Last November, in an ice cream parlor in Palo Alto, I attended a meeting that completely changed the course of my life.
The White House had invited me to meet with them to discuss their interest in my husband, Joel who had the technical skills to lead the development of a new login platform for the United States. When I arrived, I distinctly remember the secret service men huddled in a booth nearby the entrance. Their ear pieces and suits seemed out of place, in this casual Silicon Valley landmark off University Avenue. Denis McDonough, President Obama’s Chief of Staff was in town to talk to key recruits of the United States Digital Service (USDS) at the White House, a stealth team comprised of top technologists whose mission was simply to “build a more awesome government through technology.”
Joel introduced me to the White House Team and one member, Jennifer Anastasoff, asked me to please join her. After quick introductions with other members of the team, we all squeezed into a red vinyl booth and Jennifer began her pitch. “We love Joel,” she began, “But, I’m here to talk about you.” And so began the discussion about how they found Joel and in the process, had found me. The research on my professional career had been done and she assured me that my skills and background would be perfect for the USDS. A short back-and-forth ensued and at the end of our discussion, Jennifer looked at me very seriously and stated, “Have you ever considered using your talents to serve your country?”
Fast forward to two months later and my husband, Joel and our two young children, Trevor and Bianca, are on a plane bound for Washington, D.C.We left the comforts of our sunny beach house in California, clutching onto our newly purchased Canada Goose Jackets because DC had just experienced one of the “greatest snow storms.” Ever. In less than one month, we left our lucrative jobs with Silicon Valley companies, completed over 100+ pages of government requirements, had movers take our furniture and car, put our house on the rental market, found a condo in DC, and a school for the kids. Hurdle after hurdle, we kept pushing forward and every step of the way, we weren’t sure we’d make it to the next step.
But, in the end, it all worked out. Never mind that we only had one week to settle in before work and didn’t receive clearance until 3 days before our first day on the job. Never mind that we were moving our children across the country in the middle of school year. Never mind that we were taking large pay cuts without guarantees of having jobs at our former companies.Why would we do this?
For many reasons. Because it’s a way to help our country. Because it’s a great experience for our family. Because we are in the position to help. We have joined the United States Digital Service because we are leaning into ourselves, as Americans, as people who really believe in the American Dream. Working at the U.S. Digital Service with the mission to reboot the US Government is not easy. In fact, it’s one of the hardest jobs that we’ve both done. But at the end of each day, I truly feel that my efforts are not in vain. Sure, some things may move slower in the government and at times, I feel like I’m on another planet, but then I remember the millions of veterans we are helping get access to their benefits, the students we’re guiding to make better decisions on their college choices, and the immigrants we’re helping to easily understand and complete forms that are required of them.
My father-in-law often says, “None of us gets out of here alive.” He says it in jest, but for me, there’s a heavy underlying message. Life is short. In the end, at the very end, I want to leave knowing that I did my best and hopefully, that I actually made a difference.