Feds hunt for tech tal­ent in Sil­i­con Val­ley

The Mercury News Weekend - - BUSINESS - By Ethan Baron ebaron @ba­yare­anews­group.com

Matt Cutts has taken on a tough task: lur­ing highly skilled tech work­ers from their mecca in Sil­i­con Val­ley to the po­lit­i­cal bat­tle­ground ofWash­ing­ton, D.C.

The for­mer Google en­gi­neer heads the U.S. Dig­i­tal Ser­vice, a fed­eral agency that grew out of the dis­as­trous roll- out of Oba­macare’s Health­care. gov web­site and is now charged with de­vel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy to im­prove fed­eral govern­ment ser­vices and op­er­a­tions.

Cutts came to the Bay Area this week, seek­ing to en­tice prod­uct man­agers, en­gi­neers, de­sign­ers and other tech ex­perts at com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Google and Ap­ple to join him in the fed­eral dig­i­tal ser­vice. Sure, new re­cruits have to for­sake the com­pany cafe­te­rias com­mon at ma­jor tech firms, but there are other re­wards, Cutts said.

“There’s no free lunch in govern­ment, but there are other perks,” Cutts said. “There’s a bowl­ing al­ley in the White House.”

Be­yond pos­si­ble bowl- ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, dig­i­tal ser­vice jobs can pay up to $163,000 a year, he said. Me­dian com­pen­sa­tion for a soft­ware en­gi­neer in San Jose is $107,000, and $ 113,000 for a prod­uct man­ager, ac­cord­ing to PayS­cale.

What Cutts is hop­ing will re­ally at­tract at least some high- per­form­ing tech work­ers is the sense of “mis­sion” dig­i­tal ser­vice po­si­tions con­fer, whether the job is stream­lin­ing the bu­reau­cra­cies of Medi­care and Med­i­caid, im­prov­ing record- shar­ing between the De­fense Depart­ment and Veter­ans Af­fairs, or de­sign­ing ways to as­sess the im­pact of post- dis­as­ter Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency loans.

“You can make a liv­ing while you’re do­ing good,” Cutts said.

In at­tempt­ing to re­cruit tech work­ers from the Bay Area, Cutts should lean heav­ily on that sense- ofmis­sion pitch, said Terri Grif­fith, a Santa Clara Univer­sity busi­ness pro­fes­sor who stud­ies the in­ter­sec­tion of worker skills and com­pany prac­tices.

“Any de­ci­sion to move

into a new role is al­ways a bunch of bal­ances,” Grif­fith said. “They have to sell the ser­vice piece of this.”

But the Bay Area re­cruit­ing drive — dur­ing which Cutts de­liv­ered a key­note speech at Thurs­day’s Code for Amer­ica Sum­mit in Oak­land — comes at a time of long- sim­mer­ing dis­trust between the tra­di­tion­ally left- lean­ing Bay Area, the Trump administration and the Repub­li­can- led Congress. Far­right sup­port­ers of the pres­i­dent of ten com­plain that tech com­pa­nies like Google, for ex­am­ple, censor con­ser­va­tive views, while Trump’s poli­cies and ac­tions have alien­ated many in the Bay Area, and prompted Tesla CEO Elon Musk, In­tel CEO Brian Krzanich and for­mer Uber CEO Travis Kalan­ick to with­draw from the pres­i­dent’s ad­vi­sory coun­cils.

In the dig­i­tal ser­vice, about half of the cur­rent 180 em­ploy­ees are women, Cutts said. He wants to hire 50 more peo­ple, with work­ers to be em­bed­ded in other fed­eral agen­cies — po­ten­tially in­clud­ing the Trea­sury Depart­ment.

“We’ve lit­er­ally f lown peo­ple into Fort Knox to re­vive com­puter pro­grams,” Cutts said.

Po­ten­tial hires must be able to start within six months and com­mit to at least six months with the dig­i­tal ser­vice, which works out of a town­house “a stone’s throw” from the White House, Cutts said.

The White House, and its most prom­i­nent res­i­dent, could make Cutts’ re­cruit­ing work a chal- lenge, said Stan­ford Univer­sity busi­ness pro­fes­sor Jef­frey Pf­ef­fer.

“Govern­ment jobs are be­ing de­mo­nized by many po­lit­i­cal fig­ures … with peo­ple in all sorts of agen­cies reg­u­larly seen as part of the ‘deep state’ or some­thing,” Pf­ef­fer said. “The pres­i­dent and cab­i­net sec­re­taries show, in gen­eral, lit­tle re­spect for or ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the peo­ple work­ing hard for their govern­ment. Who wants to work for a place that, in many ways, sig­nals it does not value them or ap­pre­ci­ate their ser­vice?”

The dig­i­tal ser­vice, Cutts said hires only 4 per­cent of ap­pli­cants for jobs that re­quire skills be­yond tech­no­log­i­cal ex­per­tise.

“We want peo­ple to be able to do the work, but also sit down and brief a cab­i­net sec­re­tary,” Cutts said.

A num­ber of com­pa­nies he’s aim­ing to poach em­ploy­ees from have poli­cies al­low­ing work­ers to take leaves, and he sug­gested that they could give the dig­i­tal ser­vice a six-month test run, then ei­ther con­tinue in govern­ment or re­turn to their jobs.

The abil­ity for tech ex­perts to try out the dig­i­tal ser­vice is a good sell­ing point for Cutts, along with the op­por­tu­nity for pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, Grif­fith said.

“You could also sell in terms of … learn­ing to work with very com­plex clients, learn­ing to work with dif­fer­ent kinds of time scales,” Grif­fith said. “If the U. S. D. S. can sort of paint a pic­ture about how this is a great move to help you build a broad and unique foun­da­tion, then I think they’ll be more suc­cess­ful.”

Ev­ery­one in Amer­ica should wish the dig­i­tal ser­vice good luck in its re­cruit­ing, she added.

“All of us are touched by the work that the U. S. govern­ment does,” Grif­fith said. “I cer­tainly like my govern­ment to work bet­ter and more ef­fi­ciently. The in­ef­fi­cien­cies cost us all a lot.” Con­tact Ethan Baron at 408- 920- 5011.

LAURA A. ODA — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Matt Cutts, left, U.S. Dig­i­tal Ser­vice act­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor, talks with Veda Cook at the Code For Amer­ica Sum­mit at the Oak­landMar­riott Con­ven­tion Cen­ter on Thurs­day.

LAURA A. ODA — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Stick­ers and cards are dis­played at the U.S. Dig­i­tal Ser­vice re­cruit­ment booth dur­ing the Code For Amer­ica Sum­mit at the Oak­land Mar­riott Con­ven­tion Cen­ter on Thurs­day.

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