>>Hi. So, hello. I’m gonna talk today about
how to use your superpowers to transform people’s lives. So, first, let me introduce myself. Hola. My
name is Alberto. I’m originally from Puerto Rico, so my thoughts are in Spanish. 
You may be asking yourself what are we talking about. Let’s talk about government. So,
this is healthcare.gov. So, this is a screen shot from a week ago. Open enrollment season
is up. And you can go there and enroll for healthcare benefits. But it wasn’t always
like that. When the affordable care act was passed, Medicare were given the ability to
develop a new website. Government officials did it the way they know how to do it. They
did a contract and put millions of dollars into it and started gathering requirements. 
They built something. Fast forward to October 2013, and open enrollment season opened and
users went to the website and it crashed. The system was down. It couldn’t handle the load. That’s
how the website looked for a while. It would read the system is down at the moment. We’re
working to resolve the issue as soon as possible. So, a group of technologists from the private
sector was called to help. They temporarily moved to Washington ‑‑ more like Maryland ‑‑
and started working on stabilizing the website. It was probably ‑‑ it basically states that
organizations tend to design systems that replicate their own communication structures. 
So they got people in the same room. They started breaking their communication walls,
and they implemented some monitoring tools that actually were pretty badly needed and
got the website up. Citizens were able to get access to healthcare and benefits. So,
healthcare.gov has become the modern poster child of government failure. Fast forward
to 2014, part of that rescue team from healthcare.gov founded a service. They wanted to recruit
designers, engineers, and bureaucracy hackers to join a tour of duty from six months to
four years and anything in between, and put them to work with the national civil servants
to untangle the most important government services. 
So today, this is how it works. The U.S. digital service is a team of nerds across
the federal government. And we use design and technology to deliver better services
to the American people. But let’s go back to that healthcare conversation we were having. So,
why does that matter? What’s the deal with the website? 
So, well, it’s not about the tech, right? The problem is not with the tech. It’s about
the impact on people’s lives. So, there are some stats from the health conference this
year. Kudos to a co‑worker who live tweeted this, because I wasn’t there. And I’m going
to share some of this. Over the past 20 years, U.S. drug spending has increased by 330%. Health
expenditures increased by 208%total U.S. Specialty drugs predicted to account for 55%of spending
by 2020. Insulin increased in list price by more than 350% between 2002 and 2016. And
medical costs are, like, one of the prime contributors in two out of three bankruptcies
in the United States.  So, that website could make the difference
between life or death. So, said otherwise, like that website was important because people
are the mission.  So I was talking about the USDS, the team
of nerds. We have been working on multiple agencies across the federal government. I
will mention some of them. We have teams at the VA working with veterans to provide
them access to their benefits. We have a team at the health and human services, which
is where I work today, where we’re transforming the delivery of care by modernizing the Medicare
structure and providing access to beneficiaries to their data. We have a team working to
improve the path to citizens and asylum seekers. We have a team at DOD improving the life of military
families. We have a team at the small business administration helping economically disadvantaged
small business owners, and this is what I want to talk about today. I was part of a
team that was sent to the small business administration. I was the second engineer to join. And we worked
there for more than two and a half years transforming the experience for economically disadvantaged
businesses. You get a sense. This is the small business administration and this is
their mission.  [ Reading ] So, the SBA basically has a bunch of programs,
and some of them are aligned to government contracting in business development. And
they fulfill the SBA mission in the following way. The federal government awards contracts. They
have billions of dollars that get awarded every year, and they want to open that up
to small businesses, especially small businesses that are started and owned by underrepresented
groups. SBA sets goals so that agencies award a fixed percentage of their contracts to those
small businesses, and then small businesses not only grow economically, but they grow
and develop their business to education, partnership, and mentorship. This is what these programs
try to do. Let’s do some numbers around that so we can gauge the impact. 
So the federal government awarded $120.8 billion to small businesses in 2018. That only represented
25%of all the contract money that was awarded by the federal government. And that was actually
an increase on $15 billion more than previous fiscal year for small businesses. 
So, that’s a lot of money. So, what are these programs that I’ve been talking about? Just
to give you some more sense of how it works, so these are some of the SBA programs. You
can go to SBA.gov and read the details. I’m going to go through all of them. But in a
nutshell, if you or someone you know start a business and you’re either a woman, a service‑disabled
veteran or an economically disadvantaged minority, the government will prefer to contract you. 
So one of those programs is actually the HUBZone program. It stands for historically underutilized
business zones. This is a very interesting program. It is to promote job growth, capital
investment and development in economically distressed communities. They need to have
their principle office in one of the economically distressed areas and they need to hire at
least 35%of their employees from there. So, the idea is to drive dollars to the economy
and grow those depressed economies.  So, I mentioned having a building in one place
and hiring from one place. So, basically if we were to simplify this, HUBZone is a
map. So, this is what you see, the different colors are HUBZone areas. Let me zoom out
this is Tennessee and some of the surrounding states. As you see, there’s many, many more
HUBZone areas. If you keep zooming out, this is the United States. Part of it. This is
the real United States. So, you have like Alaska, Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, virgin islands. So,
as you see, big portions of some states are big HUBZones. So, at this point, you’re probably
asking, like, how is all of this determined, maybe? 
So, basically in order to qualify the areas, the small business administration uses geographic
and statistical data from multiple government agencies. They look for such indicators like
income, poverty, and unemployment to determine whether that area should be a HUBZone. They
aggregate this data with what the census called county and census level. The SBA identifies
Indian lands, difficult development areas, closed military bases, and areas hit by natural
disasters to add them as additional HUBZones. These data are updated at different intervals. The
ideal is to drive economic activity to all of these areas I mentioned. 
So, I showed you the little pretty fancy map? But, well, it wasn’t like that when we joined SBA. This
is what we found. It was like we walked in and we found the last existence of MapQuest. This
is what the small business administration was using until 2017. If you were to use
two words to describe it, the team will call it sad map. This actually became like our
mascot. This became the mascot for our 500 error page on the new map. 
So it was pretty bad. So, it had limitations. It had no documentation, no version control,
no APIs or web services, it wasn’t mobile‑friendly, it took forever to load. It was built in
a proprietary GIS technology. It had limited data export capabilities. And of course,
some features require a desktop client that you needed to install. 
So someone could be asking here, why don’t you ditch that and just get the data? Right? Well,
yeah. We started and then we found the ring binder. So, there was a binder full of CDs,
and basically it contained like the archive of HUBZone data for all the years. It was
in some proprietary format, too. We couldn’t know which CDs were missing, and not all of
them were even labeled.  So, if this is what it looked like, how did
that thing even work, right? How is it maintained? Let me simplify this. A human would burn a CDROM,
and it would go into the mail, next‑day delivery. Hopefully it gets received in one
or two days, and then more humans would do things with the CD using computers with servers
and a data center, not on the cloud. And then it would be deployed somewhere. So,
an SBA analyst would go and open his computer and would manually test it somehow. And they
would continue the process of repeating indefinitely until it was ready to deploy or they had,
like, a patch that needed to be applied.  It could take up to six months to do a data
update. But then, let’s complicate things a bit more. So, it turns out that some of
the HUBZone areas actually expire. So, by the time the data was published, well, it
was actually out of date. So, let’s pause here. There was like a crazy roller coaster
of things that we had to deal with. And the truth is that the basic infrastructure that
the agency needed was not there. Government partners didn’t know how to fix it, and they
didn’t know what was a better solution. There were like a lot more things that we had to
untangle and fix in order to fix the HUBZone map. 
But, let’s circle back to the user for a second. So, how did this work for small businesses? So
the short answer is, like, it didn’t. So, if you’re a HUBZone small business owner,
you would face the following situations. You had an out of date map. You needed to make
business decisions about where to locate your business and where to hire from using inaccurate
data. Basically this could comprise adverse economical impact for them. For example,
one business owner was moving his principle office to a completely new location because
his HUBZone was expiring, and it turns out that the place he was going to move to was
not going to be a HUBZone either. So, businesses were at risk of losing their contracts if
they didn’t stay in compliance with the program. And this translated to an additional overhead. Small
businesses have to do extra paperwork and do more checks and keep their own data records
just to track whether they were HUBZone compliant or not. 
So, it can be definitely hard to grow a business under such conditions. So, we fixed it. We
modernized it. I want to talk about how we did it and the things that mattered in the
process so you get a sense.  So this is the new HUBZone map. I want to
give kudos to Tyler who was here, one of the core engineers working on this with amazing
design front‑end superpowers. I’m pretty proud of the work we did here. This wasn’t
about the tech, actually. This served as a foundation for many of the things that we
did at the small business administration to help other economically disadvantaged programs. This
was built on rails and we used Ruby to modernize all parts of the HUBZone program. We helped
the agency determine which ones they needed to subscribe to and which ones they needed
to maintain. That meant we needed to hack the way that traditional services were bought
and purchased in government.  So let me take you through the journey. So,
this is our map. So, you go there and type an address. We decided, like, the agency
should not build their own geocoding infrastructure again. So, we adopted Google services. So
you could get Google places and simplify your searching process. Once you have your address,
it will take you there. And then you would see the address and the coordinate. And you
would see your HUBZone qualification. That side bar was one of the most complex things
to build. It wasn’t that we couldn’t do JavaScript. It was hard because simple is hard. It was a
lot of policy and complexity in this program, and we needed to simplify this on that side
bar for users to make sense of it. It required thoughtful research and feedback from our
users. It required restructuring the HUBZone data to get all of the information we needed
to provide back to business owners. It required a lot of policy hacking. We needed to work
with lawyers and designers in order to understand not only how policy should be implemented
in software but how information should be conveyed to users. 
You could click anywhere and you would see the information for the new place you selected. So,
geocoding is, like, not perfect. Big companies have not perfected it. We quickly learned
that in some rural areas and places like Puerto Rico, geocoding is not perfect. We implemented
some reverse mechanism so an SBA analyst could get an approximate address when he was looking
into business compliance. We not only had different personas for different business
owners with different needs and expectations, but also government employees for which this
became their tool.  You see all of the layers and formats. There
are dates that could be in multiple layers that are overlapping. So we needed to remove
the noise in cases where the expiration date from one area didn’t really matter, like this
one, right? When you see on the side bar, there’s a redesignated county that expires
December 21, 2031, and there’s a census tract in there that doesn’t expire. So, we tell
users that you don’t need to care. You qualify.  And then this tool was used and made an impact
for users in vulnerable communities. I mentioned Indian and other communities for HUBZone.
Areas hit by disaster are one of those. This tool can help rebuilding a community and rebuilding
a business. And policy can be complex. So, sadly, policymakers usually don’t have technologists
in the room to help translate words in regulation to software. Or from stopping them from adding
the wrong language to the policy. We have redesignated county. But hurricane Irma and
Matthew actually affected this area. Based on the way that HUBZone qualified disaster
areas are designated and due to the complexity stemming from the written policy, this area
could actually become a qualified disaster area in the future and remain HUBZone for
many years, or it could very well not. So, we had to find the right balance between not
telling users what was happening versus trying to simplify the language and the policy, and
all the concerns coming from the agency stakeholders about conveying information that could be
misleading.  We put a lot of effort into writing plain,
simple language, making the tool accessible to users. We tested with users to make sure
it was compliant and accessible. Being a visual tool, we checked for color blindness
so that all users were included.  So our technical strategy was quite simple. We
just built a geospatial data pipeline. We used a lot of tools. Being a geographic data
system, we used many tools and gems to process and render our geospatial data. We worked
hard to automate things. We adopted an API‑first architecture. It became evident that we didn’t
want to reinvent the wheel. And government is not good about building software. So,
we wanted to subscribe to commercial products where it made sense and be intentional about
the software we were building. We had to think about the use cases and others using
our tool to get better at building APIs. From the hubs to the API generated PDF to the other
internal and external services that were interacted with, everything was an API. 
And we wrapped up everything in a single app built with Rails. We adopted the U.S. design
system. It would design with accessibility in mind. And we slowly evolved into our own
design system. We added many features from sharing HUBZone locations to adding street
view. An SBA analyst needs to go to the field and find the principle offices of the businesses. At
times they don’t know where to go or the address doesn’t properly geocode, so we use Google
street view to provide an additional way to do a virtual site visit. 
And we adopted the cloud. We started building what became the foundation for engineering
culture at the agency. We built some tools for that, and we worked together with other
projects, especially the SBA.gov team to standardize their tools and think about scaling and managing
our cloud instances in collaboration.  And finally, we established a framework at
the agency to open source software. This is code.gov, a government initiative to foster
collaboration and reuse of code in the federal government. So, we sat down and put together
a process so that other teams could adopt ‑‑ that other teams could adopt and start open
sourcing their work. You can go there and see many more projects that the SBA has opened
up.  So, in case you haven’t got the hint, let
me be very clear. You can do this job. Government doesn’t need complex solutions that implement
all the buzz words. It needs nimble solutions designed with users at the center. 
Government definitely needs better experiences. This is not about government. It’s about citizens. Citizens
need better experiences. They deserve better experiences. And for some, it could mean
life or death or growth of their communities and the commonwealth. So, all of our users
are represented here and the teams that we work. And there’s more. We need people to
come and do a tour of duty to help citizens.  So you’re probably asking yourself right now,
how can I do this? Right? If I just wanted to ‑‑ I just want to tell you where you
can start looking at. So, this is code for America. Has anyone heard for Code for America
here? Basically, this is a nonprofit organization that was created, and they started with a
fellowship program sending technologies to government to work on open source projects
in different cities. And then they also were creating brigades that basically got together
technologies, citizens, and local government to transform their cities. 
They have built a network of brigades all over the nation, and they are actively working
on improving their cities. If there’s not a brigade, you can start one. And this is
the best way to start making an impact. You know all of your problems better than anyone,
and you know the people that suffer them, too. 
I had the opportunity when I was in Puerto Rico to be part of the founding team for code
for Puerto Rico, and we worked closely with the state government back then to integrate
their open data portal with services and prototypes that citizens were building. 
And then imagine Code for America, but, like, international, right? So this is Code for
All. It is a collaborative network made of organizations from all over the world. As
you can see, it includes Code for America, and basically it is the umbrella for all the
nationwide Code for America brigades, you could say. There’s Code for Japan, there’s
Code for Australia, Code for Brazil. There’s initiatives in Mexico and Code for Canada. You
can also collaborate with technologists if you’re not in the United States. 
And then this is the U.S. digital service, right? So if you are in the United States,
you can work at the U.S. digital service. So, as I mentioned, we do a tour of duty, and
you can join and work from six months to four years, and anything in between. 
And we need to represent America as diverse as it is. So, we hire from all over the place,
even from Alaska, Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, and virgin islands. We need people to bring perspective
to the way we build services for Americans. I put here some stats about our leadership. We
try to be a diverse culture, so we’re serious about looking at ourselves. So, these are
some stats from ‑‑ gender stats from our leadership. So, basically 58% of our
leadership are female. We’re pretty proud about that. And 44% of our staff self‑identifies
as female, too.  And then there’s 18F. So, if you ‑‑
if you know about the general service administration it’s an agency that provides services to government
from construction and buildings to buying cars and planes. So, they have the technology
transformation service, and under the technology transformation service, 18F exists. So they’re
like an internal consultancy shop that other government agencies can hire to help them
build modern software putting users at the center. 
If you don’t want to come to dc to join USDS, they hire all over the nation, remote first. They
will be looking for the next director of engineering, so if you’re interested, you should check
it out.  And then there are initiatives at different
states. So, I’m putting here the Colorado digital services, because a former team member
just left to start this venture. So, the government wants to start a digital service
initiative over there and transform the way digital services are developed and exist at
the state level. There are multiple initiatives like this. New York City has one that is
looking to hire. San Francisco has an innovation office. Other government agencies in California
are also looking for great talent. There are multiple initiatives in different states
where you could help transform the lives of citizens. 
There’s also some fellowships. So, this is the presidential innovation fellows. This
is a program that pairs talented diverse technologists and leaders with top civil servants and change
makers working at the highest level of government to tackle some of the biggest problems. They
actually live under GSA today. And you can do like one year of service with them and
go to an agency and transform the way things are built and developed for users and bring
your talent to them.  And then I also mentioned earlier, like, policymakers
don’t actually have technologists at the table most of the time. So, there are some folks
trying to change that. So, this is techcongress. Techcongress gives talented technologists the opportunity
to gain first‑hand experience in federal policymaking and shape the future of tech
policy. So, important things are happening today in our country. So, if you want to
have a seat at the table and transform the way policy is shaped and think about the digital
age, you can do this tour of duty and support that. 
And maybe you’re not, like, in is job market, and you’re like either a graduate student
or undergrad. So, there’s coding it forward. They’re like an internship program for students, and
they also work with government agencies and partners to pair them to transform pressing
problems in federal agencies. This is a great program. So, they not only bring interns
to government, but they also look for technologies that could serve as mentors to those interns. I
had the opportunity to do that, and this is a great experience that I would recommend
to anyone.  So, if I haven’t convinced ‑‑ if government
was like an object, we really need to monkeypatch government to have it work as intended. I
hope you will join us. Thank you.  [ Applause ]