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Federal CIOs in the U.S. struggle to recruit top tech talent

Kenneth Corbin | May 2, 2014
Government culture and compensation can make the private sector more appealing for young technologists, contributing to a talent shortfall at a time when the feds need IT expertise more than ever -- as the Healthcare.gov fiasco painfully illustrated.

Slaughter, a former top State Department official, draws a sharp contrast between the culture of the tech world - "That's a cool idea; let's see whether that would work" - and that of the nation's capital. "The presumptive yes is not the culture of Washington. That's maybe the understatement of the century."

Ashkan Soltani, an independent technology consultant who has recently been working with reporters from the Washington Post to help them unspool stories about NSA surveillance based on the Edward Snowden leaks, encountered that culture shock firsthand while doing a stint in government.

Soltani, wearing jeans and sharing the stage with four other panelists in business attire, points out that the tech world of startups and hackathons runs on a very different vibe than official Washington. Developers, like artists, tend to prefer to work on their own schedules and are protective of their creative freedom, Soltani says. In other words, not the type who would take to an officious work environment such as the federal government.

"I think culture is the biggest issue," Soltani says. "Some of it is little things, like time and clothing."

Some of it is bigger things, too, like the logistics of doing your job. Soltani recalls his time as a researcher working at the Federal Trade Commission. Eager to dive into his work, he ran into a bureaucratic mire trying to go through the official channels to get his personal technology operation set up.

"I stole a machine that wasn't being used, formatted it, installed my tools," Soltani says. "That's how I did my research. Because it took six months for me to get my research lab set up. So I would just work around the system."

 

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