Serving a shorter tour with USDS: Annie Sullivan

In this blog series, we share the stories of USDSers. Find out where they were before USDS, why they joined, the challenges they face, the impact of their work, what life post-USDS may be, and what they’ll miss most. Hope you enjoy meeting them!

United States Digital Service
4 min readOct 22, 2019

Annie Sullivan, she/her, Google, Ann Arbor Michigan

I’m a software engineer. I joined USDS from Google, where I worked on Chrome, web search, Google Docs, and toolbar. For most of my career, I’ve focused on performance and reliability, especially on web frontends. Before that I did AI and gameplay programming for video games.

What inspired you to join USDS?

Some of my coworkers at Google came back from tours of duty and I was really inspired by the impactful work they did and the interesting stories they told. I hadn’t really thought about how I could use my skills to help the federal government before, but once I saw how other people had contributed, I wanted to help too!

Why did you decide to only join for a limited amount of time?

Almost my entire extended family is in Michigan and I have a lot of family obligations that prevent me from relocating. But when I found out it’s possible to do a 3 month tour of duty, I decided to take the plunge. I took the kids to DC for the summer. We all had a great time, and we will be back home in time to start school in September.

What has been your biggest challenge during your tour of duty?

The biggest challenge for me has been understanding how organizations are structured — how decisions are made, who owns each piece of the project, and where and how to drive change. Luckily USDS is not made up of just software engineers like me! Many of my co-workers are amazing bureaucracy hackers, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

Do you feel like you were able to make an impact through your service with USDS?

I was really excited this summer to have an opportunity to contribute to a lot of projects — grid modeling at the Department of Energy, better hiring at the Office of Personnel Management, better access to health data for Medicare providers at Health and Human Services, faster software for the Marines.

On the last day of my tour I had the opportunity to speak at the Abstractions conference in Pittsburgh and to chat with the local NPR station, on the importance of addressing bias in machine learning.

Even though you only spent 3 months in DC, do you feel like you were able to be effective?

I was able to have a big impact! What made this possible were my teammates at USDS, who go deep on a problem they’re passionate about and know how to work as a team. There are amazing people working in the federal government. Because we are term limited, everyone at USDS works hard to empower career public servants to whom we can pass the torch. A 3-month rotation isn’t long enough to lead a major initiative, but it’s more than enough time to jump in and help out with a lot of great work people who are doing longer terms are spearheading.

A 3-month rotation isn’t long enough to lead a major initiative, but it’s more than enough time to jump in and help out with a lot of great work people who are doing longer terms are spearheading.

What advice can you offer someone considering a shorter tour of duty?

If I could give three pieces of advice, they’d be:

  1. Talk to as many people as you can. We check our social media and you can email us at You can also connect with current USDSers at any of our upcoming events.
  2. Everyone at USDS is doing really interesting work. You can learn a lot about how to be effective from their experience.
  3. Jump in wherever you can, even if it’s just setting up some time to talk through work you did on a similar project.



United States Digital Service

The U.S. Digital Service is a group of mission-driven professionals who are passionate about delivering better government services to the public.