California's digital services job listings reveal an evolving mindset among IT leaders

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On the surface, there’s nothing remarkable about the dozen new digital services jobs the California Department of Technology and Government Operations Agency recently posted on GitHub.

But closer examination reveals a growing trend in state and local government and the prominence one of IT management’s most intractable challenges.

The kinds of roles California is hiring for reveal a shift in internal operations and an increased emphasis on digital services. Many of the new job listings are for roles traditionally reserved for contractors or that were simply ignored – jobs like scrum coach and user researcher.

The listings also make an appeal to younger workers, with mentions of opportunities to work from home and a chance to work on projects that make a difference.

Some of the positions the state is hiring for are for an agile procurement project that will serve as a demonstration of what new approaches to IT can accomplish in state government, said Stuart Drown, deputy secretary for innovation and accountability at CalGovOps.

“A year into it we realized there’s a lot of capacity that we need that we don’t have, specifically around agile development and user-centered design,” Drown said. “So we need to build out our state-level capacity, because we expect to be having more of these types of projects in the future. These are things we haven’t trained for and haven’t recruited for in the past.”

Following agile collaborations with federal innovation arm 18F and Code For America, new roles like these indicate that those early experiments of new IT approaches for government passed muster. Even the way the job postings are written – using plain language – show that California government is willing to show a little leg to attract the people it wants.

“Number one was writing the job announcement in plain language and focusing not on job classifications, which are very arcane civil service titles and the job titles often are ‘Systems Analyst M’ or something. Not very helpful. So we decided to focus on what the actual job content was,” Drown said.

Before the jobs were posted on GitHub, they were listed on the Department of Technology website, Drown said, but they didn’t get many replies. What would be a routine operation for the private sector is proving a relatively aggressive move for state government.

The critical and sensitive nature of state government’s missions creates a natural inclination toward a conservative management style, but with IT talent retiring from government at an unsustainable pace, leaders like Drown are realizing that if they don’t try new things to find tech talent, government IT could implode.

“It’s paradoxical, but our experience has been that the closer you are to Silicon Valley, the tougher it is to compete with Silicon Valley,” Drown said.

CDoT’s deputy director of external affairs, Teala Schaff, agreed it was time to try something new.

“We lose a lot of folks to private sector,” she said. “I mean, it’s California. They go to Silicon Valley and make three times as much.”

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California, Digital Services, Procurement, State & Local News, States, Tech News, workforce
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