This is Not Your Boss’s Foreign Service

As I get ready to head back overseas after spending three years in the U.S., I am already wondering about the technological advances (or lack thereof) that I will encounter as I re-enter Embassy life. As an example, I curiously posted a question in an online forum whether our medical records (which are required to be hand-carried to post, a burden especially with the increasingly draconian carry-on allotment that we’re allowed with the U.S. carriers required by the Fly America Act) are now digitized. The rest of the medical world is digitized in the U.S., but apparently the Foreign Service is still piloting this.

When I was a bright-eyed intern at a U.S. Embassy in Europe in my grad school days, I was stunned by the lack of technology in my workplace. The first Mission Impossible movie had come out that summer, which showed eye-recognition technology in staunch contrast to the Wang/Mainframe computers and MS-DOS printers I used in the office. Movies always depict things in a fancier light with shinier technologies than most people have actually ever used, but it was sobering to work with the reality that did not match my grandiose expectations at the time.

Even more jarring, during these internship days and my first days working as an actual diplomat at an Embassy I had conversations with more experienced colleagues who lamented the use of e-mail. “E-mails just give you more things to do!” I was puzzled by their frustration, as I grew up with e-mail from college onward and felt e-mails were standard in the workplace. I then I realized that who they really missed were their secretaries who transcribed cables and manually sent them to DC or elsewhere. As e-mails and other communication technologies arrived, these secretaries’ duties changed and many administrative professionals went on to gain other skills and work experiences within the Foreign Service.

It must be unsettling to be thrust in a different world as technology overtakes business procedures. This will certainly also happen to me (and you, dear reader) during our careers. I just hope to keep recruiting sharp interns to help me understand the new trends and work with me to keep my tech savvy and skills fresh!

But I digress. I do wonder what new software/technologies have been implemented, even if digitized medical records have not, that I will have to learn as I re-enter Embassy life. With the increasing number of unique (hard to guess! with numbers! special characters! and capital letters!) passwords that we have to remember, let alone combination codes, it could take up the bulk of time the first few days just to get up to speed on the equipment and programs. Lest I sound like my more experienced colleagues of yore, I know I’ll be adept at using the new (for me) programs within minutes. I’ll just have to ask basic questions to gain familiarity.

This happens. When I returned to the U.S. after nine years overseas, I had to ask someone at the bank where I had just opened a bank account to show me how to deposit a check (as I didn’t see envelopes, which I had used previously). Wherever you are, the world is a-changing. Keep up with the times so it doesn’t go past you!

Aileen Nandi is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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