Kathy Pham · Digital Service Expert & Founding Team Member, U.S. Digital Service at The White House

Kathy Pham

Digital Service Expert & Founding Team Member, U.S. Digital Service at The White House

“Up until I was 17 years old, I knew nothing about engineering or computer science. My school did not have computer science classes, and few students had aspirations to become engineers. My parents definitely did not understand the field, and as immigrants, they hoped for what they perceived as stable careers in medicine and law. My senior year, my geometry teacher, Mrs. Pepi Streiff, decided she would teach a class in Pascal (YES PASCAL) and try to get some students to take it. She asked me if I wanted to take the elective my senior year and I said yes! I went into it thinking it was a computer class — as in typing and learning how to use different programs. Despite not knowing anything about this field initially, I fell in love.”

Kathy went on to earn her bachelors and masters degrees in Computer Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “I worked at Google Health on a new product looking to transform health data. I saw the endless opportunities to tie together healthcare and tech.” At IBM she built data warehouses for hospitals. And at Harris Healthcare Solutions she developed open source software to share healthcare information between different hospital systems . “Any tools or language the hospital wanted to use, I learned on the job — quickly picking up new tools and skills!”

“I’m really proud of my work at the United States Digital Service! I build products and advise on health initiatives, grow our product and data teams, and helped build out the initial foundation for hiring to find great people to solve some of the greatest digital service challenges in the United States. My team and I created a system to share between the spinal cord injury sites at the Veterans Affairs so they could reliably track all their patients, which they previously couldn’t do. I also provided advising, input, and use cases to the White House Precision Medicine Initiative as well as the government-wide Healthcare Interoperability missions.”

“If you’re looking for a career pivot and don’t have all the skills yet, and your day job does not give you time to do so, build up those skills in other ways that fulfill you in life. “I went from a software engineer -> product manager -> software consultant -> data scientist -> technical program manager -> product manager! And in each new role I still have remnants of my other roles, and they all contribute to how well I do in my new role. As a software engineer, I had side projects where I built teams and delivered products. So when I interviewed for a product role, I had many examples to share. As a software consultant, I picked up a lot of data skill in data mining, data warehousing, and data visualization, which prepared me for a role as a data scientist at Google. So each pivot was with transferable skills from side projects. And I never thought I’d work in government. But because of my experience with healthcare and data, United States Digital Service found me. It was lovely.”

Kathy recommends getting started by volunteering in the community, contributing to open source projects through 18F or joining the fellowship at Code for America. “That’s how I ended up with the best unexpected job I can imagine — working for the U.S. government as a founding team member, digital service expert, and product manager at the United States Digital Service at the White House.”