Who should be USA’s CTO?

UPDATE: The video that caused this post is now up on FastCompanyTV.

Today I visited Larry Lessig. He’s the founder of Creative Commons. A professor of law at Stanford University. And does many other things.

He is one of those guys who is just interesting to talk to. Why? Whip smart and has a view of things that very few other people have.

On the way over to the interview I kept thinking back to our Washington DC visit. Both Republicans and Democrats told me they wish there were someone in the White House that they could talk to about tech and science issues. That seemed to support Barack Obama’s tech policy, which calls for a national CTO position.

There are two views of the CTO position and Larry laid out both views in his interview and explained why he didn’t want the job (which, personally, is the best reason to want him in the position).

View #1 is a person who could help shape our nation’s tech policies. This person would need to be a great speaker, because he or she would need to go to places like the World Economic Forum and communicate what our tech policy should be. She or he would also need to be up to date on law, since they would be talking with congress about what could or couldn’t be done and would help shape policies and laws. She or he would also need to be both trusted and accessible to the tech industry, too.

That sounds like Lessig would be a perfect candidate.

But he laid out the other view of what a national CTO should do and explained why he wouldn’t be a good choice. That view is: be a traditional CTO and get more of our government to use technology to be more efficient and transparent. Lessig is much more interested in seeing a CTO take on that role and says for that role you’d need a geek who understands the technology.

That got me thinking. If you were the next President, and you wanted to have a national CTO role, who would you put into that position?

Here’s a few names to get you thinking:

Mark Andreessen?
Dave Winer?
Joel Spolsky?
Tantek Celik?
Molly Holzschalg?
Meg Whitman?
Bill Gates?
Steve Wozniak?
Caterina Fake?

Overall, though, I still like the idea of Lessig in the White House.

Oh, and wait until you hear what he says about how he’d retard corruption in the Capitol. The interview will be up in a couple of weeks on FastCompanyTV.

174 thoughts on “Who should be USA’s CTO?

  1. Why not Steve Jobs?”

    Because he has a real job to do.

    There is no need for yet another federal official to interfere with the computer industry. We got where we are today because we were largely left alone.

    “Carly is a fantastically intelligent, technically literate, strategically effective, driven person who has the unique ability to work in both the tech and consumer worlds at the same time. ”

    I see you’ve been reading her PR. Try talking to any HP employee for a different opinion. For that matter, try talking to any of the people from Lucent who were thrilled to see her go.

  2. Why not Steve Jobs?”

    Because he has a real job to do.

    There is no need for yet another federal official to interfere with the computer industry. We got where we are today because we were largely left alone.

    “Carly is a fantastically intelligent, technically literate, strategically effective, driven person who has the unique ability to work in both the tech and consumer worlds at the same time. ”

    I see you’ve been reading her PR. Try talking to any HP employee for a different opinion. For that matter, try talking to any of the people from Lucent who were thrilled to see her go.

  3. This is a terrible, terrible idea. Not only a terrible idea even to have a “CTO position,” but to put Lessig or Arrington or any other Silicon Valley technolibertarian or socialist. Bad, bad idea.

    Lessig has been struggling for greater power and influence ever since he left Creative Commons, where he worked intensively to destroy the connection between intellectual property and commerce, and now he thinks “transparency” and “corruption” in government are a lucrative field — except, of course, if Obama comes in, he’s not going to be wanting to look too closely at Obama and his supporters (he’s an Obama advisor) so what will he have to do? So he’ll look to get appointed to some position in government next, and is only being coy about claiming he ‘doesn’t want the job”.

    The larger issue, however, is the notion that you should even have such a technology czar untethered to the rest of our nation’s policy machine. No, you don’t get to install twittered and facebooked web 2.0 entities with flash mobs in power circumventing elected officials and the will of the American people.

    Re: “View #1 is a person who could help shape our nation’s tech policies. This person would need to be a great speaker, because he or she would need to go to places like the World Economic Forum and communicate what our tech policy should be.”

    No, we don’t need them to communicate what our tech policy is at some global body which will be politicized and reflect the tech policies of other great powers, some direct enemies. The UN or the WEF is the last place you go to shape policy; you have to start at home. And that means starting in the political process, and not installing extremists with agendas.

    Just as the above poster said about “Energy Czar” (and we still have them for some regions like Eurasia), it’s a way of creating less responsibility in government, not more, and giving a windfall to one lobby, in this case, Silicon Valley. No thanks.

  4. This is a terrible, terrible idea. Not only a terrible idea even to have a “CTO position,” but to put Lessig or Arrington or any other Silicon Valley technolibertarian or socialist. Bad, bad idea.

    Lessig has been struggling for greater power and influence ever since he left Creative Commons, where he worked intensively to destroy the connection between intellectual property and commerce, and now he thinks “transparency” and “corruption” in government are a lucrative field — except, of course, if Obama comes in, he’s not going to be wanting to look too closely at Obama and his supporters (he’s an Obama advisor) so what will he have to do? So he’ll look to get appointed to some position in government next, and is only being coy about claiming he ‘doesn’t want the job”.

    The larger issue, however, is the notion that you should even have such a technology czar untethered to the rest of our nation’s policy machine. No, you don’t get to install twittered and facebooked web 2.0 entities with flash mobs in power circumventing elected officials and the will of the American people.

    Re: “View #1 is a person who could help shape our nation’s tech policies. This person would need to be a great speaker, because he or she would need to go to places like the World Economic Forum and communicate what our tech policy should be.”

    No, we don’t need them to communicate what our tech policy is at some global body which will be politicized and reflect the tech policies of other great powers, some direct enemies. The UN or the WEF is the last place you go to shape policy; you have to start at home. And that means starting in the political process, and not installing extremists with agendas.

    Just as the above poster said about “Energy Czar” (and we still have them for some regions like Eurasia), it’s a way of creating less responsibility in government, not more, and giving a windfall to one lobby, in this case, Silicon Valley. No thanks.

  5. Robert:
    Well, you’ve compiled an interesting list, but anyone who has headed their own startup or moved technology forward in thought (Lessig) or deed (Gates) has done more to advance technology than any position, real or imagined, in the Fedgov.
    The real question: is “national CTO” a policy position, an “advisor” position, or an “internal leadership” to the Fedgov position?
    As the City of Seattle’s CTO (also known as “Chief Geek”), I’ve given this some thought and blogged about it here: blog.chiefseattlegeek.com .
    In the end, I agree with Vint Cerf: the last thing we need is another Fedgov “czar” (i.e. “drug” or “intelligence” or “war on poverty”). But I think we sure could use a skilled bureaucrat to harness the great technologies developed by the private sector for use in running the Fedgov and making it more efficient, effective and transparent in service to citizens.
    -bill

  6. Robert:
    Well, you’ve compiled an interesting list, but anyone who has headed their own startup or moved technology forward in thought (Lessig) or deed (Gates) has done more to advance technology than any position, real or imagined, in the Fedgov.
    The real question: is “national CTO” a policy position, an “advisor” position, or an “internal leadership” to the Fedgov position?
    As the City of Seattle’s CTO (also known as “Chief Geek”), I’ve given this some thought and blogged about it here: blog.chiefseattlegeek.com .
    In the end, I agree with Vint Cerf: the last thing we need is another Fedgov “czar” (i.e. “drug” or “intelligence” or “war on poverty”). But I think we sure could use a skilled bureaucrat to harness the great technologies developed by the private sector for use in running the Fedgov and making it more efficient, effective and transparent in service to citizens.
    -bill

  7. For all of you people who are enamored of the idea of a CTO of the federal government, let me remind you of the words of Thomas Jefferson, from our Declaration of Independance:

    “He hath erected a multitude of officers, and sent them forth to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

    Let me also remind you that we’ve had a couple of similar jobs in the federal government, and they’ve been basically useless. Anyone remember that it was Tricky Dick Nixon (one of the worst presidents we’ve ever had) who invented the post of “Energy Czar”?

    Get a grip, people. This is a bonehead idea.

  8. For all of you people who are enamored of the idea of a CTO of the federal government, let me remind you of the words of Thomas Jefferson, from our Declaration of Independance:

    “He hath erected a multitude of officers, and sent them forth to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

    Let me also remind you that we’ve had a couple of similar jobs in the federal government, and they’ve been basically useless. Anyone remember that it was Tricky Dick Nixon (one of the worst presidents we’ve ever had) who invented the post of “Energy Czar”?

    Get a grip, people. This is a bonehead idea.

  9. “Why not Steve Jobs?”

    Because he has a real job to do.

    There is no need for yet another federal official to interfere with the computer industry. We got where we are today because we were largely left alone.

    “Carly is a fantastically intelligent, technically literate, strategically effective, driven person who has the unique ability to work in both the tech and consumer worlds at the same time. ”

    I see you’ve been reading her PR. Try talking to any HP employee for a different opinion. For that matter, try talking to any of the people from Lucent who were thrilled to see her go.

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