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10 weeks improving government through technology

This summer TTS welcomed Abdul Tahlil as a Coding it Forward Civic Digital fellow. Abdul joined the TTS Outreach team to work on the 18f.gsa.gov site. We’ve invited Abdul to tell us a bit more about the fellowship program and his experience as an engineer on the 18F site team. Take it away Abdul!

About the Civic Digital Fellowship

The Civic Digital Fellowship is a 10-week summer internship that places students and recent graduates in high-impact positions inside the federal government to innovate and solve problems using their technical skills. I was interested in joining the civic tech space to expose myself to the federal government’s approach to solving problems with technology and to learn about the challenges that arise when building products for our federal agencies.

I came to TTS Outreach to support the team on updating the 18F site to improve visitors’’s experiences by further meeting 21st Century IDEA guidelines. Throughout the internship experience, I found myself continuing to learn and ask questions about areas I would like to know more about. Given the tasks I had to complete, some days required more learning than others, but as the internship progressed I became more comfortable understanding my tasks and responsibilities and finding the answers when problems or complications arose.

Migrating the site to USWDS 2

I worked closely with the senior site engineer to migrate the site from version 1 to version 2 of the U.S. Web Design System (USWDS). Since USWDS 2 entailed a major rewrite of the entire codebase, migrating to the latest version wasn’t as simple as changing the version number in a json file. We expected that the old component names would not work with the latest version, so we handled migration by addressing the specific components and layouts that needed to be fixed in order for the site to recognize the specific functions, components, variables, and mixins in relation to the latest USWDS version. We did this by changing specific class names to the latest USWDS version and addressing the additional markup changes the components had when being referenced.

In the process I learned new tools and skills such as Docker, Federalist, Jekyll, full stack development, and workflows. Migrating the 18F website to the latest USWDS version allows the website to support and reflect the important guidance codified in 21st Century IDEA.

In addition to the migration, I assisted in implementing a search bar using search.gov, making sure our site is accessible in regards to Section 508, and allowing for a more mobile-friendly government website for the public.

Working in government

Working in government for the first time was not what I expected. I thought there would be a lot of difficulty in how the government interacts and how things get done due to policy. But how technology is used in government is improving. TTS felt more like a startup to me, with many different collaborators working on a common goal. I was impressed to see how the government uses technology to best serve, reach, and impact all people.

Working remotely also went better than I expected. Finishing up the spring semester remotely helped, but the flow of communication between my manager and co-workers made the transition to remote work easy and experience rewarding. Also, my relationship with my team members was nothing less than ideal given the circumstances. My manager and the engineering team did a great job in providing insight to the methodologies used by our team, demonstrating how the government uses technology to serve the public, and answering any questions I had about my project and tasks.

Along with the project I was working on this summer, I had the pleasure of sitting in on meetings with different government professionals working on a myriad of projects that impact the public. Through these types of seminar-style brown bags scheduled by the CIF program and the TTS Front Office, I and other CIF interns learned about the interesting work that the government does in the technology field and how their work serves the general public.

Overall, my experience this summer was worthwhile. I was able to learn more about the government’s approach to solving problems with technology while contributing first hand to its effort to serve the public. Through the CIF program and TTS, I learned from and connected with like-minded civic technologists who improve the government’s approach to problem-solving.

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18f.gsa.gov

An official website of the GSA’s Technology Transformation Services

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