10 Things to Know Working as a Network Engineer for the U.S. Government
I worked for the U.S. Federal Government. I worked on a number of networks world wide – sort of. Here are some must know things working as a network engineer in the U.S. Federal Government.
1. You may not be hired for what you think you’ll be hired for.
- The Government’s hiring practices are sordid at best. There are so many ridiculous checks and balances that the hiring time for a typical position can take up to six months. The problem with that is that projects will not just stop waiting for government employee to be hired. A contractor, however, can be brought on immediately. By the time a government employee is brought on, the project may be happy with the contractor and then there is no funding for you. Turn over rate for government employees on projects is so high that no one may even know who your are or what you’re doing there when you show up.
2. Your team’s skill sets are laughably lacking.
- The government is directed to fill quotas in order of: “Disabled People” , “Veterans” , and “African Americans”. Then there is an extremely small and competitive group of positions available where UVA and Columbia graduates get passed over much less your everyday joe. These 3 quotas will be filled regardless of skill set. A person was brought on as a PERL and C# programmer for one project I was working on. Our team had no part in the interview process. The person had also never heard of PERL or C#. In fact that individual had never coded a thing. Until the day I left he sat at a desk. That was his role. I’ll never know why I was hired although I was considered a ‘guru’
3. Projects can be massive. A Government engineer’s part in the project is likely minuscule at best.
- There are plenty of massive projects in the U.S. Government. Projects are classified as CATI, II III depending on the funding. These projects are massive because of the funding that the program within the government can acquire. People will be brought on to the project to use the funding, whether they are needed or not. One project I supported involved standing up two HP C7000 blade centers and connecting to the local LAN. 11 Network Engineers, 8 Linux Engineers, 4 WIndows Engineers and 50 DBAs were hired. Most of the people just hung out all day for a year making engineer pay.
4. Federal Government Employees do not work
- A government employee does not work. In fact, a government employee goes through months of training learning how not to work. This training, called DAWIA, is utterly ridiculous. What’s more ridiculous is that many claim its better to have DAWIA training than an MA/MS degree. The training focuses around ‘managing’ contractors and their work. Although I was a network engineer assigned to a few projects that needed someone who knew what a router was, In this training I had to stand up in front of a ‘class’ of 50 people and explain why a simulated project on drone building was over budget.
5. You wont get tools you may need
- Key board? Monitor? Laptop? Cell Phone? Pens? Notepads? Screwdriver? Desk? You wont get any of these…..not without a major fight and then you’ll probably see them after six months. The 30 Rock scene with Alec Baldwin working on Capital Hill where Matthew Broderik writes notes down with a sharp piece of plastic is spot on. Then again – read reason four above.
6. You’ll get awesome world class travel
- To sit at a desk and do nothing once you get to – Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Japan. I went to each site as ‘government over-site’ for contractors. The four contractors sent to each of these sites had to install a switch – 3750E if I remember.
7. It is all meaningless
- Most federal contracts worth working on – CATI projects such as the F35 – are so full of bureaucracy and politics (think some government guy sitting at his desk doing nothing for a few weeks before responding to an email) that they take years to ramp up. Attaching to a new CATI project means you need to be in it for the long haul. As a network engineer you many only be installing a handful of routers and switches every two years – after two years of planning. This is so great for people who like job security, don’t care about being relevant in the industry, and want to surf the internet all day.
8. Everything moves extremely slowly
-It is hard to imagine how slowly things move. I’ve worked for banks, corporate networks, and food industries. Things moved slow there. It could take a few weeks to get something I needed ordered for a project. The federal government, on the other hand, can take years to order something. By the time equipment arrives for many projects in the federal government, it is already antiquated. Imagine ordering a version of Vmware 4.X today. This is happening! Imagine ordering an end of sale 3560 switch. This is happening. By the time equipment shows up it is out dated and no one wants anything to do with it.
But that’s not the only thing that moves slowly. Anything you need done for yourself can take a considerably long amount of time. Get a copy of Visio? Get travel approved? Take a day off? Take care of a sick child? These things can take weeks to months to accomplish because only other government employees are taking care of your needs. No one works in the government and so you have to break the door down on people to get anything done. There’s a scene in Catch-22 where John Yossarian has to tackle his boss to get him to sign paperwork. That is not satire! It’s total reality.
9. Everyone is extremely rude
-No one works in the government. And so asking someone to do something is an affront. But you eventually have to do something (that year). Human interaction in the federal government is gross. No one wants to do anything and people in personnel support positions are some of the most awful I’ve ever met. People on your team can be just as bad – contractors are hired, fired, and laid off daily. They hate you – but have to keep you happy to keep them in employ. That in itself is fun and awful at the same time.
10. It’s the perfect job if you want no responsibilities, less worry of being laid off than an average company, stability, 9-5, 0 real stress, no real career growth (in the network industry), chose your own schedule, to sleep all day, to surf the internet all day, and to basically relax in life. I’ll absolutely be coming back to the government (when I’m 50 [and i’ll be a total asshole to everyone]).