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MD Culture Club: Government Digital Service (GDS)

Joining us for the latest edition of MD Culture Club is Government Digital Service (GDS), part of the Cabinet Office, who build the platforms, products and services that help to deliver a simple, joined-up and personalised experience of government to everyone.

We spoke to three members of their team to find out exactly what it's like to work there. 

The talent lead...
Gemma Cullen, Head of HR, Change & Recruitment

Can you tell us a little bit about the company, before describing the culture at the organisation?

The Government Digital Service (GDS) was set up in 2011 to make government more effective and user-focused through digital tools, techniques and ways of working. Focusing on improving the experience of users interacting with government through the creation of GOV.UK, building technology platforms and digitising high-volume transactional services.

Ten years on, our mission is to build a simple, joined-up and personalised experience of government for everyone. 

We have five main areas of work which you can find out more about in our GDS strategy blog but these include: 

  • Creating a simple, secure way for users to sign into government services and prove their identity where needed
  • Ensuring GOV.UK continues to be the place the public go for government guidance, information and services 
  • Providing common tools for government to save teams time and money

Since our beginning, ten years ago, our culture has remained collaborative, curious and purposeful. We are still, and always will be, relentlessly focused on user needs and making it easier for people to interact with government through our platforms, products and services.

How does the company go above and beyond to attract and retain tech talent?

We do this in a number of ways:

  • Our pay framework for Digital, Data and Technology roles (DDaT). The framework allows us to compete with the market rates for technical skills. It also supports candidates to increase their pay via allowances as they develop within their profession, at the same grade, increasing the likelihood candidates will stay in jobs they enjoy doing for longer. 

  • We also have a DDaT Capability framework that supports people to progress through their profession at their own pace via a range of development tools, courses, events, as well as on the job learning. 

  • As an organisation, our biggest investment is in our people and we strive to continue building on that. We take learning and development seriously and support people to retrain and transition into technical roles through apprenticeships and training courses. 

Finally, many of our staff join and remain with us because they believe in and recognise the importance of our GDS mission around making it easier for users to interact with government services and products.  

What does the future look like for the company and its employees?

We’ve recently published a blog post to mark our ten year anniversary featuring our employees talking about what they're most excited to deliver in the future! Some of the highlights include continuing to build our presence in Manchester and our other offices, the personalisation of government services and unlocking the benefits of the One Login for Government programme.


The new starter...
Ciaran McCabe, Delivery Manager, Digital Identity

Can you describe your role at the company?

I'm a Delivery Manager here at GDS. It's a varied role for sure – it's very people focused, but within digital and technical environments. I focus on culture, agile, and helping to get the best out of the people that we have. I try to ensure they have what they need to do their job, and keep our team culture positive and supportive with enough structure to help us deliver what we need to, when we need to.

Having a technical background helped me, because at times there's a need to understand complex concepts and explain these to stakeholders – or to help guide conversations, roadmaps and workshops within the team. But you really don't need a technical background to flourish here – many of my colleagues don't.

This role is very diverse, and you can carve it out yourself to a certain degree. If you enjoy working with people and supporting them to be their best, that's a great basis for this kind of role.

What was it about the organisation that attracted you to the role?

GDS is really known for having a culture that puts people first.

I've worked at several places that espouse this, but I have to say that GDS really seems to put it into action. Looking after your own people is important. To me, the only thing that beats that is also having a clear mission that delivers some good to the world – where your job matters.

What the organisation is working on is inspiring – digital transformation across government that allows the citizens of the UK to engage with government in a comfortable, inclusive and intuitive way. This could be by enabling data sharing, common technologies or standards, assisting other government departments, or working on ambitious challenges such as digital identity.

Each project that this organisation is working on is not only important, but necessary. Now that I'm here, I often feel this sense of pride, especially when hearing what many of the other teams are up to. We have some amazing experts in a diverse array of fields that inspires you to be at your best.

Can you describe the onboarding process you’ve experienced?

I was welcomed into the organisation into what was the Verify team. I was the first of our programme to be based in Manchester. I had a handover from a previous delivery manager, and an induction with my new manager. It was a bit of a whirlwind – a new place with lots of new acronyms. Luckily, my accounts were quickly set up across tools like Slack and the Google suite, my laptop arrived the day before I started and my team made plenty of time for me to get up to speed – we had informal chats, coffee mornings and weekly catch-ups. It took a little time to be fully set up on all of the systems and tools, but the team was great in easing me into new ones I hadn’t used before. 

Unfortunately within the first few months of my joining, my family suffered bereavements, like many others during this pandemic. That people-first culture that initially attracted me became apparent, and the support and kindness I was given was fantastic. It allowed me to focus on what was important and get back into work fully when I was ready and at my best.

It was strange to join an organisation during the pandemic, and it was some time before I actually met any of my colleagues face to face. But I feel like I'm part of the team now, and the Manchester office is becoming more and more lively - but still small enough to feel personal.

The long term employee...
Jessica Feldman, Head of Delivery, Digital Identity

Can you describe your role at the company?

As head of delivery my role has 3 main facets: building and nurturing a team of highly capable delivery managers, being the voice of delivery in the senior leadership team and ensuring the deliverability of our commitments and implementation of our strategy.  

You’ve been at the company for a number of years, can you tell me what has kept you at the company for so long?

There are always fresh challenges and brilliant new problems to work on. I’ve worked on high profile elections and big reshuffles, Brexit, COVID-19, digital identity. Being at the centre of government and seeing the impact my work has on millions of people is a great reason to get out of bed every morning. I’m also incredibly inspired by the amazing team of delivery managers I have working with me and being a part of a fantastic multi-disciplinary leadership team. 

Cultivating great talent is hugely rewarding for me and I’m fortunate to do that through line management, team leadership and doing my part in making GDS a great place to work. Likewise, I myself have been supported along the way by some fantastic line managers and leaders. I joined GDS six years ago as a Delivery Manager and I’ve been supported to develop into my current role as Head of Delivery.

What would you say to a person considering joining the company?

There is definitely something for you at GDS--we work on loads of fascinating stuff that has a tangible impact on people’s lives. And I’d really want them to know that GDS is a place where you can bring your whole self to work–whoever you are, you’ll be welcomed here and find rewarding and meaningful work to do. 


Want to be part of delivering GDS’s mission? Apply for their Senior Delivery Manager role.

Apply now


If you’re a member and would like to take part in a future edition of our Culture Club series, please contact thom@manchesterdigital.com.

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