3 Big Lessons From The Top Techies Rebooting The Government

Elizabeth Segran | Fast Company | November 10, 2015

Todd Park and DJ Patil are transforming the world's biggest bureaucracy into a lean startup. Here's a peek inside their playbook.

"We usually think of instigators as people who causes trouble," Patil says. And in some ways, this is exactly what the band of tech outsiders rebooting the government is doing. They've boldly entered the world's largest bureaucracy with the goal of shaking things up, making services run more efficiently for the American people and introducing fresh new ways of doing things. In many ways, their work threatens the status quo. But Patil believes that instigators have a valuable role to play. "I see instigators as people who bring a technical voice and a different perspective to a set of problems," he explains. "We want to be accelerants, catalysts, and people who lift up great ideas."

Todd Park, a current White House tech adviser, is also a fan of jumping on great ideas. During his tenure as the White House chief technology officer between 2012 and 2014, he introduced many of his favorite Silicon Valley paradigms into the government's newly minted tech corp. He wanted his team to operate like a lean startup. He encouraged platforms to be open source, so that others could adapt them or improve them. He organized hackathons to harness people's competitive instinct.

"Talent is critical," Park says. This is a lesson that he learned early on in his career, in his experiences cofounding highly successful biotech startups. Hiring the best people is an established principle in the technology world, but unlike the government, companies often have more assets at their disposal in their recruiting efforts. Besides fat paychecks, tech firms can lure prospective employees with stock options and even season tickets to sporting events. When he became CTO, Park's job was to build the government's tech corp. His goal was to hire 500 talented, highly skilled workers to fill a range of roles— from engineering, to UX and UI, to design—by the end of Obama's tenure...