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Tech jobs in government: what you should know before applying

image of a young woman writing code on her computer

When many of us think of careers in tech our minds immediately drift towards Silicon Valley where many of the biggest tech firms have major hubs. Getting into those positions and earning a quality living can be a tough challenge, but well worth the effort. However, many young professionals considering careers in technology often forget about the growing need for their skills in other sectors of the economy.

The fact of the matter is that technology and the skills that come with that profession are in high demand nearly everywhere from big tech firms to small business management to the government. In fact, outside of big tech, federal and state governments are some of the largest employers of tech-savvy professionals and many potential job opportunities exist within this sector.

When thinking of the technology the government uses, many of us will quickly leap to thoughts of cybersecurity professionals trying to keep up with a plethora of hackers, some of which have succeeded in breaking into some of the largest factions of the government and stealing an abundance of highly valued information. It can seem like a lot to take on – but this is part of why the government is looking and willing to offer solid salaries for those professionals willing to become part of the solution in keeping the system up and running.

Opportunities abound

The federal government is a large entity that requires a large number of professionals from a variety of backgrounds to keep the lights on. Because of the many facets of governments, technological professionals have a wide array of potential careers to choose from ranging from computer help desk expertise to cybersecurity to data management and streamlining. There are no shortage of career paths for those interested.

According to some estimates, nearly 70,000 federal employees currently work in information technology related fields. Many of these professionals are working as civilians for the armed forces. Five of the top ten departments for IT professionals have something to do with national defense and security.

One career path, for example, could be working as a cybersecurity specialist for the Department of Homeland Security. The job would largely involve working to protect U.S. government infrastructure and information from foreign and domestic attacks, a job that can be incredibly challenging and rewarding in an age where more information is digital than ever before and threats are constantly evolving.

Other technical career options include positions such as a help desk expert for a domestic focus department such as the Department of Agriculture. Here, the bulk of the job would be helping other professionals solve their computer issues, work through patches, and keep the entire system operational. Additional careers could include working as a medical technologist for the Department of Veteran Affairs, a computer scientist for the Department of Energy, or a remote sensing specialist of the Department of the Air Force. 

Expanding the pipeline

The federal government has a real need for tech professionals, but has a hard time attracting young stars because it doesn’t have the ability to offer the impressive packages that many of the private sector corporations are able to. Though take home pay may be somewhat lower, the federal government tries to make up for it through benefits that many other career paths don’t always offer such as:

  • Career stability – though businesses may boom and bust, the federal government will always be there and will always provide a steady job with a predictable income.
  • Insurance – the federal government offers generous employer-subsidized insurance policies to choose from for medical, dental and vision.
  • Time off – federal employees enjoy a number of yearly federal holidays as paid time off work. In addition, they earn a minimum of 13 vacation days per year, sick leave, and annual leave carryover.
  • Work-life balance – many federal positions limit the amount of time an employee can work each pay period, encouraging a greater work-life balance.
  • Student loan forgiveness – there are many programs within the federal government that offer to cover some portion of student loan debt for government service.

Unfortunately, this isn’t enough for a lot of young professionals who strive to earn six figures fresh from a degree program. That along with a difficult application process can make applying and obtaining a government job more of a challenge than its worth, which has led to a striking age gap in federal employment. Those near retirement outnumber early career employees nearly 4 to 1.

The need for technology professionals has never been greater either. Some studies have pointed out that nearly three quarters of all federal agencies are at risk of a cyber attack due to outdated systems and chronic understaffing. Many of these positions need to be filled with capable professionals that want a career.

Choosing your destiny

The Covid-19 pandemic has done a lot to alter the way in which the government does business. For instance, many agencies are encouraging employees to telework as much as possible. Some have even considered making telework a long-term option for employees. For those who don’t go crazy while working from home, this has opened up a number of opportunities.

Perhaps one of the biggest boons of this is that many teleworkers are now able to choose where they actually want to live. Many are opting for smaller cities or moving to areas that have cheaper land so they can get more out of their salaries. Still others are moving to areas where they don’t have to struggle with traffic on a daily basis and can get outside more easily.

Ultimately, the federal government has a lot to offer technical specialists that want a steady career. A wide variety of positions are offered all across the country and many are desperate for quality candidates. The federal government can be a great alternative to big tech career paths and is well worth consideration in any job search. 

About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who has a particular interest in social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @ HamiltonJori.

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