Kelvin Luu (he/him), Engineer @ USDS HQ. Previously at CreativEngine, Coding Dojo. From Los Angeles, CA and Seattle, WA.
What inspired you to join USDS?
From early childhood, my father would often tell me how important it is to “leave the world not worse than, not the same as, but better than you found it.” Throughout my career I have always looked for roles where I could do just that.
When USDS first started, I marked it off as one of my “North Star” organizations: a place I’d love to work with, support, or contribute to in some way. It was a place where the work was hard, the mission worthwhile, the people excellent, and the impact tangible. At the time, I wasn’t at the right stage in my career to contribute, and I wasn’t plugged into civic tech enough to be aware of organizations like Coding it Forward or the U.S. Digital Corps (which you should apply to!).
Years later, I found myself with enough battle scars and experience to make the jump, and with values such as “Optimize for results, not optics,” and “Find the truth, tell the truth,” I haven’t had a single day where I regretted moving across the country to join.
How does your work or the work of USDS make an impact?
The work of USDS spans across so many missions that I couldn’t do them justice in a short space here, but I will say that the work at Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, such as modernizing the Medicare payment system, has always inspired me in its scope and impact, though I haven’t had the opportunity to work on it yet.
As for some of the work I have done: as part of the SME-QA team, we have been focused on working with United States Office of Personnel Management to improve federal hiring by doing everything from empowering incumbent subject matter experts to piloting government-wide hiring. These pilots have run across more than 22 agencies and resulted in hundreds of successful hires that placed people in critical positions to improve our federal government. Our tools and process have also been instrumental in helping the U.S. Digital Corps hire their cohorts, too! (Did I mention you should apply for the Digital Corps?)
In addition to leading the technical side of the project, I also scrub in on a variety of things such as policy interpretation, outreach and coalition building, academic research, user research, and anything else that needs to get done.
My short love letter to the SME-QA mission is this: our government is nothing without its civil service and, due to its scale, even minor improvements pay huge dividends — and we are making more than minor improvements! I’m grateful to have been able to work in this space with both teams here.
What will you miss most about USDS when you leave?
The people. The people here really give a damn. Whether it’s USDSers or the civil servants that will be here when we leave, everyone I’ve had the fortune of working with has always tried to do the best thing for the American people, so even when there’s disagreement, you know it’s coming from a good place.
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