Why We Serve: Jess Weeden
In this series you’ll hear stories from USDSers and learn why they decided to join, why they stay, and how their work is making an impact for all Americans.
Jessica Weeden (she/ her), Designer at Health and Human Services (previously Department of Homeland Security Digital Service). Prior to USDS worked at Philips Healthcare. From Chicago, IL.
What’s your background?
I always loved to write and when I was in school I started studying journalism, but any published writing has to take the reading experience in to account. I found myself drawn to the process of laying out stories in the newspaper, yearbook, and literary magazine. So I ended up pursuing graphic design instead. I transitioned to human-centered design in grad school, where I fell in love with service design in particular.
What inspired you to join USDS?
I first came across USDS in an article about the work a team had done with the refugee program. I was so inspired by the nature of the work, but also saw it as a great real world example of service design in action — even if the article didn’t call it that. I sent the article to all my colleagues as an example of what service design could do and continued to follow the work of USDS.
A few years later, when my husband got a job in Baltimore, I convinced myself the commute to DC would be worth it if I could do this type of work.
Spoiler alert: it totally is.
What has been your biggest challenge?
The biggest on-going struggle I have is overcoming the silos of large agencies. One of the big learnings that came from research with immigrants is that they see USCIS as a single, monolithic entity. They don’t understand why if they give information to one office, all of USCIS doesn’t also have that information. That is a totally reasonable expectation. There’s a similar story at Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for healthcare providers.
People shouldn’t have to understand the internal org structure of an agency in order to successfully get access to government services.
I’m constantly trying to find ways to facilitate that.
How does your work or the work of USDS make an impact?
We find ways to overcome barriers. Again and again I meet civil servants that we partner with who have great ideas and just have not had the time or energy to figure out how to make something happen due to their day-to-day responsibilities. For example, people at USCIS had been wanting to make Case Status Online available for asylum seekers for years, but were hitting various roadblocks.
Using our understanding of the technology involved, the research skills to test the language directly with asylum seekers, and the time to navigate the various other hurdles alongside our civil partners, USDS was finally able to offer the ability for asylum seekers to check the status of their case online without having to travel, sometimes hundreds of miles, to an office, reassuring applicants that their case hasn’t fallen into a “black hole” we heard many feared had happened.
What do you want to do after USDS?
I’ve definitely been bitten by the mission-driven bug. I’m not sure where I’ll go or what role I’ll have, but I know I have to be dedicated to work that also strives to do the most good, for the most people, in the greatest need.
What will you miss most about USDS when you leave?
The conversations I have with teammates. Everyone I work with is so passionate, smart, thoughtful, and intellectually curious. I truly believe in growing by surrounding yourself with people smarter than you, and that happens for me every single day.
The best of technology.
The best of government.
And we want you.
We’re looking for the most tenacious designers, software engineers, product managers, and more, who are committed to untangling, rewiring and redesigning critical government services. You’ll join a team of the most talented technologists from across the private sector and government.
If you have questions regarding employment with the U.S. Digital Service, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit usds.gov/apply.