500 people raising their hands: How we’re building an inclusive tech team

Matthew McAllister is a founding member of the Colorado Digital Service.

By October, we’d spent countless hours in coffee meetings, video chats, and speaking at events. We were making the case to decisionmakers —including the governor—that if given the right opportunity, technologists across Colorado would raise their hands to be part of our work in their beloved state. But would they? Then, with one tweet, the moment finally arrived. The Governor’s announcement of the Colorado Digital Service went out on October 17,

The theory has proven out. In the hours after the announcement, over 300 people expressed interest in joining the team. We also reached out to organizations and colleagues who are experts at building teams. Lesbians Who Tech, Women Who Code, Startup Colorado, Denver Startup Week, and Techstars all helped amplify this effort and referred candidates. Every week since our launch, dozens of product managers, engineers, and designers have signed up. As of this writing, we’re approaching 500 people raising their hands.

This presented a two-part challenge. How do you build an inclusive tech team and review the resumes of hundreds of applicants?

We needed to build a process that simultaneously helped us address the volume of work ahead, and combat the unconscious biases we carry.

Bootstrapping Technical Interviews

Thankfully, colleagues across the digital government and civic tech ecosystem stepped up to help. Current and former members of the U.S. Digital Service, 18F, the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, and other state digital service teams assisted with resume reviews, technical interviews, and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) interviews. We worked to ensure that female candidates had at least one interview with a female interviewer. We also more effectively interviewed candidates who possessed technical skills that we didn’t yet have on the team by pairing them with USDS engineers and developers. This incredible support from the community made our process better.

Productizing the Talent Pipeline

A digital service is first and foremost a talent pipeline. We’ve taken to calling the talent pipeline our first product. With nearly 500 candidates in our pipeline now and only seven positions on the digital service team to start, we’re quickly pivoting to other ways this pipeline can help the state. We’re referring candidates to other teams within OIT, and across state agencies. Product managers and UX leads, in particular, answered the call to serve and are needed in many different state teams. We’re also starting to refer candidates to 18F, which supports remote work.

We tweaked a favorite refrain from former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park. who spearheaded the buildout of digital teams at the federal level. Our version goes, “It should be normal to see a resume in Colorado that reads, ‘Slack… Gusto… Colorado Department of Human Services… Checkr.’”

We’re not finished hiring yet though. If you’ve got expertise in site reliability, security, or infrastructure, please fill out our Colorado Digital Service interest form to reach out!

Always Be Hiring

This approach would not have been possible without the support of Chief Information Officer Theresa Szczurek and our OIT HR colleagues, in particular. They’ve prioritized trying new approaches to bring talent into the state. We’ve learned from best practices identified by the USDS talent team and applied them to Colorado Digital Services  — from how we write job descriptions to starting the hiring process with a simple web form before asking candidates to complete a full state application.

Colorado is part of a wave of states standing up these teams. We’ve benefited greatly from the experiences of our fellow Digital Service friends in New Jersey, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. As a community, we all need to come together for the next state that launches and provide the same support to recruit and hire top tech talent. Our team will be the first to sign up, review resumes, and hop on video interviews with candidates to pay it forward.

Learn more about the Colorado Digital Service or apply for a “digital tour of service” in Colorado!