USDS Alumni Network: David Kaufman

When you join USDS, you become part of a community that extends to life after your tour of duty. In this blog series, we share the stories of USDS Alumni. Find out what they worked on, where they are now, and why you should join us!

David Kaufman, He/Him, Communications & Public Engagement, Grew up in New Rochelle, New York — Currently lives in San Francisco, California

At a recent staff meeting our first Chief of Staff, Sarah Sullivan, shared the origin and importance of the first USDS value: Find the truth. Tell the truth. During her story, she mentioned a fellow USDSer David Kaufman, and the role he played in helping craft a formal set of team values. I reached out to learn more about David’s work in shaping the brand of USDS and his experience serving a tour of duty.

Kelsey Hastings, USDS: You previously worked on communications and public engagement at USDS, what are you up to now?

David Kaufman: I currently lead Product & Brand Marketing for Building 8 at Facebook. Building 8 is a relatively new team, working on creating consumer hardware products that bring us closer to loved ones.

KH: What kind of projects did you work on while at USDS?

DK: At USDS I worked on a wide range of projects, but my primary focus was on building the U.S. Digital Service’s brand, communicating our impact to the outside world, and working to build a tradition of public service in the tech industry. A few projects I’m particularly proud to have worked on include re-launching and optimizing, producing a set of recruiting films narrated by the late Steve Jobs (watch here and below), co-authoring the team’s values, working with journalists to secure coverage about USDS, and launching our Medium publication.

You’ll Never be the Same Again | The U.S. Digital Service

KH: What was your biggest challenge?

DK: Prior to joining USDS, I had worked at a neuroscience startup and at Google. My experience in anything related to government was limited to having previously voted and watched The West Wing on Netflix. It was a huge challenge learning the inner workings of The White House and the processes for getting things done. The learning curve was steep, but I thankfully had amazing colleagues to learn from.

KH: What is your favorite memory of your time at USDS?

DK: My time at USDS produced a very long list of memories, but two days in particular stand out.

First, finalizing and publishing a formal set of team values was a special day. It was one of the shortest Medium posts we wrote in my time at USDS, but it definitely took the longest to write, and was arguably the most important. This work codified a big part of USDS’ ‘special sauce’ and I hope it will influence the way USDS works 5, 15, and 50 years from now. I’ll never forget sitting outside USDS HQ with the team who authored the values (Janine Gianfredi — former Head of Communications, Sarah Sullivan — former Chief of Staff, Haley Van Dyck — former Deputy Administrator, and Mikey Dickerson — former Administrator) talking about the future of the U.S. Digital Service. It was a special moment in time.

The second memory that stands out is when our entire team met with President Obama. It was an unbelievable experience to hear him talk about why he founded the team, the early days of USDS, his reflections of what we had accomplished, and his hopes for the future of the organization. That was truly a ‘one day I’ll tell my grandkids about this’ kind of moment.

KH: What would you tell someone who is thinking of doing a tour of duty?

DK: If you’re thinking about doing a tour of duty with the U.S. Digital Service, I’ll be honest with you. Working at USDS is difficult, at some point in the job you will likely shed a few tears, and at least once you’ll question if you were crazy for moving to Washington. But when you serve at USDS, you wake up every day, serve your country, and have the opportunity to change the lives of millions of Americans. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has been a part of the team–past or present–who regrets their decision to join or found it to be anything less than an absolute honor to have contributed in even the smallest way. I don’t think that’s something you’ll find in any other office in the country.

Kelsey Hastings leads digital marketing and content at U.S. Digital Service. She helps share the inspiring stories of colleagues, alumni, influencers, and the impact of their work. Most days she can be found brainstorming ways to inspire technologists to join USDS and improve government services for all.

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