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    My current work is inside the largest local government in the US, which employs ~325,000 people.

    The team my role exists within has a mission to proactively find and correct what this link might describe as “production failures”; instead of serving requests for city services, we proactively seek out residents who would qualify for available social services and “case manage” them through accessing those services.

    We target residents that historical data shows go underserved, e.g. contacting residents recently released from correctional facilities to guide them towards accessing public health insurance options. We also respond to executive calls for special projects, e.g. activating a task force to contact nursing homes in order to confirm they acknowledge and have publicly posted COVID safety guidelines.

    A friend of mine - a former USMC helicopter pilot turned data scientist - has likened this to the preflight checklists they now use in another complex system: mechanical human flight.

    Everything we do is redundant, but it also extends beyond established boundaries of departmental/agency mission ownership. This comes with the same set of challenges you might expect if you’ve had your own experiences of the political boundaries between conflicting departments of any large private sector organization.

    I believe what our team does is a Good Thing, so I share it as an example of what I believe a version of “better government” looks like to anyone who found the shared link compelling.

    But the technical team responsible for all data infrastructure and analysis supporting our team’s activities is 2 people: myself and one report. I have 5 other roles that sit budget-approved but unfilled. The pandemic-related fiscal crisis triggered a hiring freeze, but those roles had sat unfilled well prior to the pandemic. I share this as context for one closing thought.

    If you are feeling lost and powerless in these challenging times, please consider taking your technical skills to a critical complex system in a constant state of failure: your local government.

    Such work might provide you with deeper meaning (if that is what you are searching for), but you should also be aware that it comes with tremendous challenges and personal costs. In full disclosure, I am not sure how much longer I can tolerate aspiring to effectively do this work while so dramatically under resourced, but I will never lose the perspective I have gained that these complex systems are made up of real people trying their best.