In the past year we have seen a frenzy of tech hiring by the White House. The most high profile of these include past Google execs Megan Smith, now CTO, and Michelle Lee, who is now leading up the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. And most recently, we saw the President bring in David Recordon, a Facebook engineer to become Director of White House Information Technology, DJ Patil, former Vice President of Product at RelateIQ, to serve as Chief Data Scientist, and Jason Goldman, a former product executive from both Google and Twitter, for a role as Chief Digital Officer.
[quote author=”Mikey Dickerson, Administrator, U.S. Digital Service on returning to Washington to run the USDS”]I had seen first-hand how we can make a real difference when we bring the best talent to our toughest problems. Knowing what I knew, it would have been disgraceful not to try.[/quote]
This is a big step for the Beltway, which is known for being relatively tech averse. However, we’ve heard from countless Convening Guests about a shift happening in Washington, a recognition of a need for more tech talent in government. For example, in December, Todd Park, former U.S. CTO who has now taken on a tech recruiting role for the White House, suggested a tour of duty for tech superstars, giving them a taste of what it’s like to work in various government departments. This is not to say that tech is a silver bullet when it comes to solving our nation’s problems but many big accomplishments have come from tech representatives and Washington working together: Healthcare.gov, the creation of 18F, Glassdoor’s Job Explorer tool, and more. The tech industry abides by the motto “move fast and break things.” Silicon Valley isn’t afraid to take risks, to take things apart and see if there’s a better, more efficient way to put them back together. The tech industry is also known for efficiency, for seeing a problem, and figuring out how to fix it quickly and effectively. As Megan Smith pointed out, Washington needs to save money and technology helps them do that.1 In Washington, these tech experts bring something new to a government that hasn’t really changed its way of doing things since its creation.
Despite these benefits though, some haven’t viewed this influx of tech talent in a positive light. The media, for example, has taken a surprisingly negative outlook. Here are two of the headlines I came across when reading about the most recent hires of Goldman and Recordon:
From Fast Company, “OBAMA’S RAID ON SILICON VALLEY TECH TALENT CONTINUES”
From Bloomberg, “Obama Poaches a Top Facebook Engineer to Fix White House Technology”
Though these articles aren’t negative in their content, I found the headlines to be surprising. The hiring isn’t a raid or a poaching; it’s the Administration finding people who want to serve and giving them the opportunity to do so, to help improve our country for the better.
[quote author=”DJ Patil, White House Chief Data Scientist”][O]nce you get a taste of doing public service, it’s really hard to let go.[/quote]
[quote author=”Nicole Wong, Former Deputy CTO”]Government needs to find more ways to encourage people in the tech sector because we do want to give back, but don’t have the options in how to do that.[/quote]
Bringing tech talent to Washington is something that has been difficult to do and something we need to encourage. We even wrote a blog post a few months ago about how the private sector could do more to incentivize their employees to serve in government. We should be celebrating these tech experts who are willing to give up high salaries, stock options, and catered meals to help make government better. Erik Christoffersen, one of our T4A.org innovators, even suggested a complete cultural shift where we in the tech world honor and reward those who take time to serve. We make their tenure in government a badge of honor, framing it as a prestigious opportunity to give back. We shouldn’t be criticizing a government trying to improve their grasp and use of technology nor should we discourage those willing to go in and help them do that. It’s on all of us, both in tech and in government, to make the effort to work together and make real strides in addressing our nation’s problems. As we’ve learned in the past two years of operating T4A.org, it’s a team effort. Collaboration between tech and government is key.
[quote author=”Megan Smith, U.S. CTO”]This is a place to do extraordinary service […] American people are very service-oriented people, including the technical Americans.[/quote]
1 Wang, N. (2015, Feb. 12). From Private Sector to Public Service. US News. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/02/12/from-private-sector-to-public-service
Dickerson Quote: Dickerson, M. (2015, Jan. 21). An Improbably Public Interest Start Up. The White House Blog. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/01/21/improbable-public-interest-start
Patil Quote: Jayakumar, A. (2015, Mar. 29). The White House’s first chief data scientist is no stranger to Washington. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/on-it/the-white-houses-first-chief-data-scientist-is-no-stranger-to-washington/2015/03/27/e9aa8c30-cd7d-11e4-a2a7-9517a3a70506_story.html
Wong & Smith Quotes: Wang, N. (2015, Feb. 12). From Private Sector to Public Service. US News. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/02/12/from-private-sector-to-public-service
Featured image also via Wang, N. (2015, Feb. 12). From Private Sector to Public Service. US News. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/02/12/from-private-sector-to-public-service