Josh Dorothy joined Skylight in January of 2018. He's a lawyer turned software engineer who's spent the last several years immersed in (and evangelizing for) infrastructure as code and DevOps in general. He previously served with the U.S. Digital Service, helping the federal government solve its most difficult technical problems and improve the way it delivers digital services to the American public (and sometimes the world!).
Chris Cairns: Tell me about your path to Skylight.
Josh Dorothy: While I've always enjoyed software engineering, and have been programming since I was young, it was initially more of a hobby for me. For reasons that I've long since forgotten I ended up becoming a lawyer instead, eventually opening up my own practice. I realized shortly afterward that I just didn't have a passion for practicing law and decided to go back to school to turn my coding hobby into a career. I worked for several years in various startups in Seattle, eventually moving to the DC area and joining USDS.
My time with USDS fundamentally changed the way that I saw the world and my role in it. I've always been an advocate for public service and the positive role of government, but as a software engineer I never believed that I'd be the one serving. It wasn't until I joined USDS that I began to fully understand just how badly government needs technical talent and how its lack affects the ability to deliver critical programs. I'm of course extremely proud of my work there, as well as that of my coworkers, but USDS positions are unfortunately term limited — eventually I had to start thinking about what it'd look like to continue this work longer-term. Skylight's vision and mission statement were so aligned with what I was looking to accomplish that it was a natural fit.
Chris Cairns: How did you find out about Skylight?
Josh Dorothy: It was pretty fortuitous, actually. You had added me on LinkedIn, which is, of course, how all great friendships start. Your previous organization (18F) and USDS have a very close working relationship and the community tends to be a small world. But as I started contemplating my next move and how I could continue my work longer-term, your posts started jumping out at me. It sounded like you were trying to build what I wanted to build, and so I reached out in order to hear more about Skylight and what it hoped to accomplish.
Chris Cairns: Why did you decide to join?
Josh Dorothy: I think what first hooked me was Skylight's mission. I'm dedicated to improving the way that government delivers digital services, regardless of level, and after reading through the website and talking to you the organization seemed like a natural fit. But, really, it was the people at Skylight that sold me. Lots of people talk a good game about improving government technology and end up being a machine to throw bodies at seats, as if completing a contract were the sole criterion for that improvement. My time at USDS convinced me otherwise. Skylight's existing team was technically excellent, certainly, but it was their collective public service (including terms at 18F and as Presidential Innovation Fellows) that really convinced me that Skylight was the place to be — that they could walk the walk.
Unfortunately, you can't effect change by principle alone. I knew I needed to build the change I wanted to see from the ground up. What Skylight provides me is the platform I need to do that. We build each other up as a team, and that provides me the opportunity to bounce ideas off people who are experts in their field as well as provide my own expertise. I have both autonomy and backing to pursue my vision, and that's incredibly important to me.
Chris Cairns: What have you worked on so far?
Josh Dorothy: I'm currently working as a DevOps Engineer on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' E-Verify modernization initiative.
Chris Cairns: What was most surprising to you about joining Skylight?
Josh Dorothy: Just how closely the Skylight model aligns with my own personal vision. As I mentioned earlier, there's no end to the number of firms that equate improving government services solely with the act of executing contracts to improve government services. Lost in this process is what "improvement" really means, and explaining it often feels Sisyphean. Skylight's comprised of people who have also fought that fight and are willing to do it again. That's a powerful thing to be a part of even once, let alone the remainder of my career.
Chris Cairns: What would you tell your colleagues from a previous job who were contemplating coming to Skylight?
Josh Dorothy: If you're passionate about public service, and you want to help solve technical problems that are at the core of how government programs function, we'd love to talk to you. If you're part of a government effort like 18F or USDS, or feel similarly, you're not alone. We're dedicated public servants who want to build a platform and a movement, and we need your help.
Chris Cairns: Josh, 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 Josh to help integrate DevOps into your organization, we'd love to hear from you