Skip to content
Log in
Discovering your career, Student Events

Why your tech dream job might be in the US government

Recent grads share why the government could be the best place to launch your tech career

If you’re a techie on the hunt for a stable job that can weather economic recessions, has no “bubble” to burst, and makes direct use of your technical skills, a government agency may be the path you didn’t know you needed. According to the Partnership for Public Service, ​​a whopping 31% of government employees are retiring in the next two years, creating a whole lot of job openings—and government tech recruiters want you.

The Biden Administration kicked off 2023 encouraging all federal agencies to increase pathways for Gen Z to enter the federal workforce and we’re seeing lots of opportunities for students – including those with tech skills. Of the many industries hiring on Handshake, the government has seen the biggest increase in tech job openings for college students and recent grads (up 36% since the start of the school year). Dozens of federal agencies are hiring candidates like you for roles in data science, software engineering, and more. Students everywhere are taking note — applications per job have increased 5x for government tech jobs on Handshake since the start of 2023.

Hear from new grads

That’s why we brought together a panel of experts to discuss what a tech job in government looks like and why it could be a great place to launch your career. Symoné B., a #GovTech content creator, led a lively discussion with several panelists in federal tech roles around the US:

  • Chris Kuang, Co-lead, US Digital Corps: The U.S. Digital Corps is a two‑year fellowship for early‑career technologists where fellows work every day to make a difference in critical impact areas, including pandemic response, economic recovery, cybersecurity, and racial equity.
  • Kira Tebbe, Product Manager, Administration for Children and Families (ACF): ACF is a division of the Department of Health & Human Services. ACF promotes the economic and social well-being of families, children, individuals and communities.
  • Jack Cable, Senior Technical Advisor, Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA): CISA leads the national effort to understand, manage, and reduce risk to the cyber and physical infrastructure Americans depend on every day. CISA serves as both the nation’s cyber defense agency and as the National Coordinator for critical infrastructure resilience and security.

Watch the full conversation and get our key takeaways below:

First, can you share a bit of background about your experience being a government technologist?

Chris: I help lead a program called the United States Digital Corps (launched in 2021), which focuses on bringing recent graduates and technologists into the federal government. Given how many government workers will soon retire, it’s essential we get new people with tech skills. The Digital Corps offers full-time, 2-year fellowships that place tech workers across varying areas of government, where they work on high-impact projects.

Kira: ACF is part of the Health and Human Services Department, which supports children and families across the country, with a $73 billion budget in 2023. We help refugees, fight trafficking, support low-income families, and much more. Any piece of software we build or use requires maintenance and improvements, and I support everything relating to the agile development of our case management system.

Jeff: I never thought I’d end up working for the federal government. In high school, however, I got an invitation to participate in the Pentagon’s Bug Bounty program. They paid people like me to test for vulnerabilities in their systems, and I placed first in Hack The Air Force. I then went to work at the Pentagon for Defense Digital Service, which is part of the US Digital Service. There, I saw smart, technical people making a big impact. I’ve since joined CISA (America's core cyber defense agency, responsible for protecting the federal government and critical infrastructure). The absolute coolest tech work you can find is in government, because there’s nothing else that can scale the way government can.

Why did you want to work in government tech?

Kira: In college, I studied math and sociology. When I was looking for jobs, I was really interested in using my data skills while also supporting people. I started in the private sector in data science for a few years before getting my MBA, but during that time, I was passionate about supporting children and families. During the summer internship of my MBA program, I worked at an ACF grantee (a large childcare provider in Chicago), and I ultimately found the Digital Corps once I was looking for a full-time job. I knew I wanted to work for a large organization that had a big impact on people, so government work was perfect!

What are the biggest pros and cons about a government tech job?

Chris: If you care about any issue under the sun, there’s a 99-100% chance that the government works on it. Climate, health, education, national security—there’s an agency responsible for that. In 2023, that also includes technology. One of the greatest privileges is to go home at the end of each day feeling that you served the public and made a meaningful difference. Other advantages are work-life balance, remote work, flexibility, benefits, and pension. In this economy, a federal job will be one of the most secure types out there, with designated protections. While the salaries are slightly lower than in the private sector, there’s so much opportunity for growth—often faster than you might otherwise experience it.

How can new grads navigate government recruiting?

Jack: Scholarship for Service works with a number of schools, so I’d recommend exploring that first. CISA also has the Pathways internship program, which comes with the opportunity for full-time work once you graduate. A third internship path can come with securing your own funding and approaching someone who can help create an opportunity.

On the full-time side, there are generally two paths: the General Service (GS) scale, which is standard for the federal government. We also now have a brand new hiring authority for CISA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) called the Cyber Temp Management System (CTMS), which aims to hire people based on skill level vs. years of experience. It’s really great for a lot of young people with tons of technical skills, and the pay is closer to what’s in the private sector.

Was there anything unique about the government recruitment process you didn’t know about prior?

Chris: Government recruiting can take a while, which is definitely unique in the tech space. But it can work to your advantage! For Pathways internships, you can apply up to 9 months before you graduate, which can alleviate the stress of waiting until after graduation. And there’s never an automated process or bot scanning your resume—each application is reviewed by a person. This is part of the government’s commitment to equity and equal opportunity. Also, a lot of government hiring is very transparent, almost like an open-book test. Everything you need to know is in the job description—sometimes even the questions you’ll be asked in an interview, which are always related to the actual job.

Are there any skills, certifications, or qualifications that make an applicant stand out?

Chris: Certifications can be helpful but definitely aren’t necessary—I have zero certifications and probably will never get any. I’d prioritize having work experiences, side projects you can speak to, and/or research you can concretely discuss. Also, a lot of people think that everyone needs a top-secret clearance to work in the government. For the most part, this isn’t true. You’ll be put through a public trust background investigation, which is very similar to surface-level checks in the private sector. If you work in national security or the defense space, you might need a higher-level clearance. If you already have this, it can unlock opportunities.

Are there any stereotypes or misconceptions about working for the government that you’d like to address?

Kira: “Government work is slow.” This was a concern I had when starting, but now that I’ve been here, I now realize that the reason it sometimes seems to move slowly is because the scope of the work is so massive. Regardless of where you work in the government, so many people—including children—rely on programs and services. The risks of falling short are a lot higher than in other spaces. It’s all about being thorough. You can move a small jet ski quickly, but you must move a huge ship slowly. In government tech, it’s often closer to the latter. Even so, the pace of the day-to-day work is very fast!

Chris: Another myth I had in mind was, “Gee, everything changes every four years with the new administration. Am I going to be out of a job?” The good news is that most federal employees are civil servants, not appointees. Civil servants keep the lights on regardless of who the president is, and while a small layer of appointees will change with each administration, the day-to-day work doesn’t. Another great thing is the diversity in hiring compared to private-sector tech. It’s a real representation of the public, which means we value different identities and have more perspectives at the table.

Any tips or tricks you wish you’d known to make getting started in government easier?

Jack: If there’s one guiding principle I have in my career, it’s to maximize autonomy. One fun challenge with government work is to find pockets where you can really excel and have an impact without getting tangled in bureaucracy. (In fact, there are actual positions in government called “bureaucracy hackers”—a role that literally navigates bureaucracy.) When you’re looking for jobs, try to find a boss who will allow you to go forth, conquer, and independently do important work. Second, everyone I’ve met in government is super friendly and passionate about their work! Talk to people, build your network, and see how you can contribute early on.

Kira: Also, learn the context, policies, and history surrounding whatever problem you’re working on. Tech doesn’t exist in a bubble, and by its nature, it’s problem solving. The more you can learn about a problem—and from other people who have spent time thinking about the problem—the better technologist you’re going to be. I’ve found great value from talking with others about government policies and histories and hearing opinions from academics or advocacy groups. Looking back, I wish I had started this process sooner.

Chris: Tech and government is still a fairly new marriage, so all the opportunities are not always in one place. So, be entrepreneurial and resourceful. At one point, I had a Twitter account and followed people who were doing cool things. I also subscribed to email newsletters. This allowed me to understand what types of opportunities were out there.

What opportunities for data scientists exist in the government?

Kira: So many! The value of data science is learning from data. Every agency, department, and program (whether technical or non-technical or human service oriented) needs this! There’s a really big push for federal agencies to be data driven and learn on a high level from the people they serve. In fact, a couple months ago, the Office of Personnel Management introduced job series 1560, which is just for data science. There's a big focus now on using equitable data to serve people fairly vs. catering to groups who are the “best” at getting government money.

If an entry-level application asks if you’ve had experience at a certain GS pay level, how can applicants with no paid experience navigate this?

Chris: If you’ve applied for or looked at a federal job, it might say you need a year of equivalent experience at the GS-7 level. If you’re unfamiliar with the federal government, you might not even know what this is! Even people who have worked in the government find it very difficult to differentiate between GS levels. The key here is “equivalent experience.” If you’ve had a year of experience doing the type of work listed, just check yes—hiring managers will be able to evaluate your resume for themselves. If you check no, your resume won’t be seen. It also can be any experience, not just federal—volunteering or unpaid work counts!

Should part-time and/or unrelated jobs be included on resumes?

Jack: There’s no such thing as a 1-page resume in government! Your “federal government resume” will be everything you’ve ever done. If you’re able to frame your experience within the parameters of the job listing (i.e. customer service, etc.), the hiring manager can decide if it aligns with what they’re looking for.

What are the advantages of working for a government agency vs. a government contractor?

Symoné: Job security, lots of growth potential, ability to meet a lot more people, and doing highly impactful work. The only drawback can be the salary. But there are many jobs on USAJOBS, and depending on the agency, you may be able to apply using a different pay scale than GS.

Photo by Brandon Mowinkel on Unsplash

Find the right jobs for you. Get hired.