Nick Bristow joined Skylight in March of 2017. He’s a software engineer with deep expertise in technology accessibility and Section 508 standards. For the past eight years, Nick has helped software delivery teams create more accessible products through the adoption of accessibility development best practices. During the Obama Administration, he supported the White House in developing new Section 508 rules. Nick also founded and ran 18F’s influential accessibility community of practice. Nick works closely with our clients to deliver digital services that are accessible and meet the needs of all users.
Chris Cairns: Tell me about your path to Skylight.
Nick Bristow: I’ve been in the tech field for most of my professional life. After college, I went to work with a government contractor where I worked on various web applications. I managed the quality control department, focused on accessibility. I then worked with the Department of Homeland Security to develop the online version of their Trusted Tester course. The Trusted Tester program is the only certified tester program for Section 508 standards in the government at the moment.
In 2014, I joined 18F and founded and ran their Accessibility Guild. The Accessibility Guild is a community of practice whose mission is to improve accessibility at 18F and the wider government. We produced a number of successful projects such as the 18F Accessibility Guide that are still in use today by government and non-government entities around the world.
During my four years at 18F, I worked on numerous projects — such as login.gov — in every role possible. I acted as a developer, project lead, and Scrum Master, just to name a few.
Chris Cairns: How did you find out about Skylight?
Nick Bristow: I met several members of the now-Skylight team such as Dr. Robert Read and Chris Cairns at 18F in 2014. Chris approached me about joining to help make government more accessible for everyone.
Chris Cairns: Why did you decide to join?
Nick Bristow: There are a couple of reasons why I decided to join Skylight. I worked inside the federal government at 18F for almost four years. Our goal was always to shake-up how things were done, and make things better. I honestly feel like we achieved those goals to a large degree. Throughout my tenure there, I saw more and more agencies adopting modern digital delivery practices and technologies. Because of the way we hired at 18F, everyone was on a timeclock (that is, term limits). After it was up, I wasn’t ready to quit changing government.
When I found out what Skylight was doing, I recognized a lot of what I witnessed at 18F and more. The passion for the work is what drives me and that’s what I see at Skylight. The desire to do more than fulfill a contract. And the desire to move the needle forward and deliver better work for the people who are really paying for it — the citizens. That’s why I joined.
Chris Cairns: What have you worked on so far?
Nick Bristow: Thus far I’ve been working as a software engineer in support of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ E-Verify initiative. I’m working to modernize that system to make it even faster and easier for employers across the country to verify the identity and employment eligibility of newly hired employees.
Chris Cairns: What was most surprising to you about joining Skylight?
Nick Bristow: How fast we’re moving. The goal is to disrupt government for the better and we’re doing just that. For example, we’ve earned industry recognition for pioneering the use of microconsulting, which is a model now being used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on a major API platform development initiative.
Chris Cairns: What would you tell your colleagues from a previous job who were contemplating coming to Skylight?
Nick Bristow: If you aren’t ready to give up fighting to make things better, this is what you’ve been looking for.
Chris Cairns: Nick, thank you for taking the time to share with us. This has been very interesting, as always. To our readers, if you’re interested in engaging with Nick to help making government digital services more accessible, we’d love to hear from you.