From Startup Founder to USDS Leader
Working in technology is something that comes naturally to Ryan. Throughout his career, he’s participated in a wide variety of positions that flowed between both the private and public sector. The common thread across these positions has been his love of building things – specifically, digital things that have an impact.
Ryan began his career in big tech at the likes of Salesforce and Microsoft, before founding Pipette, a digital health company. But in 2012, Ryan joined the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) and got his first exposure to government tech. During this time, he worked on the Blue Button Initiative, a project which helped unlock health records for millions of Americans and an obvious match for health tech entrepreneur. As a result of the Blue Button Initiative, over 150 million Americans have access to their personalized health data and more than 600 organizations have committed to advance health information access efforts.
“I saw the problem Blue Button was trying to tackle. I tried to solve it myself [in the private sector],” said Ryan, “but I also appreciated that there’s no way to fix the health interoperability problem outside of government. I thought that embedding with the team that was writing the regulations for electronic health records, it’d be kind of a neat place to spend six months.”
For Ryan, six months turned into four years when he continued his tour as a senior advisor on data project—specifically on data, liberation efforts for data.gov. “Taxpayer dollars are spent to collect meaningful data points that end up siloed in a database or a spreadsheet somewhere within the government.” Ryan said. “It was our role and opportunity to open that up. We encouraged every agency to start cataloging and putting out and sharing the data sets they had.”
“Tech Talent Project is so important. In many ways they are the ultimate connectors—they are the venture catalysts in a world of problems and challenges.”
When you visit data.gov today, it’s incredible to see thousands of open data sets that are available in part due to Ryan’s work. Technologist from across the country have used this data to build applications that help Americans get more of what they need—from and air quality app to a SNAP retail locator to a home energy estimator. Ryan witnessed the power of unleashing administrative data and he was proud of what he had accomplished for the American people. As he began to think about returning to the private sector—HealthCare.gov launched.
Day one for the HealthCare.gov initial enrollment was marred by server overloads, website crashes and an overall frustrating experience, which restricted Americans from accessing the healthcare plans they needed. As a result, although over 2.8 million Americans visited the website on the first day, only 6 were able to complete the sign-up process. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was President Obama’s marquee legislation and if the HealthCare.gov website failed, millions of Americans wouldn’t have access to the coverage they needed. Government leaders looked to those with the technological experience needed to remedy this situation.
+ Million Americans
have received health insurances since the launch of HealthCare.gov–many of whom, without this streamlined access, would otherwise not have it
Ryan was one of the first members of the team assembled to assess and ultimately fix HealthCare.gov. Not only did the team resolve the crisis surrounding HealthCare.gov, but it also highlighted the importance of digital tech at the national level—and from that, the United States Digital Service (USDS) was born.
“When I went into government in 2012, most of the folks from the [general] tech community were at the fringes; they weren’t really brought to the table at the beginning of decisions or really when anything quite critical was happening,” Ryan says. “HealthCare.gov really changed things.”
Ryan’s final role within government was a United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer from 2014 to 2016. Reflecting on his career in government tech, Ryan said the hardest thing was the pressure that came from working on programs of such large magnitude. But with the pressure, also came the excitement of knowing that every little bug fixed meant more Americans could get access to healthcare. While it was an incredible exhausting journey, it was also one of the most rewarding projects of his career.
“I think in a lot of these stories, you look for a hero or the on thing that fixes everything, “he says, “but in government, it actually takes ten—to twenty—to hundreds of people all doing the right thing in the right direction for really good things to happen. That’s why Tech Talent Project is so important. In many ways, they are the ultimate connectors—they are the venture catalysts in a world of problems and challenges.”
Are you a technologist?
Do you have the skills and desire to tackle our government’s most challenging problems? Now more than ever, we need your technical talent to help address public sector issues such as COVID-19 recovery, unemployment services and more.