This week was the end of my tenth year working in the UK Civil Service.
I didn’t have this on my bingo card. In fact, it very nearly didn’t happen at all.
I planned to be teacher. I applied to TeachFirst. I even got the job! It all fell apart when they told me I’d be teaching GCSE English. I was adamant that was not my path and I jacked it in.1 Not long after, I found myself in the basement of 100 Parliament Street in an assessment centre for the Civil Service Fast Stream instead; hoping to get the chance to work at the intersection of technology and public policy.
I’m not sure how I got in
As far as I understand it, I actually failed the assessment process but they let me in anyway. A “qualified accepted”, I think they called it. A few months later, I was over-dressed, over-eager and with a lot to learn; reporting for duty at the Department for Education.
Nowadays, Fast Streamers are forcibly moved around the system every 6 to 12 months. Not back in those days: it was more of a ‘build your own grad scheme’ vibe. Like working with LEGO, but less stable and less fun. For me, it worked perfectly; giving me a chance to go after the things I thought would accelerate my career and excite my brain the most.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve worked in the Government Digital Service, the Government Equalities Office2, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and, now, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.
I’ve worked for ministers and for senior officials. I’ve negotiated an EU Directive on behalf of the UK. I got legislation through Parliament. I’ve worked on ground-breaking research and written flagship policy programmes. I’ve led multi-million pound programmes that have had a real impact on people’s lives. And that’s just the tip of a decade long iceberg: the bits you can see from outside the system.
Of course, the day job is not the only thing I’ve had the privilege to be involved with. For as long as I’ve been a civil servant, I’ve been involved with the Civil Service LGBT+ Network; spending the last two years as chair. I’ve worked with hundreds of talented, passionate individuals who want to make the Civil Service a safe place for LGBT+ people to work.
The work and the people
10 years wasn’t the plan, but there’s a stickiness to working in the Civil Service that I hadn’t expected. There are many, many reasons to not want to work in the Civil Service3, but there are two powerful reasons to want to: the work and the people.
I came to the Civil Service to get to work at the intersection of technology and public policy. The work drove me towards the Civil Service, and it has kept me here. I’m proud of everything I’ve delivered and grateful for the opportunity to work on it.
But it’s not just the work, it’s the people.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with some brilliant people. My managers have been exceptional; without exception. They’ve mentored me, helped me to build on my skills, nurtured my talents and enabled me to get on.
I came to the Civil Service for the work, and I’ve stayed because of the work and the people.
Am I a “lifer” now?
I certainly never set out to be a “lifer” but I am one, for the moment at least. I’ve no idea whether I’ll still be in public service by this time in 2033; but the last 10 years has been a brilliant journey, and wherever I end up, I’m sure the next decade will be too.
I studied politics and economics at university, and English was both my least favourite subject at A-Level and my worst grade. Why on Earth they thought I would be suitable to teach it is beyond me. ↩︎
The GEO moved around a lot due to Machinery of Government changes whilst I was there; technically I worked in the Department for Education (again), the Home Office, the Department for International Development, and the Cabinet Office (again) in just a 3 year period! ↩︎
Reasons that are for discussion over drinks, in private, and not on this blog! ↩︎