Last Tuesday, on my 6th day at the government, I took this picture. I sit on the 31st floor in the right tower. Five floors from the top. (Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between floor and status. At least it is not direct or inverse). It looks suspiciously ivory.

Ivory Tower

Some of the aspects associated with ivory towers seem to hold. The ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations, where I now work, is a so-called policy ministry. Reality is a little more subtle I suppose, but in principle, it produces policies and does not execute them. Maybe I should have known this, but I suppose I’m naive when it comes to the inner workings of government. Only now I’m starting to get a sense of what a policy department is. It is like a machine that takes documents, such as parliamentary motions, parliamentary questions, and coalition agreements as input. Then there’s a lot of consultation, with other departments and with implementing agencies, as well as with representatives in society. The output is again documents such as letters to the parliament and proposed laws. As a general rule it stops there. But there are probably plenty of exceptions where the department does execute to some extent. One example of that, close to me, is the Algorithm Register, where there is, besides proposed law in the making, an actual register being built by the department. But even there, the actual building of the software is done by ICTU, the execution branch where software engineers sit. Not in that ivory tower.

So here I am, with my experience in building teams and software. And my inexperience in writing. Certainly in Dutch. What can I do here? That is for us to figure out in the coming weeks. I do hope that I can be a (modest) bridge between policy and execution. Possibly bringing some of the development, similar to the Algorithm Register, closer to policy. Possibly even closer than ICTU is?

I strongly believe that that would be a great idea, it allows for policy and execution to be part of the same feedback loop. But thinking that we would develop software within the constraints of this ministry, frankly, is daunting. It is a Citrix-Microsoft-BlackBerryWork world where it is for instance the norm to email each other documents instead of collaborating in shared documents. I can’t even install a password manager. Where to even start with development environments, let alone deployment environments? This was week two!