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Things I Learned While Working in the Government

I interned at Alameda County's IT Department during the summer as a high school student. This is my first time working in the "real world". I learned a whole bunch of useful lessons.

I interned as a mobile software programmer at Alameda County this past summer. Frankly, it changed my entire perspective on working within a government agency. The experience was very eye opening, and I learned a lot of new stuff. Here, I want to share with you the top eight things I learned that could benefit you:

  1. Leave a good first impression. When you meet someone for the first time, you want to give him or her a good first impression; especially if the person you are meeting is important or well connected. When a person has 1000 other faces to remember, a stand-out first impression makes a difference, including more opportunities in the future.
  2. Make detailed meeting agendas. People are busy, and they do not want to waste their time in disorganized meetings. If you are hosting a meeting, make sure your meeting agendas are created ahead of time and in detail. List out each item's what, who, when, and how. Then, follow the length set in the agenda very strictly, so that the meeting doesn't stretch on too long.
  3. Create detailed action items from meetings. In order to make sure you know what you are responsible for, take lots of notes during a meeting and then write up a quick ‘to-do’ list of action items with their corresponding deadlines. As a result, you will not miss any tasks that you have been assigned to complete.
  4. Have a backup plan for everything. This is especially true for public events or presentations. You do not want to look irresponsible in front of people, so always have a 'Plan B' in case your primary plan does not work out for any reason. If you can react quickly and seamlessly, the audience probably will never even find out.
  5. Meet the deadline a day ahead. There will always be unplanned things happening at the last moment. If you are trying to finish your tasks minutes before the deadline, you may find something that is not working out, and then it can turn ugly. So always, plan and shoot for completion at least one day before the deadline.
  6. Followup. When you are working in an environment with a lot of busy people, followups are extremely necessary. It is expected that people who are responsible for many dozens things forget about a tiny task that they need to do. Send them a quick email to remind them, and they will appreciate it.
  7. Take the initiative. When things get slow in the government, it is important and advantageous for someone to take the lead and get things running. Not only the whole team will appreciate you, but things can be done a lot faster.
  8. Test, test, test. This is the most crucial component, especially in software development. Nobody wants to ship an app or website that contains bugs, regardless of size. Not only will bugs make you and your institution look unprofessional, but when your app or website is something that people depend on, bugs can lead to horrible PR disasters.

That is it!

Maybe none of you readers will work in the government in the future, but these tips apply other places that you will go in the professional world. I receive increasing benefits from just these eight tips, and I hope you will do the same!