Maybe government is a cool place to work

When I tell people I work for government, I expect a yawn, an eyeroll, a look of pity. I have an assumption that Government is not…

Maybe government is a cool place to work
Photo by Josh Rakower on Unsplash

When I tell people I work for government, I expect a yawn, an eyeroll, a look of pity. I have an assumption that Government is not considered a “cool” place to work, particularly when you work in the intersection of tech and design. Rather, it’s the place you go when you want a pension and set hours and no overtime.

But last week when I was listening in on a user research interview with a contractor developer and he said something that’s stuck with me. He’s someone who works on both private sector and public sector tech projects.

He said, and I’m paraphrasing a bit, “Government is where the most interesting development work happens. We’re allowed to work in a modern way, we can experiment and try things out. It’s very forward thinking.” He went on to talk about how development teams in private sector companies he’s worked for are more resistant to innovation because they’re worried any change could affect their market value.

Generally I consider myself an optimist about the future, but a realist about the present. And as a service designer and research, I spend a lot of time focusing on problems and challenges, so sometimes I forget to think about the good things. So when I heard this, I had what felt like a radically optimistic thought: Maybe government is a “cool” place to work.

We don’t have ping pong tables or free lunches or beer fridges or stock options or the potential for super high salaries. But here’s what we do have — and I say this as a generalization across all government orgs I worked for in Canada and the UK:

  • We have exceptionally talented designers and researchers (and other types of roles) who generally are very supportive of one another— there’s not much room or tolerance for ego and competitiveness
  • Many of our design and tech teams work in modern, agile, human-centred ways
  • We have important problems to solve, with an overall goal of serving everyone rather than making rich people richer
  • We have leaders who make space for us to try different things and grow our skills
  • Our time off and personal time are respected, and we are encouraged to rest when we need it
  • We have transparency and fairness built into our hiring, and we have a strong commitment to ethics and diversity woven into our culture

Of course, we don’t do all of these things perfectly, all of the time. There’s plenty of room for improvement.But I do think the good far outweighs the bad.

So yes, I think that government is a cool place to work. And if it’s not, then maybe it’s time to redefine what “cool” means.