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Tech

Are You Furloughed and in Need of a Job? Try a Start-Up.

A community of D.C.-area tech start-ups is here to help. And they love your resume.

Participants at the Campus Party 2012 technology festival at former Tempelhof Airport,Aug.22, 2012, in Berlin. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

photo of Dustin Volz
October 9, 2013

Now that furloughed federal workers have had the time to run some errands, enjoy a mini stay-cation and catch up on episodes of Breaking Bad, many are beginning to look for temporary ways to get some cash.

And through the quick action of the Internet and a sense of good neighborliness, those workers are finding exactly that. Start-up tech companies are posting open gigs to a newly created online job board—with requirements ranging from "basic excel skills" to "web research skills" to "legislative experience" and everything in between—in hopes of attracting highly qualified feds who have some extra time on their hands during the shutdown.

Some opportunities could even lead to permanent positions, creating a potential "brain drain" of talent from the government as the shutdown continues into its second week.

 

The idea, as with most good ones, arrived serendipitously via a strike of good-hearted intention. Tom Clark, the vice president of marketing for myEDmatch.com, a job-matching site for teachers and schools (think online dating for education jobs), was out about town noticing all the deals bars and restaurants were offering to furloughed employees. Inspired by the sense of community, Clark realized that the platform for his day job could also be used to help furloughed workers. He created a Google Doc spreadsheet -- dubbed the "Shutdown Work Board" -- to allow tech start-ups to post freelance opportunities for the furloughed.

Clark promoted the page through the D.C.-area start-up incubator 1776, and immediately the online networking tool took off. Within the first two days, 3,000 people visited the Google Doc.

"From there, we sort of realized we were onto something," Clark said. 1776 teamed up with BLEN Corp and within hours produced Unfurlough.us to keep up with the traffic. Currently, the site features dozens of available "gigs" and eager "freelancers," though some of them, admittedly, are not furloughed feds but just people interested in finding work.

Many of the start-ups are thrilled by the sudden availability of federal employee talent.

"One of the biggest concerns in hiring in the D.C. area is that you're competing against the federal government for top talent," said Tim Hwang, CEO of FiscalNote, a real-time government analytics platform. The sudden ability to poach that talent, Hwang said, is "a win not only for start-ups but also the general economy for the region."

Executives at the tech start-ups told National Journal that federal employees are uniquely skilled and qualified for many of the positions they are looking to fill. The mix of their education and fluency with various technical tools elevate their resumes to the top of the pile. And for some groups, a working knowledge of how government works is an invaluable asset.

"It's really awesome if you're able to get help from someone on the tech side and the government side," because they are "leaps and bounds ahead of people we can find in the open market," said Seamus Kraft, a cofounder of the OpenGov Foundation, which works to make government more open and accessible. (A bit of an ironic twist: Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, is also a cofounder.)

Kraft, who also has been a federal employee, said it's little surprise that furloughed workers are poking around for other opportunities. He has fielded a dozen inquiries, and "all of them are legit." In many cases, the candidates are not interested in a temporary gig but a full-time change of careers.

"It absolutely could happen." Kraft said when asked if some of the applicants could become permanent. "That is how we're starting to grow our team."

Government jobs are typically viewed as stable, safe bets that come with generous benefits, said, Donna Harris, a cofounder of 1776. But the shutdown is leading some to start thinking about other opportunities that previously might have been off their radar.

"Finding good technical talent is really hard," Harris said. "So what's going on with this dynamic, all of a sudden these people have time on their hands and it's giving them the time to explore this ecosystem that many didn't even know existed."

Time—and the length of the shutdown—will tell whether we witness a mass exodus of feds leaving their bureaucratic day jobs.

"There's a great stitch between the mission of these start-ups and the jobs of these federal workers," said Harris. "I'll be interested to see what this leads to. The longer the shutdown goes on, the more interest people will show in these alternative careers."

For Tom Clark, the entrepreneur behind the project, the networking is about more than connecting start-ups to the furloughed masses. It's a reminder that Washington is a community of people that continues to look out for each other, even when the government turns off for a while.

"D.C. is not just home to the White House and Capitol," Clark said. "It's home to the residents who live here."

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