TheBridge profile: Stephanie J. Neill
Name: Stephanie J. Neill
Current city: Washington, DC
Current job: Executive Director, U.S. Digital Service (USDS) at Department of Homeland Security
Past job: Director, Product at InterActiveCorp (IAC)
Q. Favorite spot for a coffee meeting? Literally any LPQ in the city -- the coffee is good, you can always find a table, and the ambiance is such that you can actually conversate comfortably at any time of day.
Q. Describe how a skill you learned in a previous job helped you in your current job. Ruthless prioritization -- I've never worked in such an opportunity-rich environment before. There are so many opportunities to solve problems through technology within the government that it takes a laser focus to find and tackle those that are not only most critical, but also the best fit for my team. Anyone who wants to improve how the government delivers its services to the people can have an outsized impact here as there is no shortage of meaningful work.
Q. Job advice in three words? Advocate for yourself.
Q. How are you (or your company, org, nonprofit) currently bridging the gap between politics and tech / innovation and regulation? USDS brings top technical talent from the private sector into government to partner with the brightest civil servants in order to deliver better services to the people of America. At Homeland, I work with the Department to deliver services for immigrants, asylum seekers, disaster survivors, refugees, international travelers, as well as provide modern development tools and services for internal employees.
Q. What can innovators teach regulators/policy makers? How it's impossible to figure out the perfect system the first time. The only way to truly make a good system is to put together something you think works, and then have the mechanisms in place to quickly change it as you get feedback. Leveraging these tried-and-true software processes will result in a more effective and informed end product/policy.
Q. What can regulators/policy makers teach innovators? That it's easy to ship product when it's low stakes -- a grocery delivery service on your phone has a lot lower stakes than making sure a veteran gets treated for a terminal illness or a survivor receives the care and support they need after they've lost everything in a disaster.
Related, they can also learn that showing up actually matters. It's easy to criticize from the outside, but the people in DC are the ones who are making the decisions that shape our lives and our country. That said, every policy maker I've worked with has welcomed a technologist's perspective in the process because we all want to get these things right for the American people.
Q. If you had to live in another city, which would it be? Paris -- I grew up there and love how Paris teaches you how to live your best life.
Q. Most underrated virtue in an employee? Showing up -- if someone isn't willing to show up and help solve the problem, then it doesn't matter how brilliant and talented they are.
Q. Looking back, what advice would you give yourself in the beginning of your career? Make sure each problem you solve is harder than your last. Oh, and failure is a construct -- you actually grow more powerful by learning from and overcoming setbacks.
Q. Do you have a morning routine? I'm one of those early birds and most productive in the morning, so whatever must get done that day usually happens between the hours of 5-7am. Unfortunately for friends and coworkers, that usually includes much of my daily texting. I also like to go for a run before heading into work, and I definitely get most of my emailing done in the morning (even though I keep reading that's a major productivity sin).
Q. How often do you work from home? When my calendar is clear of meetings -- so basically, never.
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