Government Needs Tech. Tech Needs Some Student Loan Help–Let’s figure it out.


I’m a Product Designer in NYC who spent 2016 actively pursuing financial solvency. I worked a full time job, I freelanced, and yes– I even opened a savings account. A real one that I contribute money to, not one with a permanent balance of $12.61.

As a sat down to do my taxes this year, I was pretty bummed to discover that I no longer qualify for a tax credit for interest paid on my student loans. Maybe I should have done one less rebrand, website, or mobile app. While I did earn a good amount this year, the government has a hard number for what they consider “enough money” but they don’t take into consideration how much debt you have. Seems a little strange that income is the only factor in determining who’s eligible for that tax credit, no matter how much student loan debt you’re carrying.

First, let me say that I’m a democrat, I understand that public things work largely because of taxes. This isn’t a rant about big bad government taking my money. But over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about smart people working in tech, student debt and the government really needing those people. So why are government projects and smart tech people standing on different islands?

Well, a few reasons but let’s focus on the biggest one. The pay gap between private sector and government jobs. Will the government ever be able to match the very competitive offers of leading tech companies? Probably not, maybe they can get close. But if the government wants to make competitive offers that rival even the best private sector salaries, they could offer a combination of salary and student loan repayment. I’ll explain how this might work in a minute.

I think it goes without saying that just about every area of government needs some help from the ever-expanding world of tech. Just look at your average government website or mobile experience, there’s absolutely no comparison to those in the private sector (I really hope someone is reading this at the UX nightmare that is the DMV).

Granted, this movement of tech + government is already happening, companies like 18F are leading the way. Look what they did with the U.S. Citizen & Immigration site. It’s, you know, logical, clean, and 1,000% better. There’s even a U.S. Web Design Standard now. It’s incredible work, but let’s be clear, most designers and engineers wouldn’t consider a government job.

There are so many incentives that private tech companies are already offering. It’s time the government tapped into what might be the most valuable incentive of all.

In order to get some forgiveness on your student loans today, you could take a job in public works (teachers, nurses, peace corps, etc). While those people deserve that loan forgiveness, where does that leave people in other industries that have a lot to offer the government? Shouldn’t there be an option to work on a government project for a shorter length of time?

Right now loan forgiveness means multiple year commitments and/or lifelong jobs. Seems like there should be a more flexible option.

Imagine this:

  • As a tech professional (designer, software engineer, project manager, etc.) you could apply for short term government projects for your skill set. 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 12 months.
  • When you accept the job you get to choose how you want to receive money. You get to pick your cash to loan repayment ratio. And, dare I say, could the loan repayment amount be pre tax?! Similar to how 401k’s work.
  • And at the end, you still receive some cash to live, you made a dent in your loans, and just maybe you’ve made a piece of the government web sphere less of a burning trash pile.

Might be cool right?

Here’s an example: A designer accepts a project to design a new government recycling website. The terms are for 3 months for a total payment of $20,000. And the designer elects to take half of that sum in cash and the other half toward their loans. After 3 months- $10,000 of student loan debt is repaid and ~$6,500 earned in cash.

While everyone’s financial situation is different and allocating 50% of a paycheck is a lot. Even 10% goes a long way on the road to financial freedom.

Here’s what it might take:

  • There would probably need to be a company in place to handle the selecting of candidates, screening, payroll, basic HR, etc.
  • Lots of projects would require government clearances.
  • Having a portion of your check go pre-tax towards your debt I assume is the biggest obstacle. I’m sure this would require adding/rewriting tax laws, blah, blah, blah — there’s smarter people than me to figure out how this could work.

I know I’m making a very complex business model seem simple. I know that there’s way more to consider than what I wrote here. But in the words of that idealistic designer that you hate, “Ya know, just make it work.”

I’m Mary, a Product Designer in NYC. If you liked this, click that little green heart. Follow me here, check out other stuff I’ve written here.