How to Advance in the Government – from E-1 to GS-14 Fast
The government is finally jumping on the emerging technologies bandwagon. The public sector wants to catch up to where the industry is, and fast. Want to learn how I advanced my career into this lucrative field? Read on...
In today’s government, there is a push for hiring a tech talented workforce. The government sector prides itself on hiring and empowering diverse people to deliver better services. One thing is for sure, to innovate, it starts with streamlining the procurement process to ensure quicker adoption of new tech in the industry. In this article, I am going to give a brief description of how I went from soldering parts on a circuit board and Airman, E-1, to managing millions of dollars of programs as a GS-14 over a quick couple of decades.
I got my start back in 2002, 20 years ago. Time flies! I started as an Airman in the United States Air Force making about $1,200 per month (See E-2 pay). I was very ignorant of how the parts on the plane were procured, manufactured, shipped, or tracked. I did not jump into the acquisition side right away.
How to get promoted in the Government
I am not going to give a detailed history of my entire career. Instead, I want to set the stage so others that are in my past positions can see a path forward. I give a talk about my background and how I advanced within the government in these two long videos here, and part 2, is here.
My journey started when I had an opportunity to join a program that allowed Wage Grade (WG) workers to convert to the General Schedule (GS). In layman’s terms, this means going from a blue-collar worker to a white-collar worker. The program brought me from a WG-12 (~$21/hour at the time) to a GS-5. I was able to retain my pay for two years with this program. The GS-5 lasted 6 months, then I became a GS-7. GS-7 for one year then became a GS-9. I was a GS-9 for one year until I got to the program’s max level of GS-11. What was this job I sought after? The term is Equipment Specialist, or ES. Look for similar programs like this. They all change over time so be on the lookout. There were programs called PATHWAYS for recent grads too.
These programs usually require a lengthy application process. Don’t let that deter you. I repeat, don’t let the application process detur you. The fact that it’s lengthy is to your advantage. That means more than half the people who wanted to apply for that program, didn’t. It’s too lengthy for them to bother. You will, of course, usually need supervisory support for these programs. Make it easy for them to sponsor you. Do their work for you and simply have them endorse it.
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The role of the Equipment Specialist (1670)
I created a short six-minute video on what I do as an Equipment Specialist. The series, in government terms, is a 1670 series. I’ll link to the video below, as well.
In short, I had to be knowledgeable about all aspects of the equipment I was assigned. In my case, it was jet engines. Now, I have never worked on a jet engine before. I am terrible at anything mechanical. Lucky for me, my job was more on the analytics side of things. You see, the job of an ES on something as complicated as a jet engine requires more than just one ES. We had a team that was split up into two sections. One team was working with the forecasting and the inventories while the other team was working on the technical aspects of the engine. Lucky for me, I was not on the technical side.
You must have a good idea of what the equipment does and how it works, though. For example, how am I supposed to predict how many parts are going to break on the engine? When to bring engines in for periodic maintenance? How to phase a new part in due to a safety concern? The list goes on. It’s not easy. We try to use sophisticated systems like D200A and D200F and other meaningless named systems. These systems work well, for easily predictable outcomes. The main idea is that the systems will use past knowledge and history of the engine to predict future needs. Let me give a quick example.
If you own a fleet of cars and want to know how many, and when, to buy new tires for the cars, what would you do? One method is to look at past data. If you needed new tires every 30,000 miles on the cars, and you have XX number of cars, you can predict how many tires you will need, in theory. Of course, each car has a variable number of miles on it. However, if you have enough cars, the law of averages might just help you out. What if miles are seasonal? What if you purchased new cars? What if wanted to phase out old cars. Do you see how this could become complicated, quickly? Well, it was my job to help answer those questions, only, with jet engines.
After a few years working with predictive analytics to try and keep airplanes in the air, I got a promotion to a GS-12 Logistics Management Specialist, or 346-series.
The role of the Logistics Management Specialist (0346)
This article is not about the specific roles so I will give the condensed version of what a Logistics Management Specialist, or loggie, does. A loggie must have a holistic view of all the parts, world-wide, as well as the mission. A loggie has broader control of the entire program. For example, if two bases, A and B, both requested a part to repair an engine, typically, the base that ordered it first, receives it first. That is where the loggie comes in. The loggie would understand the scarcity of this part and know that base A, even with the part, could not make the engine fly because it is also missing other parts. Even though base B ordered the part second, in this hypothetical example, the loggie would override the system and get the part to the base that could make the engine whole and strap it on a plane for flight.
Of course, there are many, many more details missing, but that is the idea. Not to mention you must work with multiple agencies and scramble to find parts, work with engineering to extend the life of parts, haggle with other departments for priority over piece parts. The list goes on.
Operations Research Specialist (ORA/ORSA-MAC/GS-1515 Series)
I transitioned from a Logistics Management Specialists, 356-series, to an Operations Research Analyst, 1515-series (NH-1515-03). This was technically a promotion because I was now in the NH pay band, which is equivalent to a GS-12/13 combined. This was a crucial factor for my next promotion. Without getting into the details too, much, this job entailed looking at, curating, finding insights, into all data within the organization. This organization I am referring to, is the USAF, of course. This position was eye-opening. Having access to that much data was unbelievably valuable. You can see trends and develop insights you have never thought of through intuition. Of course, wrangling the data and breaking down silos of data warehouses was challenging. This position allowed me to advance my data analysis skills as well as learn more about IT systems. I can go on, and on about this career field, but I will dedicate a post to the 1515 series later.
I was fortunate enough to be sent to an army school at Fort Lee to learn more about Operations Research. This 3+ months of school helped solidify my career in technology and propel me to my next role.
Operations Researcher / Regulatory Informatics Specialist
What I find interesting, is that most scientists and engineers go deep into the rabbit hole of whatever they are interested in. It was a time for a change. I have been working for the same industry for over 16 years. I decided to take a promotion and move across the country. Although I kept the same title, for a while, I hardly did any Operations Research. This is when I jumped into the realm of acquisitions and the software development life cycle.
The acquisition is a lengthy process that takes a lot of time and resources to get right. I am not going to get into specifics now. However, a particular skill you must possess is being a bureaucracy slayer. In other words, how to navigate the red tape of the government bureaucracy.
Solving complex issues and figuring out a way to get to the organization’s desired result using the tools available, in the time allotted, and under the budget constraints, are all important factors to consider. Know, the policies, rules, regulations, or simply helping people work through them will greatly help you become successful. Moving those obstacles out of the way will help you become a leader in the organization.
At many organizations and agencies, the issues can be local policies that have been created years ago or they have myths that people have been passing from one generation of acquisition professional to another that we have to work through.