Staying with the US Digital Service

A few months ago, I took a leave of absence from Google to do a stint with the US Digital Service. A lot of people know about the US Digital Service because they helped rescue the healthcare.gov website. But you might not realize that the US Digital Service has helped veterans get their health benefits, brought bug bounties to the federal government, and helped the IRS protect taxpayer info.

USDS logo

When I joined the US Digital Service, I only planned to stay for three months. That quickly turned into six months after I saw the impact of the USDS. In the last month, I made a big decision. On December 31, 2016, I resigned from Google. I’m currently serving as director of engineering for the USDS. Mikey Dickerson, the first administrator of the USDS, is a political appointee, so he’ll step down on Inauguration Day. When that happens, I’ll serve as acting administrator of the USDS. The work that the USDS does is critical to the American people, and I’m honored to continue that tradition.

If you’re reading this blog post, odds are that you might be a tech geek yourself. I’d like to ask you to review what the US Digital Service has accomplished in just a few years. If you’re a more visual person, you might enjoy this short video:

Working for the government doesn’t pay as well as a big company in Silicon Valley. We don’t get any free lunches. Many days are incredibly frustrating. All I can tell you is that the work is deeply important and inspiring, and you have a chance to work on things that genuinely make peoples’ lives better. A friend who started working in this space several years ago told me “These last five years have been the hardest and worst and best and most rewarding I think I will ever have.”

If you have experience in the tech industry, there’s a decent chance that you have skills that can benefit the American people. If you’re considering joining the US Digital Service, please fill out an application.

A brief update

Over the last couple years, I’ve seen more and more people in technology trying to make government work better. They’re idealists who are also making a large impact. These are people that I respect–some of them worked to fix healthcare.gov, for example. From talking to many of them, I can tell you that their energy is contagious and they’re trying to improve things in all kinds of ways.

I want to see whether I can help too. So for the next few months, I’ll be taking a leave from Google. I’m joining the US Digital Service family, specifically the Defense Digital Service at the Pentagon. I’ll be moving out to Washington, D.C., as part of the change. If you’re in the area, please say hello! And if you’re interested in the US Digital Service, you can find more information at usds.gov.

Thanks, Amit

Amit Singhal just announced that he’s retiring toward the end of the month. Amit has been a formative part of Google’s search team, but he’s also a good friend. Last year, after he marked 15 years with Google, I wrote this about Amit’s contributions:

Amit Singhal, one of the unsung heroes of Google, just celebrated 15 years at the company. If you’ve ever gotten a magical answer from Google, you probably have Amit to thank for it.

I can’t think of another person who has taken on so many different roles–individual contributor, manager, and head of search, not to mention dealing with press–and done such a superb job in each role. When a regular person hits a wall and gets discouraged, that’s when Amit is just getting started. 🙂 It’s always fun to see how he cuts to the root of a problem and solves it. I’m proud to call him my friend.

Billions of people have benefited in some way from Amit’s insight and judgment. Google will miss you, but thank you for everything, Amit. I’m also thankful that the leadership of search remains in excellent hands, including an experienced group of contributors and leaders in core ranking.

Solving a Verizon issue (Nexus 5X)

I solved a problem today and figured that I’d document it for the rest of the world. Every time someone left me a voicemail on Verizon, I would get a cryptic text from Verizon at 900080006202 that looked like “//VZWVVM:SYNC:ev=NM;id=1;c=1;t=v;s=1XXXXXXXXXX;dt=18/01/2016 13:40-0900;l=13;dev_t=5” or “//VZWVVM:SYNC:ev=MBU;dev_t=5”.

Here’s what happened. It turns out that Verizon has three kinds of voicemail: basic voicemail (free), basic visual voicemail (also free), and premium visual voicemail ($2.99/month). I have a Nexus 5X and I recently switched from an unlimited Verizon data plan to a different plan (long story).

As part of that shift, it looks like Verizon switched me to visual voicemail. I suspect a lot of phones that you get at a Verizon store have some sort of visual voicemail app pre-installed. That app probably intercepts those cryptic texts and uses them to show a voicemail indicator. Ever wondered how the voicemail indicator disappears so fast after you call voicemail? I suspect that’s also because of a Verizon text that is interpreted by your phone.

But a Nexus 5X doesn’t have Verizon’s voicemail app, so it just presents texts from Verizon. To fix this issue, I stopped by a Verizon store and had a rep change me from “basic visual voicemail” to “basic voicemail,” and that fixed the issue. I don’t think you can toggle that setting yourself on Verizon’s website. Added: A friend told me that he got his voicemail changed to basic voicemail by chatting with a Verizon representative online. That might be easier/faster than visiting a Verizon store in person.

Nexus 5X rocks!

By the way, I love my Nexus 5X. It fits well in my hand, the camera is superb, and the fingerprint reader is blazingly fast. Also, the speed and accuracy of voice recognition on the Nexus 5X is amazing.

A final nice feature is that you can insert a Nano SIM card from any of the major carriers in the US. I often switch my Nexus 5X over to Google Fi in various situations; for example, Fi is great if you’re traveling outside the US.

HD Voice

One last tip if you’re still on Verizon: you can get HD Voice for free, but you have to enable it. HD Voice works via Voice over LTE, or VoLTE. HD Voice should have much better audio than a regular cell phone as long as both phones support it. On Verizon’s site, go to My Verizon->My Plan & Services->My Plan->Products & Apps->Manage Products & Apps and then click Free Products. Enable HD Voice on all your compatible lines on the website.

Then you need to enable HD Voice on each of your phones. On recent Android phones, look for Settings->More->Cellular networks->Enhanced 4G LTE Mode. On iPhones, look for Settings->Cellular->Enable LTE and select Voice & Data. More info on HD Voice and Advanced Calling on Verizon is in these FAQs.

What phone are you rocking right now, and how do you like it?

Halloween 2015: USB Drive

I went a little overboard for Halloween last year. And as you can tell from my the Halloween category on my blog, sometimes I get a little too excited about Halloween.

So this year I decided to go quick, easy, and lo-fi as a USB drive:

Matt Cutts USB drive

To make a thumb drive/USB key, I just took a cardboard box, spray painted it black, and glued on some gold-colored paper. Super simple and easy to do. Then I cut out a curve for my head.

I made the mask using digital plans I bought from wintercroft.com. Once I had the materials, it took me a couple hours and was lots of fun. It was like a super-simple version of this big head costume.

If you wanted easy freedom of movement, you could also just wear the USB part on your head:

Matt Cutts USB drive

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