• Ryan MacInnis

Transitioning from Xbox to the FTC (With Vivian Lee, Presidential Innovation Fellow)

Vivian Lee is one of the rare examples of someone who has made the transition from the private to public sector, having spend spent more than six years at Microsoft in various marketing and product roles before being accepted into the prestigious Presidential Innovation Fellowship program. As a Presidential Innovation Fellow, she's assigned to the Federal Trade Commission where she is taking her passion for civic technology and engagement, and marrying it with the opportunity to make a real impact in an agency that is serving communities across the country.

I interviewed her in an episode of my podcast, "Building the Bridge", and believe it is one of the most interesting ones I've recorded because people have been asking me to things: "Can you find someone who moved from the private to public sector to talk about their career change?" and "What do people get wrong about innovation in government?"

Vivian does an amazing job answering those, and much more. I've highlighted some of the things that really resonated with me below, but encourage you to listen to the full episode to truly understand what motivates Vivian to pursue civic tech and how we can make these opportunities more accessible.

Providing employees the space to invest in civic technology pursuits

Vivian shared that Microsoft has a program that allows employees to take 'civic leave' to pursue an endeavor in the public sector, and I wish more companies did this. I always wondered why more private sector companies don't offer a rotational program or an opportunity for the public sector to have a Facebook employee for example "on loan" to help with key projects or initiatives that would ultimately make technology or digital processes work for more people. I’ve always loved what the Presidential Innovation Fellowship program has done to empower people to use their design, product, and technical skills to solve the biggest problems in government but think there should be a LinkedIn for public sector jobs (+ skill development) to make government careers more accessible.

Programs like PIF or getting a degree in public policy/administration are great ways to get exposure but are either cost prohibitive (debt) or require location changes for internship work. Maybe an opportunity for companies like Coursera to partner with the Department of Labor to build that bridge. More to come...

The biggest misperceptions of innovation in government

Government is slow, it's hard to innovate, it's incapable of the speed needed to get stuff done. Vivian shared that while some of this is true, it's important to understand the audience they're serving. If they fail, they are potentially depriving Americans of the services they need the most - especially those in marginalized communities. Simply put, the stakes, and stakeholders are different so it's important to keep that in mind when working with the government in any capacity. Similarly, government innovation isn't as sexy or as spotlight-worthy as it is in the private sector, but is vital to transforming the ways that Americans access services that can improve their lives, families, communities, etc.

Soft skills matter. It's all about investing in relationships

I've had the incredible opportunity to work at companies like LinkedIn where this, as a company value, is core to everything you do. What I learned from Vivian is that a lot of government is about the relationships that you're building, the people that you're shepherding, and the consensus that you're getting. It's important to make sure you're investing in developing yourself as a colleague and leader, as much as you are investing in your area of expertise - particularly if your partners are in the public sector.

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