlooked. To the best of my knowledge, there aren’t many programs to help protect the ‘bad culture fits’. Can you point me in the direction of any existing programs or initiatives? All the best, Matt
Share
Administrator, US Digital Service
@matthew_snyder That's a great question. America is a very diverse place, with many different cultures and perspectives, so it's important to us to include folks with lots of different backgrounds. We build better products when we better represent America. We try to recruit not just from Silicon Valley for example, but from across the country. I wish I had more resources at my fingertips that I could recommend.
Founder, Presto Trip.
How have lessons learnt in the private sector influenced making the engineering culture in the government better? Conversely, what do you think employees of tech companies can learn from the government?
Share
Administrator, US Digital Service
@ayyar government can definitely learn how to build things faster: think of minimum viable products instead of specifying all the requirements upfront in a waterfall-like way. Or the ability to move in an agile, iterative fashion. Or listening more to users to prioritize which features really matter the most and which aren't as critical. It's amazing how much impact you can create even just with a recording of a person trying to figure out how to use a government product or service. I also think some folks in government can worry about technology risk, even though many techniques like putting things in the cloud have been proven to be pretty safe and a wiser use of taxpayer dollars. Meanwhile, the tech industry can learn more about how to design for everyone, be more inclusive, and represent the entire diversity of the US.
Share
Founder, Presto Trip.
@mattcutts thanks, very insightful. Regarding minimum viable products: any thoughts on how the government does / can adopt A/B testing and experimentation ? This seems like a key pillar of how the private sector learns and iterates. Also curious to what extent the government takes good software practices like unit testing and code reviews seriously?
Administrator, US Digital Service
@ayyar it is possible to do A/B testing and user experience testing. I love this blog post by Erie Meyer, for example: https://medium.com/@ErieMeyer/us... It's also true that the government lags behind in some areas like testing and code reviews though. I think one of the best ways to improve things is just to get more technical people into government, even if it's for shorter stints at first.
Share
@ayyar @mattcutts Matt, your comment about the private sector is exactly why I just applied to the USDS. I'd love to talk shop and inclusion.
Founder of Product Hunt & Weekend Fund
Welcome, Matt. Not sure if you can share but what project are you most proud to have worked on since joining the USDS? Can you share anything coming up that you're working on?
Share
Administrator, US Digital Service
@rrhoover I'd hate to pick between projects; I'm incredibly proud of all the work that USDSers have done and are doing, from changing federal hiring of experts to improving procurement to assisting doctors and patients to helping immigrants become citizens using better online forms. There's been so much work, from small businesses to the College Scorecard, which helps searchers get a better idea of which colleges will serve them well. But I will mention one project, just because it's the product of years of effort. A little over a year ago, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs launched an entirely new front door for Veterans at VA.gov. On the new site, you can do things like change an address and have that address change throughout dozens of systems at the VA. You can message with your doctor or refill a prescription. You can check the status of a disability claim or appeal. It's the kind of useful, friendly, user-centered site that reflects the best practices of the tech industry. But it can significantly improve life for the 20M+ Veterans in our country. The team that worked on that project highlights so many of the values that we want to reflect, like designing with users, not for users. I'm so proud of every project that USDS has done, but VA.gov is a perfect example that everyone can see of how government can work well. I'm incredibly thankful for the partnership we've had with the VA and that they've let us assist with their mission to serve Veterans. One lesson that I learned at Google was to avoid announcing new work before it's completely done. But we have been helping an agency with a bug bounty program, which is really exciting. We've also been assisting with a school safety resource, and I'm excited to see that launch (I hope within a couple weeks or so).
Share
Hi Matt! How does USDS establish what projects would benefit a high tech solution, which need a low tech solution, or a mix? Does USDS also work with users to adopt and memorize a new product/service process or is that the responsibility of the agencies that USDS partners with?
Share
Administrator, US Digital Service
@iamsarahcoloma these are great questions! In terms of criteria we use when doing project selection, we absolutely look at impact, but also things like executive support. We do ask whether a project is a good match for USDS' skills. We also ask ourselves "If USDS doesn't get involved, what's the likely outcome? Will this project fail if we don't get involved, or will it simply take a little while longer to be delivered?" Often technology is a common theme, but when you've got great user researchers and designers, it's perfectly fine to tackle a backlog or a process that might not have technology as the core problem. One of USDS' strengths is navigating between silos in government and getting different silos to talk to each other. We do try to work with our federal partners to make sure that we've got people who can ramp up with us, and then maintain and improve a project after our engagement ends. I'll be the first to admit that the hand-off of a project to an agency is often the most difficult step. It can be tricky to find the right balance so that you're not too load bearing on a particular engagement.
Share
🤝 komunity.io 🎨 barneda.com
Hi Matt, Thank you. What has been surprisingly easy to solve & surprisingly hard to solve while at .gov? Any Gordian knots?
Share
Administrator, US Digital Service
@barneda I've been surprised how much of a difference it makes having a technical person at the table or when writing the terms of a contract (or when evaluating potential contractors). It's much easier to fix things upstream, like getting a good contractor on board, than it is to resolve things downstream. One of the harder things to solve in government might be hiring. For example, hiring technologists is really tricky, and we've met a few people who were skeptical of a particular proposal for how to hire differently. In that case, we not only brought a memo from an agency to say that it was okay, we actually brought a couple representatives from that agency in person! Once the relevant folks were assured that they would be allowed to hire in a new way, they signed up the same day!
Share
Founder & CEO, Hustle Crew
Hi Matt, what do you do as a leader to drive a positive culture in your team?
Share
Administrator, US Digital Service
@abadesi well, I was fortunate to inherit an amazing team of fantastic individuals. The sort of people who apply to USDS tend to be the sort of people that want to work on important, impactful projects, and that's really inspiring. As far as concrete steps, we try to make our team culture accessible. So we try to have a range of events, from board games to bocce ball teams to pumpkin carving to movie nights to scavenger hunts to escape rooms to lasertag to activities that don't require alcohol, and we try to be mindful of parents with children. I hope that as a team we create a supportive, inclusive environment so people feel comfortable asking questions or voicing objections. We do a survey to assess our community health each quarter and people can provide feedback anonymously on that. We're still learning ways that we can be better. But it really helps to have impactful work. The day-to-day hours can be difficult, but the long-term sense of accomplishment tends to be really meaningful.
visaplus
good
Director en la empresa industrial
Hi Matt. Very good idea.
Hi @mattcutts Thanks for doing this! You have so much experience working in both development and product, while combining cutting edge technology with social impact. What advice do you have for young people/students looking to enter the field of civic tech or just in general?
Share
Administrator, US Digital Service
@amirkhawaja just jump in! Groups like Coding it Forward at https://www.codingitforward.com/ or Code for America brigades at https://brigade.codeforamerica.org/ provide a chance for college students and other folks to experience civic tech. I've been incredibly inspired by the people I've met from these areas, and often it feels like people come in expecting to do a short tour and it changes their goals for their entire career. Let me just say, civic tech is just at the beginning of this story. Most people are aware of their options to join academia or industry, but joining government is an option that more and more people are exploring. There's ways to help at the municipal and state level--including digital service teams in places like Colorado and California--and many countries are starting their own digital service as well! Lots of people have thought about money or compensation and how they want that in their life, but civic tech provides the chance to get a lot more meaning and purpose in your life.
Share
@mattcutts Thanks for the response, I'll give those a look! Keep up the great work, you're a hero to us all!
Administrator, US Digital Service
@amirkhawaja Thanks! I'm just grateful that I get to work with a wonderful group of folks, including the federal partners that we collaborate with!
Product Marketing // Deep House
hi matt!!! You're so so awesome and I love the USDS! I've had a long long time interest in design thinking/TransDiscp design and have met several Parsons grads go on to work at USDS. 2 part question: 1) Where does service design as a discipline fit into product mangement as a whole? I've heard a lot of arguments about who's "job" it is to own the entirety of the customer experience and have also heard Marty Cagan completely dismiss Service Design as a discpline, his argument being that service design is really a blended mix of PM/UX roles. better yet, how do service designers fit add specific value to product at USDS? any examples? 2) Other than working with the USDS directly, how would recommend product people getting into or working with goverment agencies/products? (i studied econ dev as an undergrad and stumbled my way into product marketing. always a dream of mine to get back into public policy/good somehow)
Administrator, US Digital Service
@jonathan_senin these are great questions! Typically I think of service design closer to design than product management, but it also feels like it sits at the intersection of those disciplines when it's done well. For me, it's mostly about mapping the user journey and those pain points, and then thinking about how to address those pain points, so that feels a little closer to design for me. But I think it could fall in either field depending on how you wanted to approach it. For your second question, there's a ton of newer companies acting as contractors for the federal government now. For example, there's one group at https://digitalservicescoalition... that you might check out. I'm not endorsing any companies, but that might be a good starting point.
Product Marketing // Deep House
@mattcutts awesome thanks Matt