Biden team leaves hidden call for technologists to join government in White House code

The embedded message was left for those looking through the HTML code and had developers talking.

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Image: Bet_Noire

President Joe Biden officially took office this week and his technology team wasted little time in changing the White House website, even leaving a small note to developers. "If you're reading this, we need your help building back better," the embedded message said for those looking through the HTML code on www.whitehouse.gov.

First reported by Reuters, the fun message was part of a larger push to bring people aboard the United States Digital Service, a technology unit working in the White House.

Chris Hazelton, director of security solutions at mobile security company Lookout, called the embedded code "high profile, targeted recruiting at its best." 

"The site is arguably one of the best known websites in the world. Hundreds of thousands of web savvy people are poking through the site to see what changes were made by the Biden administration, so it's well placed," Hazelton said. 

"Accelerated by the pandemic, governments around the world are moving to digital civil services—allowing citizens to connect to public services through the web and increasingly mobile browsers and apps. There is a shortage of people with IT skills and in particular cybersecurity experience, so the success of digitizing government is dependent on filling these roles."

SEE: Top 5 programming languages for systems admins to learn (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Little easter eggs like this are pretty common across the internet, according to Shawn Smith, director of infrastructure at application security provider nVisium. 

Smith noted that Mozilla has a large banner with some ASCII art and a link to its career page while some sites like Reddit also put messages in the JavaScript console as well. 

Heather Paunet, senior vice president at Untangle, added that it was an interesting and fun way to recruit engineers to join the US Digital Service, noting that a ton of curious developers will take a look at the source code behind the website. 

"This was a fun way to reach out to people that do something that the average person would not think to do. Engineers that might have found this comment did more than just read the latest White House page, they were curious enough to look at the source code behind it presenting it to the world," Paunet said. 

"I imagine how I might feel back when I was a 22-year-old engineering student. Feeling curious about how the White House main web page was put together and then finding that comment in the source code, I'm pretty sure I would have clicked on that link."

Many analysts said there is a huge need within the federal government to recruit developers. Gary Eimerman, head of skills development at Pluralsight, told TechRepublic that the company works closely with a number of businesses and government agencies to help them upskill their existing tech workforce and to retrain and reskill non-tech workers into technology roles to make sure they have the expertise to meet their needs. 

"That's a big reason why we're such an essential component of programs such as the Air Force's Digital U initiative—an upskilling/reskilling program that ensures their airmen have the technology skills necessary to navigate a digital future," Eimerman said. 

When Biden took office on Wednesday, he released the outlines of a $1.9 trillion rescue proposal that included a significant amount of funding for tech upgrades across the US government.  

The plan calls for an ambitious effort to "modernize and secure federal IT and networks" in light of the massive SolarWinds breach. Biden urged Congress to spend up to $9 billion in order to "help the U.S. launch major new IT and cybersecurity shared services at the Cyber Security and Information Security Agency (CISA) and the General Services Administration and complete modernization projects at federal agencies."

Chris Carter, CEO of tech company Approyo, said that while the fun little note was a cool flair for anyone looking through the website's code, it underscored the deeper needs of the US government.

"Let's be honest, the United States government has some very, very, old and antiquated systems that they still run and we need fresh blood in the government sector to be hired or to be third parties to clean that up," Carter said. 

"Our systems are old, our unemployment systems are old. We're still going through upgrades for the Army, the Navy and such. We've got old hardware still for air traffic controller systems and much more. There's a lot of things that really need to be cleaned up."

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