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What Are Government Tech Jobs Like? 19

Posted by Cliff
from the getting-the-inside-story dept.
Volhav asks: "I am currently in the post college job search, and I would like to consider all my options. So I was wondering what it is like to work in a government tech job, specifically as a coder? Especially with all the recent layoffs and reduced profits being reported by many of the usual big employers. I am very curious as to peoples' experiences and suggestions"
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What Are Government Tech Jobs Like?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I cannot specifiy exactly what the life of a coder is like with the US government (im an engineering), but it probably somewhat resembles my experiece. As a EE, i started work out of college at Sandia National Labortories. For an entry level job, i was allowed to work on many high-tech projects (which would be unheard of in industry) with alot of freedom. My boss wasnt picky, as we werent concerned with profits. As long as work got done, and it met the specs, everyone was happy. Also, i never put in more than 40 hours a week, and no one there did. The main downside was that the pay was poor (substantialy less than i would have earned in industry), and once you were to rise high enough in the ranks, you would have to deal with the infinite bureocracy that is the US government. Needless to say, after 4 years i left for the private sector.

    I believe gov jobs suit those just starting out in the work force, and those that are ready to leave the work force best. If you are somewhere in the middle, and looking at working at the same place for 10+ years, stay in the private sector. But if you dont need that much money, arent going to hang around for a while, dont care about promotions, and can pass a drug test, gov jobs probably are better than their private sector equivlants.

  • A job, espectially a tech job in a Government is asking for trouble.

    You will always be on a tighr budget, which means you won't get to keep yourself on the cutting edge. The work will not be exciting becuase of this low budget, and therefore job satisfaction will be low.

    Also, Governments are notorious for paying low. A consultant from one of the big 5 [cpateam.com] will earn big money, and while working for the government will be more demanding, you would be lucky to earn half of what hot-shot consultants would. Very lucky.

    Working for a government requires lots of patience, lots of waiting for funding and a huge amount of frustration. However, some people love it. Can't think why.

  • Ever read Kafka? I'd suggest you start there. Not for the conspiracies, but for the soul-numbing bureaucracy of it all. These are the same people who've sponsored the proliferation of Ada, for Pete's sake.

    In all seriousness, working for the government is an easy gig if you're not the sort to want to work terribly hard (you won't, and they won't encourage you to) and if you don't take your job home with you -- or particularly seriously. If you are terribly career-driven or are a perfectionist, you will be driven mad.

    Also: you cannot accept gifts of any kind while acting as a government employee. That means no free dinners, no fancy hotels at conferences where you're giving a talk, and (worst of all) no frequent flyer miles.

    Good luck!

  • Sandia is very different from the typical US Gov't job. They have almost unlimited budget, though the workers there will tell you otherwise. They are in a huge hiring mode as 25% of their work force is eligible for retirement. Would I work there right out of college? Not if I only had a BS, they are very much a research organization and won't compensate well unless you have an MS or PhD. With years of experience they'll compensate ok even without an advanced degree. Oh and don't forget the security clearance, do you think you'll mind having your personal life open for scrutiny. I worked there as a 20-something and left. I work there now as a 40-something because they pay as well as anywhere else for my level of experience.
  • are the same as regular jobs, but you have a security clearance. And you have a lot of regulations about travel and other stuff. Contractor work is generally more likeable though.
  • by Matt_Bennett (79107) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @03:40AM (#396541) Homepage Journal
    Right out of school, a job in the government is actually pretty good. For most people, after graduating, you have a lot of theoretical knowledge, but little practical, real world knowledge, and this leads to having misconceptions about what the you really want to do with the knowledge you gained in school.

    A strange thing about the government is that while they are limited in legislation as to what they can pay their employees, the same legislation gives them budgets that they must spend or get that much less for next year. In my experience, this leads to getting top of the line hardware, stuff that the private sector is drooling over, but is not willing to pay for. You can learn now on what will be the hot technology in the private sector in a few years.

    Since the government pays less than the private sector, there is much more internal opportunity since they are chronically understaffed. If you want to work on a wide variety of things, the opportunity is there. My experience with the private sector, especially in big companies, is that once you have shown proficiency in a particular area, such as franistat widgets, you're more likely to be spending the rest of your career in making franistat widgets. Likely you will be very, very good at making the franistat widgets, but you may be left out in the cold once franistats are replaced by harbintrons, where you never had the opportunity to learn them.

    Also, I have found that many of the people that are working for the government, especially in research, are very, very, very good at what they do, particularly those that have been at it for 20 or 30 years, and they can be a very good resource for you to learn from. Yes, there are idiots working for the government, because it is hard to fire them. In my experience, those people are easy to spot and to avoid. The people that you want to learn from are there, too. They are the people consumed in/by the technology and not jaded by the pursuit of money, status, or power. In private industry, I've found the latter much harder to find.

    On the down side, the pay sucks, and promotion potential is poor. I spent 7 years working for the Federal government, 1 for the state (at a public university), and the last year in private industry. I have gotten to work on a lot of cool things, and I have a wide variety of experience. I can't say I'm completely satisfied, I do believe that I am more satisfied that I would have been if I went into private industry directly after graduation.
  • I'm currently working as a contractor on a DoD project, and I simply love it. You can work as hard as you wish, or as little as you wish; there's plenty of work to do, and no pressuring deadlines. They pay is most excellent -- it's sick to see how my tax dollars are being spent, as 75% here can't even pull thier own weight. Regardless, there's a lot of room to learn a lot of things, as you actually have the ability to take your time with things.
  • There are lots of ups and downs to any of the three options in the subject line... I'll give a quick rundown from least desirable (IMO) to most.
    Military: (as an officer vice enlisted) Your assignments are decided by someone else who "knows best" and you are not free to find a better offer elsewhere. Many of these assignments are "career broadening", and not related to tech at all. On the other hand, you do have job security, and many civilan jobs look very favorably on military experience. You also have the opportunity to get wide leadership experience at a very early stage in your career. I'm in this boat for the next 817 days (who's counting? :), and although the experience will be a benefit, it's a tough way to make a living.
    Government Civilian: You are still pretty "entrenched in the bureaucracy", but removed somewhat. You don't have to move around every 2 years, and the job security is still there. You are, however, a large part of the political machine, and that can greatly hinder "getting stuff done."
    Contractor: I personally think this is the best option. You have less certainty of job security, but if you work for a contracting company, they will be able to take care of you. When you are on contract (various durations - from months to years), you can be sure that you have a job until at least the contract close.
    For any of these three, there are positions that both require and don't require security clearances. All the really cool stuff (IMHO) has been in the classified realm. However, the current waiting period for even the plainest, least interesting people to get a clearance is over a year, so you might have to wait it out until the real interesting stuff comes along.
    Hope this helps shed some light on the possibilities out there. If you would like any other info or have other questions for someone "on the inside," drop me an email at the above address.
  • I imagine it depends a lot on the agency and the project.

    My first regular programming gig (in 1982) was for the USDA, working on a project to track every cow in the US. The "Brucellosis Information Project" (or, as the phone book listed it, the "Bruce Llosis Information Project") used a combination of already outdated giant mainframe technology (Univac) and already outdated minicomputer technology (Harris). They had the world's largest Univac site.

    One of many reasons I was not renewed was for my highly annoying tendency to harp on the fact that they were spending inordinate amounts of money on trailing-edge technology, and to point out better technologies (generally ones involving Unix.) The problem was that the technology had all been specified years ago, and they didn't have the flexibility to change it. The project eventually failed.

    (Another reason that I was not renewed was that I totally alienated the senior administrative officer when I couldn't stop laughing during the loyalty oath.)

    Ten years later, I found myself in Fort Collins again for a year, and I ended up as a contractor on another USDA project: to keep track of all the dirt^H^H^H^H soil in ths US. In the intervening years, the cumulative effect of everyone shouting "Unix" at the senior administrators (still the same people, in some cases) had sunk in, but the general lesson had not. They were using a combination of 3B2s (ack!) and these other weird proprietary AT&T Unix boxen. They were going to put one of these in every Soil Conservation Office in the US, at a phenomenal price (about ten million bucks just in Unix licenses, not including support.)

    With my somewhat more mellow personality and senior role, I actually got a few people to (briefly) consider the idea of the government buying a license and creating its own release of System V, which would come close to breaking even just on this one project. Apparently, though, this sort of project is Just Not Done. (At least at that time.) This time, however, they were sad to see me go, although I couldn't get out of there quick enough and get back to the real world.

    I now hear that various agencies are using Linux & Freebsd and so on (although at USDA in '92 you could be fired for bringing in outside software). I know that Apache is extremely popular in some quarters as well.

    In short, the point of these two crusty old stories is that there are bound to me many large chunks of the government that are as crusty and hide-bound as the USDA. You may luck out and find an area where you get to play with cool toys, but don't hold your breath.

  • by benenglish (107150) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @04:45AM (#396545)
    Holy crap, this is a big subject!

    I'm a Unix sysadmin for a large bureau. I work around a few developers and deal with more. We all have roughly the same work experience.

    Disclaimer: I love my job. Read what follows with that in mind.

    Let's start with the pros, in no particular order.

    First, you get to serve your fellow man. Now, stop laughing and think about that. I know that my job directly supports people (I used to be one of them, out in the field, knocking on doors and finding people who didn't want to be found, so I know whereof I speak.) who are enforcing important laws that we, as a society, absolutely need to ensure that anarchy is kept at bay. I help create in the lives of lawbreakers those significant emotional events that cause them to change their behavior. There is no monetary compensation (short of "make me super-rich so I can be a full-time philanthropist") that could possibly equal that kind of ultimate job satisfaction.

    Of course, I've reached a level of maturity where I don't consider my success to be a function of how much my car costs. If you, too, are smart enough to realize that true satisfaction comes from within, you can knock down the *big* psychic wages by seeking employment at a government agency that does something you think is important. There are lots to choose from; just do a little research.

    Second, the pay is not necessarily all that bad. In high-rent locales, it sucks. But you get the same (base) pay in rural Mississippi. Examples? The entry-level salary for a 334 series grade 9 coder (a reasonable entry level in the HQ of a big agency in DC) is $43K. (What's a 334/9? Off-topic - go check opm.gov for more info.) If you choose to come on board at a much lower level, as you might have to do in the sticks or at a smaller agency, you'll do no worse than $29K a year, but you'll get up to that $43K a year level in two years.

    I don't know about you, but I can live a decent life on $43K a year. If you can't, then maybe govt service isn't for you.

    Third, much of the private sector bullshit is gone. (It's replaced by public sector bullshit, but I'll cover that below.) I've had private sector experience and I would never go back to places where management can jerk you around or effectively fire you at will like in the private sector. You see, civil service employees are hard to fire. That's important and a very good thing. If not for civil service protections, for example, when a democrat is elected president he could just fire all the republicans. Or vice versa. Such things were the norm in decades past. No longer. Along with protection against politically-motivated personnel actions came protections against just plain stupid personnel actions. Your boss can't say "Cut your hair or you're fired!" It doesn't matter if you're a cross-dressing tattooed biker with a purple spiked mohawk - if you do your job well, you are compensated and promoted according to the rules. And that's the bottom line: there are rules, you know them ahead of time, and management can't change them to screw you over just because they don't like you.

    Next, there's the actual work to consider. Personally, I find it a challenge to keep things running because I'm a tinkerer. Our tech is rarely cutting-edge, but it still needs work. How that work is done is different at each place, but if your inquiries into the type of work you'll be expected to do sound interesting to you, then don't let the fact that you aren't bleeding-edge get in the way. Wanna be a Perl guy? Sheesh, we *need* those guys to tie things together. Wanna work on Oracle stuff or put web front ends on Informix database applications or support some of the biggest email systems in the world? The US govt is a good place for those things. Insist on staying right on the bleeding edge? The opportunities are fewer, but they exist. Look carefully.

    Where to start looking? Go to Government Computer News at www.gcn.com. Browse a bunch. See what we do. I think you'll be surprised at the variety and levels of involvement and just all-around neat stuff that you'll find if you take the time to search.

    Next, perks. There's a 40 hour work week. Not a wink-wink-nudge-nudge 40 hour week, but a REAL 40 hour week. (Does listing this as a perk make me a wuss? Maybe. But I think it mainly just means that I have a life outside work.) When you *have* to work overtime, you get overtime pay. And double pay on holidays. There are more than a dozen holidays a year. You earn 4 hours of sick leave and 4 hours of vacation leave for every two weeks you work from the very beginning. And after you've been here as along as I have, you get 8 hours of vacation time for every two weeks worked. The insurance is usually decent, though private industry, with all its variablility, can often be significantly better. When you have to travel on government business, it's easy to tack vacation time onto your trip. (The government has to pay you to fly there, stay there for the duration of business, and fly back. If you want to insert a few days of vacation time between the end of your business and the flight back, no big deal. You'll just have to pay for them.) No, you don't get to earn frequent flyer miles and you have to sit in coach (unless you can get a doctor to certify that cramming your body into a narrow seat is a health risk, in which case you can fly first class), but I travel *very* frequently for the government. Over the last few months, I've done a week each in Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oklahoma City, Austin, Nashville, Indianapolis, Chicago, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and somewhere I'd rather forget in the middle of New Jersey. As long as they don't send me back to Jersey, I'd hit the road again in a heartbeat.

    More perks? Your union can be good to useless, but you're never compelled to join or pay dues. A willingness to be mobile just about guarantees quick promotions of competent people. I could go on and on, but I won't. Going into too much detail can be misleading, since these things vary widely from agency to agency. Check for yourself.

    Now, the bad stuff.

    First, low pay by some people's standards. I work 40 hours a week for $50K. I wouldn't work 80 hours a week for twice or even 5 times that amount. YMMV.

    Second, the tools. This one bugs me. Most agencies enforce on all tech workers a standard set of tools. At my agency, for example, if you need to script something you use the shell or Perl. Wanna use Python just because you like it? Forget it. It's not the standard. If you want to be a coder, make double damn sure you ask what tools you'll be required to use. If you don't like them, don't take the job.

    Third, public attitudes. People who don't know crap about government service assume there must be something wrong with you if you work here. I work at an especially hated agency. Once I was called for jury duty and during the selection process, I was interviewed in front of everyone. If you've ever been through voire dire (sp?), you know how it works. Anyway, my employer was mentioned. At the first break, a fellow jury panel member made a point of telling me, in front of witnesses, that he'd kill me if I came near him. Not fun and an extreme example, but you'll have to learn to deal with negative reactions. Some places are worse than others, of course. In Washington DC, it's no big deal. In southern Idaho, you lie when people ask you where you work. You just have to learn to deal.

    Fourth, the rules. Remember those work rules that protect you against politically-motivated or just plain stupid personnel actions? Many similar rules will constrain your behavior. To avoid an appearance of impropriety, no accepting gifts over a nominal amount. (You'll hesitate to accept a cup of coffee.) No speech at work that could be interpreted as offensive. This one is especially touchy. You *can* say pretty much anything you want at work and that's OK. As soon as someone gets offended, you're in trouble. Want an extreme example? I got on an elevator once with a secretary (roughly my work level in the organization) and a Division Chief (roughly 87 levels of management above me and a different division, to boot.) In response to the usual "hi, how are you?" greeting from the Chief, I said "It's a gorgeous Friday afternoon, I'm about to get off work, and in the meantime I'm locked in a small room with two beautiful women. Life couldn't get any better!"

    The Chief formally placed me on warning for sexual harrassment. You'll find idiots like that at every agency.

    Fifth, deadwood. This one will bother you if you have any conscience. At nearly every agency, there are some employees who have "retired in place," doing the absolute minimum necessary to get by. They're a pain. In fact, they often make more work for others than they do themselves. Now, don't let anyone fool you. Those same people work in private industry. In govt service, though, we just seem to have a few more. NOT a lot more, but a few.

    Sixth, the bureacracy. It's generally huge and frustrating. On the other hand, I deal with vendors frequently and I've observed much the same thing in the private sector. It's just a bit worse in the public sector.

    Finally, the law. This, I think, is the main thing that drives people out of govt service. As a govt employee, everything you do is designed to support the mission of your agency. That mission is a direct result of laws passed by Congress. And Congress frequently screws up, requiring things that simply shouldn't be. In my agency, where we do work that is essential to the very existence of government, we still have to deal with a stack of laws and a library full of regulations that have been authored to try to help us meet those laws. Many of those laws and the regulations that proceed from them and the work processes that proceed from those regulations are grounded in some special interest (or just plain incompetent) legislation and are frustrating as hell to deal with. If you can't stand asking "Why are we doing this stupid thing?" and being told "Because Congress said so." then you should flee from govt service. For all the good govt agencies do and all the satisfaction that comes from working for them, this negative is always present to some degree. When you have to code a back door because the Inspector General wants to spy on employees, when you have to include some ungodly tangle of code to produce some report some idiot congressman got included in your budget, you'll have to ask yourself if it's worth it.

    Pick your agency carefully and you may decide, as I have, that it *is* worth it. It's a decision only you can make.

    Hope this helps.
  • Worked as a contractor supporting the FDIC Local Area Network for a long 2 and 1/2 years, in the Dallas regional center.

    Aside: The contracting company was, of course, the low-bid on the project. But the training they provided wasn't bad, so we stuck, and the core group (of contractors) was very good - the type to be attracted by training. Pay was far below the average for this area. When the training dried up, most of the best bailed, and as sure as apples roll down hill when that compnay lost the bid, we were offered the same jobs, at a substantial cut in salary, and no training. You can imagine the carnage.

    Your mileage will vary by organization.

    The IT staff quality varies - the best are very good and attracted to the job for the best reasons. The worst - well, they're hanging on until retirement, and firing a gov't employee for anything less than fraud or murder is too difficult - they just get reassigned at grade. When a drone was assigned to fix a problem, it was usually easier for one of the contractors just to do the damn work, and get it right, rather than wait a week or three for the drone to screw it up. Bitter? Not me.

    Can't speak badly of the equipment - we always had what we needed to accomlish the mission. Not cutting edge, but not bad.

    The politics, though were B.A.D. The government employees union is all over things like seating assignments, cube sizes, who gets a window etc. Very frustrating.

    Mind you, that was for the FDIC SW Service Center, mid 90s.

  • I'll add my 2 cents as a former enlisted (Marines).

    You'll have very little say so over where you go or what you do, aside from being likely to work w/in your assigned specialty.

    You WILL have hands on experience with the technology, as opposed to general supervision (see the officer guy above).

    You WILL have an opportunity to travel, to visit places that are, to say the least, off the beaten track. You'll never get that opportunity in your run of the mill civilian job.

    You WILL gain valuable cred points with any future employer, provided you can word it correctly on your resume.

    You WILL be p**sed off, rained on, cold, dirty, hungry, tired as hell - you may get shot at. You'll miss it when you leave, oddly enough.

  • After getting my masters degree I worked for a contractor who had the contract to manage and develop a Cabinet-level Department's Internet presence. It was a great opportunity to learn the practical application of all the things I learned in school. I was able to quickly move from basic HTML markup (and Gopher maintenance -- yuck!), to CGI development and graphic design, network design, remote access (a/k/a modem) management, UNIX administration, and security. I was given the time to learn each of these areas in as much detail as I felt sufficient to do a good job, which was a huge plus. I don't think anyone could wear all those hats today -- the scope of what folks are trying to achieve with Internet technologies is too big. However, I'm sure you can find a similar degree of diversity in whatever specialty you end up in.

    However, if you're the least bit goal oriented and a high achiever, you'll quickly become frustrated by the quality of people you have to work with and all the red tape you have to wade through to get significant things accomplished. How quickly you become frustrated will depend a lot on which agency you work for/with. From what I've seen, DoD work can be the neatest because they're typically pushing the boundaries of what the technology can do. (Plus, who can deny the initial rush of working on "secret" projects?) Remember, however, that this is highly dependent upon the individual initiative you end up working on. Not every DoD job is cutting-edge; there are quite a few dumb, mundane, boring ones.

    The civilian agencies will probably burn you out more quickly, on average.

    Regardless of where you end up, develop a plan for blowin' the joint in a year. Work hard to be given concrete responsibilities and thoroughly document the work you do, so that by the end of the year you've been responsible for two or three significant achievements. Then, at the year mark, evaluate your current situation and compare it with what's available in the civilian marketplace. Maybe the economy's still in the toilet and you've identified further opportunities for achievement within the government. If so, stick around for another year and achieve those new goals. If not, bail!

    Whatever you do, don't become one of the (all-too-common) folks who complain about their jobs, who say that they're worth more than they're getting paid, and who claims they have incredible talents that are going to waste. Because, frankly, if you were so great, why would you be sticking around in such a horrible situation?

    Lastly, I'll echo another poster's comments that it's much better to work for a contractor than to work as a government employee. Having to help out on proposals for new work -- in addition to your eight-hour-a-day comittment to your primary client -- can be a drag, but they pay is better and the opportunity to switch to different contracts is a plus.
  • I'm a consultant who works with government agencies. I would recommend going this route for the following reasons:

    • Our projects are cooler. The agencies I've worked for do the older, mainframe stuff themselves but contract out all of the "fun" projects that use newer technologies. I get to do the Java coding while the government workers get to do the COBOL backend.
    • The people are more interesting. I don't want to be mean, but consulting firms tend to attract people who are more interested in staying on top of their field and who want to challenge themselves intellectually. My consultant co-workers are also much more diverse and have broader interests than the government workers I interact with. This could just be my own experience but it may be something to consider.
    • The pay is MUCH better.

    I agree that working for the government is very rewarding. I really like the fact that what I do impacts many people's daily lives (hopefully for the better!) I find that working as a consultant instead of working directly for the government helps me balance my needs (wanting to be challenged, working with interesting people, and making a good living) with the benefits of being able to help others.

  • by ksheff (2406) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @09:07AM (#396550) Homepage

    I would disagree with you here. Just because you are on a tight budget doesn't mean you won't be on the cutting edge. The Lobos and Beowulf projects were started at govt labs because of these tight budgets. If you are dealing with open systems, the software and documentation about it is on the web for free. At worst case you will want to buy a book. Also that doesn't mean that they will never buy any of the latest and greatest hardware. The Federal govt is probably the single biggest buyer of unix workstations and servers. These aren't cheap.

    I used to work as an employee for the primary contractor at a USGS facility [usgs.gov] that was an absolute blast. I loved that job. Only a small fraction of the people at many Fed. facilities actually work for the Govt. The rest are employees of contractors. In many cases, when the contract changes, you just switch to being an employee of the new contractor. True, the pay was lower than what I get now in the private sector. I didn't care. I was out of school and eager to soak up all the technology I could get. I'm sure the original person who asked the question is too. Later on the new wife didn't like the wages, which caused problems and eventually resulted in my leaving. It also made head hunters question my ability because they were basing it on my previous payscale. Once informed it was a govt job, they changed their minds. Sure, I may be making over twice what I did before, but I don't have a tenth of the job satisfaction that I did at the USGS.

    From a cartoon: Private industry on the left, govt/educational institutions on the right. The caption: super salaries or supercomputers. Take your pick.

  • Granted the pay scale isn't what can be found in private industry. However, if you are recent college graduate, you are probably used to not having a lot of income anyway. I personally, would try to get hired by the contractor company at a military or science facility. These tend to have the more interesting projects that can often be on the bleeding edge. I mention contractor because the actual Federal jobs are more often held by management, not the coders.

    I did this and loved it.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It really depends on what you want. I'm a unix sysadmin/web programmer/security analyst/Head of the programming department/technology analyst for a small state agency.

    My point is, the government, because it doesn't tend to get good tech people, is more likely to take a good tech person and give them responsibilities that they would NEVER have a shot at in a larger, more niched organization.

    It's also worth noting that government jobs can be great while pursuing other interests. If you have a life outside of work, the government can be a great place to pursue it.

    OTOH, the management you're likely to run into can be extremely frustrating. In my experience, many management positions are filled with people who have been at the agency for a while. Hiring upper level positions from outside the agency almost never happens. So, you may end up with some guy who's sitting around waiting for retirement, or a less qualified individual who got there through sheer longevity.

    Not everywhere is like this, and I think the government is a good place to do things that you wouldn't ordinarily have a shot at, but it can be pretty frustrating.

    A big question in hiring should be "what's your agency's position on outsourcing?". In some cases, all the interesting projects get outsourced because they lack confidence in the ability of the people in house to make a sizable project work. If you don't have any experience, then working on relatively workaday projects might be OK, but later on, you're going to get annoyed that all the neat stuff goes to some consultant, who then writes it, and leaves you with the maintenance issues.

    By all means, the government CAN be a terrific place to work, but (as with any job) it's important that you go in with eyes open, and know what you're getting into.
  • Re: the likelihood of getting fired from a gov't job. Beware -- some gov't jobs are at will (I'm working at an at-will state gov't agency), and larger federal budget issues can create government downsizing on the private sector scale. When the Repubs, took over Congress in '94, entire offices/commissions/studies lost their budgets and were disbanded (my mom! my friends! all the little children!). Find out how the agency you're interested is doing re: budget, prospects, before tying on.
  • The government jobs don't have to be low pay. New York City pays pretty good money. As much as 80k for a good Unix admin.

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