Mikey Dickerson

Administrator of The United States Digital Service. A Startup at The White House

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 01, 2016


Mikey Dickerson@mikeyd · Free Radical
I’m Mikey Dickerson, Administrator of the U.S. Digital Service at The White House, which turned 2 last week. At the U.S. Digital Service we’re applying best practices in design and technology to improve our government’s most important citizen-facing services. I’m looking forward to answering your questions about USDS, our work, and how you can get involved.
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
Hello Mikey! I am really curious to know what a typical day looks for you. I am sure at the Government level there are so many projects to undertake how do you priortize your efforts? Are there opportunities for local entrepreneurs to work with United States Digital Service?
Mikey Dickerson@mikeyd · Free Radical
@neeeharika Hi .. For me, a normal work day is meetings and more meetings. I spend a lot of time with our teams, helping manage projects, both with respect to technical direction and working with our agency partners to make sure everyone is working together well. There's also a lot of coordination and policy discussion inside the White House to be done every day. I am usually scheduled from about 9am to 7 pm, and after that there's usually an after-work activity of some kind, Shake Shack if I am lucky. You are right that there are many more projects than we can take on. We do our best to prioritize them using these criteria: (1) what will do the greatest good for the greatest number of people that need it the most, (2) where will we be most effective, and (3) what potential exists to reuse the technical solution in other places in the government. The way to work in USDS right now is as an individual. We are always in need of good designers, UX researchers, product managers, and engineers. If you would like to work with your state or local government, you should look up Code for America, which runs very similar projects and "brigades" at the local level.
Zach Swetz@swetzequity · Product Manager in Pittsburgh
Hi Mikey, how do you see the USDS growing to get more people involved? Do you foresee a governmental focused startup incubator or something of that nature?
Brad Wolff@brad_wolff · Business Honors & Finance at UT-Austin
What is it like working within an organization, being the government, with plenty of red-tape and bureaucracy?
Nat Welch@icco · Software Reconnaissance Engineer
One of the common complaints I hear about the USDS is their slow hiring process. People want to participate, but actually getting involved takes a long time (> six months). What is the cause of this? Do you feel USDS has been able to grow at the speed you've needed it to, or are you frustrated as well?
Mikey Dickerson@mikeyd · Free Radical
@icco Over 6 months was a fair criticism in 2014, when we got an overwhelming initial surge of thousands of applications and had no people to process them. We've worked very hard since then to build a whole talent team with monitoring and metrics. I'm pretty certain that the time from application to first contact today is less than a month for most people, and it's about a month from the time a hire decision is made to your start date. We found that pushing to go any shorter didn't make much difference, since most candidates want at least that much time to get their lives in order. So I'd encourage anybody that might have tried in 2014, and timed out, to consider getting back in touch.
Jason Shen@jasonshen · Co-founder, Headlight
As a former Presidential Innovation Fellow (PIF) alumni, I've been really excited to see USDS and the consulting arm 18F spring up in the last few years. I'm curious to know how you see these three orgs (USDS, 18F, PIF) differing in where and how they serve the country and the public! PS - thanks for saving HC.gov - I was roommates and cofounder with Kalvin and Randy!
Uhma@deleted-594972 · Brr
Hello Mikey, Thank you for giving an opportunity to ask you questions. Have you ever had to deal with foreign government web brigades? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We... Do you think US government will have to resort to hiring its own web brigades, to deal with ones from Russia and other countries? Thank you.
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
What's a major project at the USDS that you're currently working on that you are really excited about?
Mikey Dickerson@mikeyd · Free Radical
@tomstocklein There's a few .. One that is very visible and therefore easy to talk about is vets.gov. This is a place where you can find several important veteran services that we have helped to modernize and bring online, organized into a unified and simplified experience. The Veterans' Healthcare Application (how you apply to receive medical care from the VA) is one of those services. The old version was used by less than 10% of applicants, because for most of them, it was impossible. It was a "fillable PDF" that only worked in an old version of IE and Acrobat Reader. The new one is bringing in a lot more people. We did a post on this too: https://medium.com/the-u-s-digit...
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
What apps are on your home screen?
Mikey Dickerson@mikeyd · Free Radical
@tomstocklein Starting from top left: Google News and Weather. "Days Left Widget." Google Keep. Clock. Authenticator. WhatsApp. Camera. Chrome. Signal. Phone.
James Harnett@harnettjames · United States Department of Education
What can we, as members of the public, or employees at local, state or federal agencies do to get involved in the projects you are working on or don't have the capacity to work on?
William Wong@willywonga · Software Engineer at MTA-NYCT
Hi Mikey! The transportation industry has a direct effect on society, either improving it or harming it, but usually something in the middle. While self-driving electric cars seem to be getting all the headlines, public transit, especially surface transit (buses), has an unique opportunity to leverage technology and the attention that the industry is receiving, and do more. Are there any transportation-related projects in the pipeline for the USDS?
Ben Butler@benbauerbutler · GIS Analyst
Hi Mikey, I've been following your story and the work you are doing at USDS for a while now. Very inspiring stuff! I work for the US Forest Service on a wildfire research and development tech transfer team here in Boise, ID. We are plagued by paralyzing (at times) technology challenges and an inability to "Keep up with the Jones'" in the private sector. What advice would you have for someone trying to enact change in government outside the "Beltway"?
Mikey Dickerson@mikeyd · Free Radical
@benbauerbutler Thanks for what you are doing. Here's a couple of comments that fit in this margin: Good progress is usually within reach if you stay tightly focused on delivering an effective and usable service that serves your customers' real needs. I wouldn't worry about trying to "keep up" with tech fashions for their own sake. Walk through any Silicon Valley tech giant's office and you'll see plenty of people writing in vi in a terminal window, and that's fine. Our "Digital Services Playbook" at https://playbook.cio.gov was designed to be helpful to people in your situation. The TechFAR Hub likewise. A community of like-minded people, maybe a Code for America brigade, might be nearby too.
Vinay Khosla@vinay123 · Co-founder Zenyx.com. Builder. Investor.
Hi. On the USDS website it shows only one UX person. Given the inevitable complexities of Government and its agencies, would it be better to focus on great UX to engage the public and simplify some of the complexities of Government policy and operations? Thanks.
Mikey Dickerson@mikeyd · Free Radical
@vinay123 Certainly design and user research are critical to everything we do. The people profiled on the web site are just a sampling. We have a series of "meet the team" posts on Medium, and if you read back through a few, you'll find more members of our design community.: https://medium.com/the-u-s-digit...
Justin Wilson@jawhster
Appears current administration is a big advocate for technology. How is USDS making sure it will continue in future administrations? Also, what advice for those who applied and rejected? Thank you!!!
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
If you were to host a special dinner and could invite five people (still alive), who'd you pick and why?
Mikey Dickerson@mikeyd · Free Radical
@tomstocklein I don't have a list of heroes at my fingertips, but off the top of my head, here's some people I would think would be interesting to have at dinner: Bill Watterson (wrote Calvin and Hobbes). Randall Munroe (writes xkcd). Anthony Downs (wrote some early organizational theory and sociology books that we have found invaluable). Mickey Dickerson (I don't know who that guy is but I'm always hearing about him). Then, as with all such events, I would need Joni or Sarah or both, who are part of USDS and help fill in for me when I run out of nice words.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Mikey thanks for joining! What's been the most surprising thing about working at the USDS?
Mikey Dickerson@mikeyd · Free Radical
@ems_hodge So many possible answers .. Let's go with, I thought we were creating a team of 10 or 15 or something. Then we got far more support from the President and from Congress than anyone ever dreamed, and today we are around 200.
What responsibility, if at all, does the USDS have in pushing innovation within the government? Not only from a technical aspect, but also in procurement?
Mikey Dickerson@mikeyd · Free Radical
@s_carroll_ Our model of small empowered teams works best when it is focused on results, rather than process. But we know that "small empowered teams" will never be able to reach more than a few percent of the $86 billion in IT projects the government does every year. Most of the solution will always have to be the existing agency teams and their private sector partners. To help the large-scale efforts as best we can, USDS also has a team focused on making procurement more flexible and effective. If you want to know more about it, the TechFAR Hub (a joint effort of USDS and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy) is a place to start: https://techfarhub.cio.gov/
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hey Mickey! I'm sure you've done lots of presentations at conferences. What are your top 3 favorite things you've seen at events by the organizers?
Suresh Nair@suresh_nair
Hi Mikey! Name top 3 products / services your team has built which are widely used? Do you monetize any of them? Also are all these products built in-house or contracted or outsourced?
Mikey Dickerson@mikeyd · Free Radical
@suresh_nair It would take me all day to rank order everything to pick a "top 3," but here are a few, anyway: + vets.gov, I mentioned in an earlier answer, is a unified place that offers several important veteran services. + College Scorecard is a product we helped launch, which provides never-before-available data on college costs and earnings after graduation, for students choosing a school. + The process to replace a lost green card is now available online, saving months for each of the hundreds of thousands of people a year that used to have to fill out the I-90 form. + "Hack the Pentagon" has been remarkably effective, crowd-sourcing security vulnerability research for the Department of Defense. None of these is monetized by any fee or ads or whatnot. (Although agencies sometimes charge fees for services.) USDS operates on money appropriated by Congress for the purpose, which is to say, your tax money, so thanks for that. There have been many different models for building products. Usually, most of the work is done by contractors and the existing agency teams.
Karen McCord@kcmccord · CEO, Breezio
I am also curious if there are there opportunities for local entrepreneurs to work with United States Digital Service?
Mikey Dickerson@mikeyd · Free Radical
@kcmccord The way to work with USDS directly right now is as an individual, and we have a number of once and future entrepreneurs doing that today. If you mean as a startup that might like to do business with the government someday, we're working on procurement (see TechFAR Hub, earlier) and with the Small Business Administration to make it easier for you to do it.