From the US to Canada to the Beeck Center, Aaron Snow builds technology, systems, and networks to help people thrive

On October 1, 2013, Aaron Snow witnessed the infamous failed launch of, only three months into his first government role as a Presidential Innovation Fellow—a half-year program placing technologists, engineers, designers, and strategists across federal government agencies. The launch brought millions across the country to the site, hoping to apply for healthcare benefits under the  Affordable Care Act. The website, however, was unprepared for the onrush, and crashed after only two hours, leaving people frustrated and concerned about accessing affordable healthcare. 

The site’s crash only reaffirmed something Snow and the other Fellows already knew: government was in desperate need of improved technological capacity for digital services. It inspired him—along with nine other Presidential Innovation Fellows—to work with the General Services Administration (GSA) on a solution. What took shape was 18F, a group of technologists, software designers, and program managers housed in GSA that helps government agencies improve their technology.

As soon as 18F officially opened its doors in March 2014, requests for assistance flooded the agency’s inbox. 

“We’re here to help departments think differently about how we build digital experiences for the public, to put humans first, to bring modern software methodologies like agile and continuous improvement to bear,” Snow said. “And in the first months we got hundreds of emails, asking for all kinds of help, some of it not anywhere close to what we could do or we’re ready to do.”

From deciding how to pick and choose which requests to answer, to how the team would operate on a day-to-day basis, the team was quickly thrown into overdrive. Their methods were different from most government teams’ — for instance, using short, two-week sprints on projects in order to make quick, tangible changes

“This is the way we were going to work,” Snow said. “…We’re going to push out products quickly and often and make little mistakes along the way, instead of months or years of requirements gathering and documentation, before we show any software.” 

Before co-founding 18F, Snow did not imagine he would end up at the intersection of government and technology: he worked as a web developer and programmer for several years before attending law school and working as a practicing attorney. Looking for a change, he transferred into government work where he quickly found his passion.

“One really great thing about doing this in government is that you know that what you’re doing matters to humans on the other end of the line, and not just to somebody who is trying to make money,” Snow said. “ … There aren’t many other organizations or companies out there that can beat the mission.”

After 18F, Snow moved to Canada to share his skills by serving as the first CEO of the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) and building up the new organization. CDS offered Snow an opportunity to use what he had learned at 18F and implement new ideas in a different context.

“To me, it was an opportunity to take what I had learned at 18F and make different mistakes and to help a lot of people,” Snow said. “I was looking for something to do where I could take the experience that I had earned helping build up 18F and apply it to 37 million Canadians, and they were just starting this from scratch.” 

After more than three years abroad with CDS, Snow joined the Beeck Center in November 2021, continuing the work of the Intergovernmental Software Collective (ISC), which was first created by former Beeck Center Fellow Robin Carnahan, and launching the Digital Service Network (DSN). As someone who had led government digital service teams, Snow knew of the isolation that those in the field could face: state and local digital service team leaders were often siloed from other members of government and did not have many opportunities to interact with other digital-savvy people in similar positions. To combat this isolation, Snow thought it might be helpful to convene these professionals across the country.

“So how about we get together online and figure out if we can help each other?” Snow said of the early days of the DSN. “Tossing problems out to the group, creating a library of shared resources, that kind of stuff.”

Then, the idea continued to grow: when Kirsten Wyatt and Michaela Caudill joined the DSN team, what started as a casual convening of 10 digital service professionals quickly grew into a network of hundreds and now more than 3,000 practitioners from across the country, all sharing initiatives, goals, and challenges with each other in order to support each other and further their work. 

In fall of 2022, Snow stepped into the role of interim executive director for the Beeck Center, and left both the DSN and the ISC to other leaders. Since then, the DSN has continued to grow exponentially, as more and more digital service leaders join the network and participate in the network’s many events. When current executive director Lynn Overmann was hired in March 2023, Snow took on a new project, and has since been working on a variety of initiatives to transform digitization and technology in government. 

Just recently, Snow began a new project to help states with their unemployment insurance (UI) systems. States are receiving money from the federal government to modernize UI systems, yet are largely left on their own to decide how and where to use this funding. Now, however, Beeck is contracted with the Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) to help build a framework for the use of this money, in the new Open UI Initiative

“The Open UI Initiative is there to build a framework of what the model unemployment insurance system looks like,” Snow said. “What are the core components of any state’s UI system? How should they talk to each other, how should they interoperate? What should be the boundaries of those pieces of the puzzle?”

The end goal is to develop a healthy market that provides states with more choices and innovation. “This is the space I really enjoy, the problem spaces where there are some impactful problems that are both complex and under-attended,” Snow said. “And I think there’s a lot of that kind of work out there.” 

Reflecting on his time at the Beeck Center, Snow does not claim one specific success or achievement, but instead points to the many targeted ways he has been able to contribute to making people’s lives better through government services.

“There are lots of little things, and that’s been the neat thing about this,” Snow said. “It’s been being able to help a little in a lot of places in a lot of ways instead. That’s been the delight of being here for me.”