Sean Boots

Technology, public services, and people. But mostly people.

Data residency is security theatre

One of the most persistent myths in Canadian government IT is that storing your data in Canada protects it against eavesdropping or interception by foreign governments. If someone on your government team has asked to use a new online tool and your reaction is, “no, you can’t, because it’s hosted in the United States,” this article is for you. Read more →

Look out for one another

It’s been a strange, unfamiliar, and in a lot of ways distressing past few weeks for people. My default approach is to try to find the silver linings in any situation; now doesn’t feel like the moment. Read more →

Find the truth. Tell the truth.

I read a great post this week from Robin Rendle, about design systems and about the mismatch between how people describe their work publicly and how it’s really going on the inside: “My hunch is this: folks can’t talk about real design systems problems because it will show their company as being dysfunctional and broken in some way. But hiding those mistakes and shortcomings by glossing over everything doesn’t just make it harder for us personally, it hinders progress within the field itself.” This couldn’t be a better description of public service modernization efforts as well. Read more →

User needs, not government needs

When you’re prioritizing what activities to work on, it’s usually not that hard to tell if something is responding to a user need or a government need. Does the activity help understand an actual person and how they’d use the service you’re building? Does it let particular users more effectively interact with your website or online services? Does it generate data that can help inform future improvements? If it’s not doing any of those things, it’s probably solving for a government need. Read more →

Our services aren’t working

The government’s legacy IT systems have been in the news recently. Within the government, there’s a growing concern that these systems – software code and mainframe computers that underpin critical services and benefit programs for millions of Canadians – could fail unexpectedly at any moment. The complicating factor in discussions around legacy IT systems (and their need for replacement) is that many of the services that these systems support don’t work well as-is. Read more →

Perils of standardization

If you work in government IT, you’ve probably heard this before: “We’ve got one standard database product.” “We’ve standardized on this programming language.” “This software is our standard for case management systems,” and so on. There are a number of important downsides, though, to standardization efforts: one size all ends up fitting nothing well, they act as a placeholder for more informed technical discussions, and they end up being a barrier to continual change. Read more →

Introducing agile to large organizations is a subtractive process, not an additive one

“Agile” gets mentioned enough in digital government work that can sometimes seem like it applies to everything: is anything not agile? But there’s a deeper meaning behind it that’s easy to miss: adding agile practices without removing established, “waterfall” processes that slow a team down is a recipe for frustration. Being agile means choosing one approach over another, and deliberately prioritizing what you spend your time on. Read more →

Principles for blogging as a public servant

“Working in the open” – blogging and talking about your work on social media – has become a lot more common in the past few years. As a federal public servant, though, it’s still sometimes hard to know what you are or aren’t allowed to talk about. Read more →

Public service tech tip: Please use headings

If you’re creating documents, one of the most important things you can do is to use real headings. They’re easy to use and easy to customize, and they make a huge difference – both to people using accessibility tools and to anyone converting your document into a webpage or other format. Here’s a detailed guide on how to get started. Read more →

Shipping

One of the terms that comes up often in digital government work is “shipping”, or getting things out the door. Let’s take a look at why shipping is important, why it’s so hard, and ways to make it easier. Read more →

Bridging the technology-policy gap

Nicole Wong wrote a great piece last month titled, “Building a Tech Policy Movement”. It captures something that really resonates: there’s an urgent need for people who are fluent in both technology and public policy, and a real shortage of those people. Outside a small handful of researchers, no one is teaching public policy students how to be technology-savvy, or teaching computer scientists and IT specialists how to be government-savvy. Read more →

Suggestions for the next GC CIO

With a new Minister and new Mandate Letters, it’s an exciting time to be working in digital government in the federal government. With a new GC CIO likely arriving in January, it seemed timely to put together a “new year’s wishlist” of suggestions to help put wind into the sails of digital teams across government. Read more →

Moving to the Yukon

In mid-October, Heather and I moved to Whitehorse. So far we’ve really enjoyed it – Whitehorse is a lovely city, full of friendly people. We both feel really lucky to have the chance to live and work somewhere new, and to see a part of Canada we hadn’t seen before. Read more →

Hello, world!

A lot has happened since I originally planned to start a blog. On the plus side: I started a blog! I’m only 6 years or so late. Read more →