When thinking about a technology career, not many people envision themselves working in government, but you’ll be surprised by how many opportunities are available for technologists to make an impact in public service. The U.S. Digital Corps is a new two-year fellowship for recent graduates and other early-career technologists to serve in the federal government with skills ranging from software engineering and cybersecurity, to product management, design, and data science & analytics.
In continuing our series of profiles of public interest technologists in government, I talked to Ans Bradford, a front-end web developer at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), about his journey in civic tech and his impactful work at CFPB.
CFPB is a federal agency that provides resources for consumers to make informed financial choices when choosing mortgages, student loans, credit cards, and other products, and it also protects consumers from unlawful predatory financial practices within those and related financial markets. We are excited to partner with CFPB in our upcoming inaugural cohort of U.S. Digital Corps Fellows.
What was your path to a career in civic tech? What led you to consider public service?
My first exposure to public service was in grad school, where I had an appointment doing web, photography, and graphic design services in Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. I assisted with various events including visits by government officials, and produced web and multimedia projects for regional issues.
After grad school, I taught digital media in New Zealand for a few years, wrote a book on HTML5, and then returned to the USA as a 2013 fellow at Code for America in San Francisco. Together with two other fellows, I worked with the San Mateo County, CA, Human Services Agency to develop an application for finding social services within the county. Through all that, I got a lot of exposure to the intersection of technology and public service. I felt that there was a lot of energy in bringing digital services to government.
Joining federal service was a natural next step, and I had a chance encounter at a conference with a CFPB employee, who told me about a fellowship the bureau was starting. Soon after, I joined the bureau as a front-end web developer fellow on a 2-year term to work on a site redesign and I later transitioned to a permanent role. I’ve been with CFPB now for over seven years, continuing to improve and maintain consumerfinance.gov.
What was it like to join government as part of a community of fellows?
When I joined CFPB, it was part of a fellowship where a large number of people joined at the same time that I did. We spanned across different disciplines of front-end and back-end engineering, UX researchers, and designers.
It was really an exciting time because I was part of such a large group of fellows who were very enthusiastic to be there, had a broad range of different skill sets, and were focused on one shared goal. A lot of folks were coming into government for the first time—many from the private sector—and the bureau was also quite new at that time, so we all felt that we could make a difference in presenting the bureau’s services to the public. It was a great feeling.
Can you tell us a bit about a project or two that you are currently working on?
Since its early days, the CFPB has had an in-house design and development department that maintains a design system for helping manage the appearance and functionality of digital assets across the bureau’s websites. This system includes a set of UI components (buttons, notifications, drop-down menus, etc.) that can be fed into other projects to use the same styling and functionality.
This type of system is common in private sector tech companies. Design systems are also present within government outside of the CFPB, of particular note through the U.S. Web Design System developed by the Technology Transformation Services (TTS) at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). We are currently exploring ways we may incorporate or replace our design system with the one developed by TTS to better align our digital assets with other federal entities.
Having a design system gives our department a single source of truth, which helps create uniform appearances and interactive experiences for our users across all our websites and components. This is important because it allows us to address things like accessibility and performance in a central place, and consistent designs make our sites more trustworthy and easier to interact with for users.
NoteSee additional information below on the requirements for modernizing public-facing federal websites.
What’s the work culture at CFPB?
The work culture within the design and development department at the CFPB is highly collaborative and distributed. Many team members are fully remote and spread out across various time zones. We follow agile software development methodologies, with daily video conference stand-ups and bi-weekly sprint planning and review meetings, as well as periodic department-wide meetings. We have an active chat platform for day-to-day team discussions, which helps eliminate email noise. Approximately annually, the department holds a “regroup” week where we self-reflect on our work processes and project priorities.
The bureau has an in-house digital team of user experience (UX) researchers, designers, copy editors, and back- and front-end web developers, whose members each come with their own skills and perspectives. I enjoy seeing collaborative cross-discipline work happen that brings a new project from mockups to fruition, to finally being published live on the public website. Each project cycle presents new opportunities to learn things and try new ways of addressing engineering problems.
What do you like about working in the federal government?
The majority of my work happens on a public GitHub repo, and I like the idea that anyone can go and see what I’m doing. My work is not driven by the things that it may be in the private sector, such as profits. We’re driven by our mission and our goal of making CFPB’s services accessible and available to as many people as possible.
I like being part of the mission to bring excellent government services to the public. Government services can get a bad reputation as being clunky, inefficient, and not user-focused. The digital services of government are only as good as the people willing to put in the work to make them better. For me, that means making consumerfinance.gov the best it can be across browsers and devices in terms of appearance, performance, and accessibility. Seeing that work end up in public brings satisfaction in feeling like my skills contributed to improving government services for the public.
Having a career as a technologist in government is a rewarding experience! If you’re interested in joining us, check out the U.S. Digital Corps for early-career opportunities and visit Join TTS for mid-career and senior-level opportunities.
Editor’s note: Learn more about the requirements for modernizing your agency’s public-facing federal websites.
- 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (21st Century IDEA) — Public-facing federal websites and digital services should use the U.S. Web Design System and meet eight specific requirements. The Act aims to improve the digital experience for government customers and reinforces existing requirements for federal public websites.
- Go-Live Checklist for Federal Websites — Current relevant laws, policies, and regulations for federal agencies; includes a downloadable checklist.
- Required Web Content and Links — Federal Web Managers Council list of required links that all federal websites need to have.
Connect with other feds working on digital projects by joining our Communities of Practice (e.g., Web Managers, Multilingual, Plain Language, IT Accessibility and Section 508, User Experience, Web Analytics and Optimization, Customer Experience, Social Media, and more).