Millennials, it's time to stop throwing rocks at the castle and start joining the fight

Millennials, it's time to stop throwing rocks at the castle and start joining the fight
© Greg Nash

When I was working in Silicon Valley, I lived the quintessential startup life. All our meals were catered, we played ping pong on our breaks, and we worked fast and hard to build a company. We were changing the world. Fast forward to today, and I just finished working at the Pentagon — and let me tell you, it’s a bit different. I had to pay into a monthly water club so I could have drinking water in the office, and I had to bring my own tissues because those are “personal items” that the government can't provide. Despite all the "perks" I gave up joining government, I was in public service, I was making a difference, and I was doing it on a massive scale. We need more millennials to do the same.

There's a growing divide between the millennial generation and the federal government, where companies like Google are canceling major government contracts because of employee pressure. The internal battle of whether or not to work with the federal government is widespread across the most powerful companies in the world. As a Silicon Valley to D.C. transplant, I know how easy it is to sit in a colorful office in California and throw rocks at the castle in Washington. At the same time, there's a growing trend of idolizing a select few millennials holding elected office, and we’re in a time where fervently supporting someone on Twitter is considered being politically active — a form of public service.

But if the past few years have shown us anything, it’s that we need more than just millennials running for office — we need more millennials taking career civil service jobs. In a world where technology is accelerating faster than governments can keep up with, it’s up to those at the forefront of new industries with fresh perspectives to bring their talent and technologies into institutions of public service.

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Increasingly, the divide between Silicon Valley and D.C. is posing challenges to our national security communities, and governments at every level across the country struggle to hire and retain talent. So, instead complaining about how slow government is, or how broken it is, or how corrupt you think politicians are, it’s time for you to leave the comfort of your cushy private sector job and serve for a stint in public service.

We in the U.S. are lucky because we don’t have any mandatory service requirements once we graduate high school or college. We’re free to choose our own path, work where we want and with whomever we want. I have friends who are quick to offer advice out loud to the universe while listening to a podcast or tell me how broken the government is, but who would never consider working in government themselves. Why? In a time when it’s more important than ever for people with passion to help rebuild our economy and communities, it’s time for you to step up.

Millennials are not new to economic crisis. We’ve lived through 9/11 and the decade that followed, we’ve looked for jobs in the midst of the 2008 recession, and now we’ll have to deal with the economic and societal repercussions of COVID-19. As we plan to rebuild, I’d like to issue a challenge to my fellow millennials.

When this is over, and we can stand up and brush off, I challenge you to spend a few years working in public service.

Join your city government, commit to working in your state government, or take the leap and join the federal government for a stint. I’m not saying forever, for a whole career, or even for a decade. But take a few years, learn what it takes to really make change in your community and our country — and help make that change a reality.

It’s not enough to hope our elected officials will do it all for us. In fact, it’s outright crazy to think that will happen. It’s up to us, and the time is now to build a better future for our country.

Alexander Titus is a technology executive, millennial, and the Chief Strategy Officer at the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI). Previously, he was the first head of biotechnology modernization at the Department of Defense. You can find him online, and on LinkedInTwitterMedium and Instagram.