U.S. Digital Service at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing
By Kathy Pham, founding product and engineering member of USDS
When a moth found its way into the electronic relay of a Mark II computer, a United States Navy computer scientist noticed that her program failed unexpectedly. As the legend goes, she coined the term “debugging” after discovering and removing this moth. I have always loved that bit of trivia about Grace Hopper, a woman who popularized machine-independent programming languages which led to the development of COBOL. It has an even greater meaning to me now also as a computer scientist at the federal government’s United States Digital Service (USDS).
I experienced my first Grace Hopper Conference (GHC) thirteen years ago as a computer science student at Georgia Tech. I was blown away by the community of (then) 900 women who had gathered in Chicago to discuss various topics in computing and careers in tech. The conference has now grown to 18,000 attendees, making it the largest gathering of women technologists in the world. The Grace Hopper Conference was where I learned about the intersection of software and so many industries, open source communities, computing for social good initiatives like One Laptop Per Child, and the diversity of careers in tech. It was also where I first honed my skills submitting papers and public speaking. I am grateful for the role GHC has played in my career and growth, and always look for opportunities to give back.
I am excited to attend the Grace Hopper Conference next week with many of my colleagues from the United States Digital Service. Our goals are to share our work in tech in government, network with other women, recruit top talent to come serve with us, and learn from other industry experts. I am proud of the team we have built, and our continued commitment to hire and empower great people.
We kicked off our first USDS attendance two years ago with a keynote led by former United States CTO Megan Smith about our work, and last year, we hosted a Women in Government meet-up. This year, we helped officially establish Systers in Government, to continue the conversation and relationships with women across all levels of government in all countries.
On behalf of my colleagues, we hope to meet you at the Grace Hopper Conference next week, and hope you will consider joining us in service at the United States Digital Service.
A few ways to connect:
Meet some of the amazing women I work with at USDS who will be attending GHC 2017:
Amanda Miklik. Like so many UX professionals, I have had a very nonlinear career path; I’m a chef/baker turned academic turned instructional designer/developer/content strategist turned director. At USDS, I’ve had the great fortune to work on some of the government’s biggest tech challenges and support a community of designers transforming government services for the people; this has been the hardest, most rewarding work I’ve ever done. I’m excited to attend my first GHC this year and I look forward to immersing myself in what is likely to be several days of inspiration overload! Layers upon layers of complexity invite an equal number of opportunities to learn and grow, so in an environment where we’re up against really tough problems at scale in government, we’ve all grown a lot!
Anne Kainic. I’m a front-end engineer on the Veterans Affairs team at USDS. Because we’re a tight-knit group taking on big challenges, I’ve been in positions that have pushed me to grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined before. I’ve gained invaluable technical skills, mentorship, and leadership experience, all while contributing to projects that tangibly improve the lives of veterans. Excited to be back at GHC among so many inspiring women!
Annie Nguyen. Product Designer & User Researcher. For the last year, I’ve worked on projects that include redesigning public assistance program application, leading research and UX design at the State Digital Service, and currently building products to help Veterans and VA staff with the appeals process. I’m inspired by the direct impact we have on improving services for Americans of all kinds, and would love to chat more about how we can do this together. As a first-time GHC attendee, I look forward to learning and connecting to this diverse and growing community!
Clair Koroma. In past lives, I have been a graphic designer, web developer, UX and 508 specialist, and software trainer. I have met a lot of amazing and smart people along the way, but for sure, my best gig thus far is the one I currently have at USDS, where I get to work with a robust team of some of the smartest, most compassionate, people across the tech spectrum. I work on two teams: the procurement team (aka the #Procuremenati) that works with our Federal partners to tackle the toughest challenges in digital service acquisition and the Defense Digital Service where I provide policy/process (aka bureacracy hacking) and acquisitions support on a variety of projects. What I love most about my job is the real impact of our work on improving the functionality of Federal Government for the people it serves.
Elaine Ho. I am the Chief of Staff at USDS and responsible for all of our internal operations. A lawyer by trade, I have had careers as a military officer, private sector attorney, and an executive in the federal government. I joined USDS almost a year ago, and I’m honored to be a part of such an amazing, diverse, and resilient team that is radically transforming government to better serve the people who need it the most. Special message for those in government: Even after experiencing the slow pace of change and the seemingly stifling bureaucracy, if you’re still searching for ways to make a difference, come talk to us!
Grace McKinney. I am a Talent Operations Specialist. As a stereotypical millennial who just wants to help people, USDS has been a great opportunity. My previous experience has been in academia and non-profits, but being a part of an organization that is able to effectively serve the American people at such a large scale has been amazing. This is my first time at GHC and I’m excited to be attending with so many of my wonderful and accomplished colleagues.
Jennifer Anastasoff. I start organizations and build teams that solve important problems.
Generally, I do this by finding awesome, caring people and supporting them. There is nowhere this has been more true than at USDS where I have been a founding team member and Head of People with the privilege of building the best talent team in the universe, working with folks who have been fighting to make tech work for the American people for years, and hiring over 350 people along the way.
Jessica Weeden. I am a service designer who just recently joined the DHS Digital Service Team. I am working on improving the experience and efficiency of applying for asylum in the US. I joined USDS because of the opportunity to have huge impact on the communities that need it the most. I’m inspired everyday by the work I see happening all around me and look forward to being further inspired by all the amazing women at the Grace Hopper Conference next week.
Julie Meloni. I vividly remember the day when NCSA Mosaic allowed web developers to align images somewhere other than “top” (11 Nov 1993). Don’t get me started on the day HTML tables were supported (20 Dec 1994) because we’re all still paying for that one. I wrote a bunch of books on web application development with the LAMP stack, and I used to build things, but now I build teams who build things — I love coaching engineers to be their most awesome whole selves at work. I stepped away from engineering management to join USDS, where I’m Director of our Product Management and Strategy and Operations Community of Practice. This is the most rewarding, hardest, weirdest thing I’ve ever done and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Jenny Kim. This is my first time attending GHC and I must say I’m truly privileged to be able to attend as a product manager with U.S. Digital Service. My background is in fashion and business, where public service is not a common, everyday concept. Being with USDS and helping build an identity management solution called login.gov to improve citizens’ access to government services has been an eye-opening experience where I realize the impact of my contributions through service and focusing on the needs of the public. Knowing that I make a difference in the lives of millions of people in America every day encourages me to attend GHC to help bring more women into this space to serve as change agents that the world so desperately needs.
Kathy Pham. In all my roles ranging from software engineer to data scientist to product manager at companies like Google and IBM, serving with fellow public servants at the United States Digital Service has been the most fulfilling and challenging honor of my professional life. At USDS, I have had the opporutnity to bridge my personal and professional passions in healthcare, empowering people, public service, cancer fighting, software, and data by leading and contributing to projects with veterans, health records, people operations, the Precision Medicine Initiative, and the Cancer Moonshot.
Laura Kadamus. As a product designer and UX researcher with USDS I have worked on projects ranging from automating the green card renewal process at USCIS to tracking flood insurance payments at FEMA. Like many UXers, I have a non-linear background, (sociology → fashion design → a mix of service design and behavioral economics) which suits me well to solve the ever-changing problems we are presented with as designers of government services. I’ve spent 10 months at USDS being inspired by the amazing people I work with and I’m looking forward to meeting more of the same at my first Grace Hopper Conference!
Lauryn Fantano. I am a Product & Interaction Designer. This is my first time attending Grace Hopper. I’ve been serving at USDS for a little over a year now and while the way government works definitely seems a little silly at times, this is hands down the coolest gig I’ve ever had. In the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to design and launch a tool that makes it easier for frequent travelers to know if a DHS Trusted Traveler program is right for them, research how to improve the enlistment process for military hopefuls and lead an effort to vastly improve the relocation experience for military families. While bureaucratic walls definitely exist, nothing is more invigorating than knowing you are the one in the position to knock it down and empower everyone to make a difference! (YAY!) Whether you’re curious about USDS in general, my work with DHS or DOD, or what it was like transitioning from a brand-centric company like Under Armour to the government sector — come find me, let’s talk.
Lilly Madigan. I am a UX Designer. I’m in love with my job at the Defense Digital Service, because I finally get to work with my type of weirdos, ones that believe in creating with the user, not for them. One of my most rewarding projects to date was when I got to teach service members how to conduct usability testing on both hardware and software and put the user first. I’m driven by a fierce desire to have a positive impact on the lives of service members and their families. If you like to make the world a better place, come talk to me and consider joining USDS!
Lisa Chung. I joined USDS just a few weeks ago as a software engineer. I can already tell you, I’ll come out of this tour of duty a better engineer and a better person. The gravity of the work here is unlike anything I’ve touched; it’s a privilege to work in this space, and with such a driven, receptive team. This will be my first time at GHC, and I’m very excited.
Marcy Jacobs. With a background in fine art and psychology, I joined the United States Digital Service after 18 years in the private sector focused on user advocacy and the intersection of design and human behavior. My role as Director of Design at USDS allowed me support multiple projects, work with fantastic teams of designers, engineers and product managers, and scrub in to help on small and large efforts across nine agencies. I am honored to now be leading the Digital Service team at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where the opportunities to transform services for Veterans are enormous. We have amazing talent working on unbelievably difficult challenges that impact millions of people.
Mina Hsiang. I started my career building automated medical diagnostics for developing countries, at a startup based in a hospital. I’m a user-driven hardware gal… but over the years I’ve done a lot of other random stuff like work with the government of Malawi on their supply chain, and spent 3 years as a VC focused on starting companies to solve hard technical problems. I now lead our Health and Human Services team, where we’re building systems that will affect over 50 million people’s healthcare. I can honestly say that it’s been the job where I’ve learned the most about leadership, it’s where I’ve had the broadest impact for sure, and the team is incredible- diverse and supportive and smart and with so much heart.
Natalie Kates. I’m currently a product manager for our health team here at USDS. I joined USDS almost two years ago — time flies! — and have been mostly working on projects that help Americans get better medical care. My background is all in health tech, so it’s been particularly incredible to spend my time at USDS helping to move the industry forward at a scale you can’t get in the private sector (~4% of the United States GDP). Come find me at GHC and we can talk more about it!
Nadia Yousuf. This is my first GHC! I joined the U.S. Digital Service’s Talent Team after spending a few years in the private sector in various recruiting and people operations roles, so am excited to be part of a mission driven organization. The Talent Team at USDS handles everything from recruiting to projects to on-boarding, and we are constantly looking to make things more efficient. Happy to share more with anyone who wants to know!
Raquel Romano. I am a computer scientist and software engineer always in search of an opportunity to fuse my quantitative self with my purpose-driven self. Who knew that someone with a PhD in AI would end a long and exhilarating ride building software at Google to work for…government? But yes, I was irresistibly drawn to joining USDS to work on projects like helping people get immigrant visas for family members (a topic near to me, a Latina with plenty of immigrant friends and family). I’m now the engineering lead for vets.gov and am learning something new every day — would love to talk with anyone intrigued by the challenging but absolutely worthwhile work of using your technology skills to improve how people receive critical government services.
Sabrina Williams. I’m Sabrina and I’m heading to my 6th (!) Grace Hopper. I call myself a developer productivity engineer, which means I like to write software to make other engineers happier and more productive. I have degrees in computer science and philosophy and I worked at HP and Google, but I’m proudest of the ~2 years I spent with USDS, eventually becoming the (Acting) Director of Engineering. I’m still in the reserves so they can call me back when the aliens invade, but for now, I’m happily back at home in the Bay Area and working at a startup.
Stephanie Neill. I’m currently the executive director for the DHS team at USDS. I joined USDS in March 2016 and spent my first year building technology to improve the Naturalization process for immigrants on the path to becoming “new Americans.” (Naturalization is the final step immigrants go through to become US Citizens.) I’m excited to attend GHC for the first time, and even more so to meet fascinating, trailblazing women! Before joining USDS, I held Product positions at IAC, Lions Gate Entertainment, The New York Times and various start ups.
Suzanne Chapman. I am a User Experience Lead on the USDS team at Veterans Affairs (VA). At VA, we’re working to make it a lot easier for Veterans to get the benefits and services they’ve earned. I do design, user research, and content — but I got my start as a front-end developer, so I still have a deep love for code. I’m also passionate about inclusive design and accessibility practices to make sure we’re creating things that work well for everyone. Not a single day has gone by while working at USDS where I didn’t feel like I was doing work worth doing!