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What 10 weeks at 18F taught me

Cat Langel is a GSA Public Affairs Officer for the Great Lakes Region.

Working in the federal government for the past 10 years has given me the opportunity to serve the American people in a variety of ways. From helping people prepare themselves for and recover from emergencies, to communicating how the federal government is building a culture of sustainability in its federal buildings, to creating economic opportunities within our communities.

Public service is more than a job for me. The work I do has a direct impact on the lives of the people we serve. Looking to continue and grow my career in the federal government, I applied and was selected for an executive leadership program that is aimed at developing future leaders within the federal government.

As part of the program, I needed to find a 10-week work assignment that would allow me to grow in the areas I was looking to develop as part of my leadership journey: creativity, innovation, and strategic thinking.

So what better place to do that than with 18F, a digital consultancy inside the federal government.

But before I started, I wondered: what can I really learn in 10 weeks? Will I have the opportunity to make an impact?

I worked with Raphy Villas in the Chicago office to design my time with 18F. We built in flexibility so I would have the opportunity to get immersed into the way 18F works. I knew that I was going to lend support to 18F’s C2 project, and I was open to opportunities that would stretch me creatively.

Turns out, I was able to plug in and hit the ground running on Day One. Before the end of my first day, I was quickly pulled into a training project focused on modern digital practices. This project, while outside of my typical comfort zone, gave me the chance to think strategically about how the program could meet the needs of government.

The project also offered me an opportunity to lead the team while one team member was on paternity leave. It challenged me to quickly get up to speed on human-centered design, move the team through the initial design of our project prototype, and position the project for success once my time at 18F wraps up. Ultimately, I learned a new way of approaching a problem, and how creative thinking can uncover innovative solutions.

I also had the chance to use my communication background to revamp content for C2’s user emails and participate in testing these emails with actual users. These efforts paid off, and our revised email content is now in use in GSA’s National Capital Region!

As I wrap up my time with 18F, I’m taking a few things with me:

  • Challenging yourself can create successes. For me, seeking out projects that challenge me are the best way for me to grow both personally and professionally. Coming to 18F, I was excited about the chance to explore projects in an industry new to me. I could have easily let fear hold me back, but I didn’t. By stepping outside my comfort zone, I faced the challenges in front of me, and created opportunities for me to succeed.
  • A new language shouldn’t create roadblocks. As a communicator, I’m no stranger to words, but I noticed the team using words I’ve never heard before — Trello, Agile, Kanban, human-centered design. I quickly realized that these methodologies and tools are key to 18F’s success. This was a chance to learn something new while immediately putting it into practice; I even created a Trello board to help guide my progress with 18F. I’m eager to incorporate this way of thinking into my role at GSA, and share this knowledge with my team.
  • Keep asking. Keep trying. You never know what you’ll uncover. Many leaders are known for taking risks. My time at 18F allowed me to ask a lot of “What if we…?” questions. This not only pushed me to think creatively, but also stretched me to take a chance on ideas, testing their viability. We did this throughout our project, and it helped shape it in a way we weren’t expecting.

Calling 18F home for the past two months has given me the opportunity to grow in countless ways. I’ve pushed myself in ways I wasn’t expecting. I learned new approaches to solving problems. And I have new tools I can carry back to my role at GSA. 18F is doing amazing work that ultimately makes an impact on people and on government. I’m hopeful that I was able to share a small part of my talent to help them continue their success.

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