Alissa Bookwalter took charge in April and plans to focus a lot of her energy on building a remote-first, diverse, and equitable tech workforce within (and outside of) the Air Force’s popular software factory.
The Air Force's popular Kessel Run software factory just brought on a new chief of staff who is determined to push for progress, whether in partnerships, remote work conditions, or advancing equity and inclusion efforts.
FCW caught up with Alissa Bookwalter, who hails from the U.S. Digital Service and served as their deputy director for talent management and people operations, after her first full week as Kessel Run's chief of staff for its All Domain Common Platform team.
Here's what she had to say about the new role and what she hopes to accomplish.
I didn't know that Kessel Run had a chief of staff. So I'm just really interested in learning about the position, what you want to do, and what your priorities are for this year going forward.
So actually, I can't take all the credit; Kessel Run actually has several chiefs of staff. I'm going to be the Chief of Staff for one of Kessel Run's product lines called the All Domain Common Platform (ADCP) and it is really—I like to call it the backbone for applications through Kessel Run, but also applications with other partner organizations and government agencies within the Air Force. I came to Kessel Run from the U.S. Digital Service. I was the former deputy director of talent management there. And when I saw the chief of staff for ADCP pop up, I was like I don't know what this is, these people look like this awesome group of science fiction enthusiasts – and so I was like, okay, this might be a good fit, and I applied.
And what just really blew me away is the culture. The mission -- I'm a really mission-oriented person, I pick my positions on, not only like a culture and an organization that I can fit well within, but also something that's bigger than myself. And Kessel Run is full of folks like that.
So ADCP is about 200 people. We have their product line chief, Purvi Desai, and we have their deputy product chief, Lt. Col. Jonathan Stueckle. And I want to just continue to iterate on all of the great things that Kessel Run is already doing. So primarily, it's a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring. It's so important. It's important that government services are representative of the people that they actually serve...The military is so diverse. The American population is so diverse. And that's something that Kessel Run has really, really made an effort on. And so I want to continue to iterate and help our product line continue to shape that.
What changes do you see or what ideas do you have to bring change when it comes to both being a remote-first work environment, but also making sure that DEI is very much so integrated in workplace culture, hiring and retention practices?
So I'm going to talk first about the DEI lens, which is really, really important to me. So in addition to what I do at Kessel Run—I'm a co-director of a new initiative called the Federal Military Family Workforce Network. This is a new community, and it's still very grassroots across government, but it is designed to provide agencies and resources to military family members, who are in federal service, [such as] military spouses, caregivers, survivors. We are supported by the Interagency Veterans Advisory Council, and also the White House's Joining Forces initiatives.
I personally have experience with this because my husband was in the Navy for a time. These men and women who are phenomenally talented, educated, their spouses are generally active duty and they just want to serve and so how better can we augment our government workforce to set them up with success in the best possible way? What can we do to better equip them and agencies to understand remote hiring?
Kessel Run does diversity hiring days and diversity hiring workshops, and I think that's absolutely phenomenal. I think another good thing that we can do is explore attending specific events in tech aimed at diverse groups. So Grace Hopper Celebration conference, Afro Tech, all of those really, really good things where you can get some of these mission-oriented candidates with the skill set that you need to really get the word out about your organization.
For remote hiring, it's kind of the same thing. Kessel Run, I'll just say from my experience, does an absolutely phenomenal job with remote hiring, not just from the government and processing side but from the culture side.
Are there any gaps that you see? Obviously, you're building on the work that Kessel Run has already been doing. But you come into the job to be the chief of staff of ADCP, is there an end state that you have in your mind where there's maybe a little bit of a gap and you help get to that end state?
I don't see it as a gap. What I see is—especially within Kessel Run, and especially within [the] Air Force Lifecycle Management Center and the Air Force in general—there is so much good work and synergy being done in all areas that we need to do. And so what I want to do is, I want to connect that...I just mean finding out what's out there, and plugging Kessel Run into all the good stuff. What are you doing now that we didn't know about that we can plug into and what are some best practices that we have at KR that we can share and spread the gospel, spread the good truth? That is something that I think we're doing but I personally just have an interest in it from working across government. I love collaboration. And it's something that I'd like to continue to run with.
Do you have a sense of what your next 30 to 100 days are gonna look like? Do you have that road mapped out for yourself?
It is a very sleepy answer. It's a lot of training. Coming from USDS in [the Office of Management and Budget] it was a phenomenal experience. And having that experience helped prepare me for Kessel Run, but I've never been an Air Force civilian before, so it's all the training that comes to that.
Kessel Run does a phenomenal two-week orientation to their culture. And I've found that, I'm getting done with week one, and I found that to be extremely valuable. And so what I'll try to do within my 30, 60, 90, 100 days is I want to learn the people, I want to learn the culture. I want to learn what has worked well. I want to get a sense of where we're at...and move whatever we need to forward, but it's really an evaluation.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.