Reflections on four years in the Civil Service

Four years ago today, I turned up in Holborn for my first day at GDS - Government Digital Service.

I've now experienced two Prime Ministers (Primes Minister?), two departments, and one pandemic. So I thought I'd take a look back at some highlights and lowlights.

I've worked for half-a-dozen brilliant managers, helped create a new department, represented the UK at events in Brussels & Beijing, done a bunch of blogs and podcasts, advised Chief Advisors and Ministers, helped open source a rather important app, and got to pet Larry The Cat. I've worked with some fantastic teams, mentored a couple of people and seen them grow beyond what they thought possible, and I've tried to spend more time listening than I do speaking.

Not bad!

It hasn't all been sunshine-and-roses though.

I've experienced the delights of two sets of Purdah / Pre Election Period - both of which interrupted fairly vital work. I've had to bite my tongue as Twitter exploded with rage about a fairly simple misunderstanding. I was castigated in the trade press. I've had training courses cancelled due to budgetary wrangles. I've had to loudly tell a racist to pipe down, and quietly tell myself to stop saying "guys" quite so much.

But the good outweighs the bad. It was a bit odd moving from a giant telco to the Civil Service. But the truth is, all big organisations are alike in their inefficiencies and peculiarities. There's no magic spell that the private sector has to improve performance, and there's no magic camaraderie in the public sector - we're all just people trying to do our best.

After 18 months seconded to NHSX, I'm now back in GDS working in the Data Standards Authority. I get a real sense of accomplishment knowing that our team is helping lay the groundwork for a better, and more efficient, data-led government.

If this year has shown anything, it's that no one can adequately plan for the future. I'm pretty sure I'm happy where I am, and I don't regret my career choices. I'm becoming more aware of my limitations - and want to see how I can improve myself. The question isn't "what's next"; it's "how do I get to next?"

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