It’s been a busy time on GOV.UK recently. We’ve seen record numbers of visitors to the site during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (with a peak of over 250 million weekly pageviews), and huge numbers of people relying on the service of GOV.UK to help them understand what Brexit means for them in a personal and professional capacity. GOV.UK is where people interact with the government online.
Throughout all this, we have been developing our plans for what comes next, and delivering through the major priorities of the day to start realising it. You may have noticed that we launched a trial of the first GOV.UK account recently, and that we are further developing our data science capability.
We’re moving from GOV.UK being a publishing system, towards a platform for content, accounts and data sharing across government. We’re beginning the change from a static publishing model, which is highly cacheable at the page level, to one which is dynamic, both in terms of content, and context for the current user.
This future, in which we aim to make a step-change in how people can interact with government digitally, presents a unique opportunity to shape the technical architecture and delivery of technology across GOV.UK. We’re looking for the person to lead this work as GOV.UK’s Head of Technology and Architecture.
Creating the next generation of GOV.UK’s architecture
Most of GOV.UK’s platform is written in the Ruby programming language, with heavy use of the Ruby on Rails framework. We also use small amounts of Go, and an increasing amount of Python, especially in the data science space.
GOV.UK has a service-based architecture, composed of around 60 applications (most of which are quite small, but a few of which have significant complexity), and all of which is focussed on government publishing. We rely on essential static pages and heavy CDN caching to provide the availability required.
This architecture has served us well for the last 8 years, including record-breaking spikes of over 250 million page views in a week during the beginning phase of the COVID-19 response. But it is an architecture based on the needs of a mostly-static publishing mechanism, not one designed to support personalisation and the use of accounts.
We are now trialling the first version of a GOV.UK account. To expand these ideas further and realise our vision of joined-up services across GOV.UK, will require architecture, technical design, and operational delivery and security that is very different to that of a publishing platform.
To achieve this vision we’re looking for someone with the relevant background who is a clear communicator, confident with multiple internal and external stakeholders, and able to form strong relationships with colleagues working in the wider Government Digital Service (GDS) and government more generally.
The strategy is delivery
There is an old GDS maxim that “the strategy is delivery”. This hasn’t changed: we should be delivering real value to our users, often, iteratively and repetitively. Architecture means nothing if it cannot be built and reliably made available to users to solve a real problem that they have.
The Head of Technology and Architecture is not expected to know every line of code that’s written on GOV.UK, but to make effective decisions they will need to quickly develop a high-level understanding what is being built, how, and why, and will need to ensure security and privacy in mind at every phase.
One of the key responsibilities for this role will be to understand what’s getting in the way of the technologists on GOV.UK, and work to remove those blockers, whether they are process-, architectural, technical, or people-based in nature.
People are everything
The technical community on GOV.UK is currently made up of approximately 50 technologists, working as part of multidisciplinary teams, covering backend and frontend development, technical architecture, and reliability engineering.
Without these people, we cannot deliver anything! They will need to be brought along on the journey of the GOV.UK strategy, fostering an inclusive and diverse environment, while supporting their careers and development needs, and ensuring the programme has the capacity and capabilities to continue to deliver.
We will be increasing the number of technologists in GOV.UK in order to improve capacity and capabilities, and to allow us to deliver against our strategy. As a senior leader, the Head of Technology and Architecture will have the opportunity to drive and shape this growth.
This role will report to one of GOV.UK’s new Deputy Directors, and will directly line manage 4 to 6 senior technologists, but be the head of the line management tree (and therefore ultimately responsible) for all technologists in the programme.
So what now?
The Inside GOV.UK blog, and the GDS blog, contain huge amounts of historical context about the work that GOV.UK does, and how we work.
There’s also plenty of technical information available about what we build and how we run things: almost all of the code we write is open sourced, as is much of the information about the pieces that make up GOV.UK, and how it all works.
This is an exciting role with the opportunity to shape the future of how users interact with government. The application process will require you to submit your CV and a covering letter, in which you should ensure that you include details of how you meet the specific criteria for this role. Applications will be open until 29 November. Successful candidates at this stage will then be invited to 2 rounds of face-to-face (but remote) interviews.
I’m also really happy to chat to you in advance of your application too.