The Government is finally jumping on the emerging technologies bandwagon. The public sector wants to catch up to, or even lead, where the industry is currently.
In today’s Government, there is a push for hiring a tech-talented workforce. The government sector prides itself on engaging and empowering diverse people to deliver better services. But one thing is for sure: innovating starts with streamlining the procurement process to ensure quicker adoption of new tech in the industry. This article will briefly describe how I went from soldering parts on a circuit board and Airman, E-1, to managing millions of dollars of programs as a GS-14 over a quick couple of decades.
I got my start back in 2002, 20 years ago. Time flies! I started as an Airman in the United States Air Force, making about $1,200 per month (See E-2 pay). I was very ignorant of how the parts on the plane were procured, manufactured, shipped, or tracked. So I did not jump into the acquisition side right away.
I am not going to give a detailed history of my entire career. Instead, I want to set the stage so others in my past positions can see a path forward. I talk about my background and how I advanced within the Government in these two long videos here, and part two is here.
My journey started when I had an opportunity to join a program that allowed Wage Grade (WG) workers to convert to the General Schedule (GS). In layman’s terms, this means going from a blue-collar worker to a white-collar worker. The program brought me from a WG-12 (~$21/hour at the time) to a GS-5. I was able to retain my pay for two years with this program. The GS-5 lasted six months, and then I became a GS-7. GS-7 for one year, then became a GS-9. I was a GS-9 for one year until I reached the program’s max level of GS-11. What was this job I sought after? The term is Equipment Specialist or ES. Look for similar programs like this. They all change over time, so be on the lookout. There were programs called PATHWAYS for recent grads too.
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These programs usually require a lengthy application process. Don’t let that deter you. I repeat, don’t let the application process deter you. The fact that it’s lengthy is to your advantage. That means more than half the people who wanted to apply for that program didn’t. It’s too long for them to bother. You will, of course, usually need supervisory support for these programs. Make it easy for them to sponsor you. Do their work for you and have them endorse it.
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I created a short six-minute video on what I do as an Equipment Specialist. The series, in government terms, is a 1670 series. I’ll link to the video below, as well.
In short, I had to be knowledgeable about all aspects of the equipment I was assigned. In my case, it was jet engines. Now, I have never worked on a jet engine before. I am terrible at anything mechanical. Lucky for me, my job was more on the analytics side of things. You see, the position of an ES on something as complicated as a jet engine requires more than just one ES. The organization I was in had a team split up into two sections. One group focused on forecasting and inventories, while the other specialized in the engines’ technical aspects. Lucky for me, I was not on the technical side.
It would be best if you had a good idea of what the equipment does and how it works. For example, how can I predict how many parts will break on the engine? When to bring machines in for periodic maintenance? How to phase a new part in due to a safety concern? The list goes on. It’s not easy. We try to use sophisticated systems like D200A and D200F and other meaningless named systems. These systems work well for easily predictable outcomes. The main idea is that the systems will use the past knowledge and history of the engine to predict future needs. Let me give a quick example.
What would you do if you owned a fleet of cars and wanted to know how many and when to buy new vehicle tires? One method is to look at past data. In theory, if you need new tires every 30,000 miles on the cars and have XX vehicles, you can predict how many tires in total you will need. But, of course, each car has a variable number of miles. However, if you have enough vehicles, the law of averages might help you out. What if miles are seasonal? What if you purchased multiple new vehicles? What if you wanted to phase out old cars? Do you see how this could become complicated quickly? Well, it was my job to help answer those questions, only with jet engines.
After a few years of working with predictive analytics to try and keep airplanes in the air, I got promoted to a GS-12 Logistics Management Specialist or 346-series.
This article is not about the specific roles, so I will give the condensed version of what a Logistics Management Specialist, or loggie, does. A loggie must have a holistic view of all the parts worldwide and the mission. Therefore, a loggie has broader control of the entire program. For example, if two bases, A and B, both request a part to repair an engine, typically, the base that ordered it first receives it first. That is where the loggie comes in. The loggie would understand the scarcity of this part and know that base A, even with the part, could not make the engine fly because it is also missing other parts. So, even though base B ordered the part last, in this hypothetical example, the loggie would override the system sending the part to the base that could fix the engine whole and strap it on a plane for flight.
Of course, there are many, many more details missing, but that is the idea. You must work with multiple agencies and scramble to find parts, work with engineering to extend the life of components, and haggle with other departments for priority over piece parts. The list goes on.
I transitioned from a Logistics Management Specialist, 356-series, to an Operations Research Analyst, 1515-series (NH-1515-03). The move was technically a promotion because I was now in the NH pay band, equivalent to a GS-12/13 combined. This change was a crucial factor for my next promotion. This job entailed looking at, curating, and finding insights into all data within the organization. The organization I am referring to is the USAF, of course. This position was eye-opening. Having access to that much data was unbelievably valuable. You can see trends and develop insights you have never thought of through intuition. Of course, wrangling the data and breaking down the silos of data warehouses was challenging. This position allowed me to advance my data analysis skills and learn about IT systems. I can go on and on about this career field, but I will dedicate a post to the 1515 series later.
I was fortunate to be sent to an army school at Fort Lee to learn more about Operations Research. These 3+ months of school helped solidify my career in technology and propel me to my next role.
I find it interesting that most scientists and engineers go deep into the rabbit hole of whatever they are interested in – perhaps too much. It was a time for a change. I have been working in the same industry for over 16 years. I decided to take a promotion and move across the country. Although I kept the same title for a while, I hardly did any Operations Research. This was when I jumped into acquisitions and the software development life cycle.
The acquisition is a lengthy process that takes a lot of time and resources to get right. I am not going to get into specifics now. However, a particular skill you must possess is being a bureaucracy slayer. In other words, how to navigate the red tape of the government bureaucracy.
Solving complex issues and figuring out a way to achieve the organization’s desired result using the tools available in the time allotted and under budget constraints are all important factors to consider. Knowing the policies, rules, and regulations or simply helping people work through them will help you succeed. Moving those obstacles out of the way will help you become a leader in the organization.
At many organizations and agencies, the issues can be local policies put into place years ago or myths that people have passed from one generation of acquisition professionals to another that we have to work through.
Promotions in the government increased responsibilities, and more significant influence within your agency or department is a goal worth striving for. Here are some ways to advance your career in the government:
- Develop your skills and knowledge: One of the most important ways to advance in any career is to learn and grow continually. In the government, this may involve earning additional education or certifications, such as a graduate degree or professional license. It can also involve developing expertise in a specific area, such as policy analysis or program management.
- Build your network: Networking is critical to success in any career, and it is essential in the government, where many jobs are filled through personal connections and referrals. Attend events and conferences related to your field, and make an effort to connect with other professionals, both within and outside of your agency.
- Seek new challenges: Volunteer for new projects or assignments that allow you to learn new skills and take on additional responsibilities. This helps you develop new expertise and demonstrates to your superiors that you are willing to take on new challenges and are committed to advancing your career.
- Be proactive: Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Look for ways to create your opportunities, such as proposing new initiatives or programs within your agency or seeking out mentors or sponsors who can help you advance.
- Focus on your performance: Above all, the key to advancing your government career is consistently performing at a high level. This includes meeting deadlines, exceeding expectations, and actively contributing to the success of your agency or department.
By following these tips, you can increase your chances of advancing your career in the government and achieving your long-term professional goals.