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. I think people are looking at this all wrong. You don’t want great IT CEO’s in the position. You want great CIO/CTO’s of large companies.
    Gary Reiner – CIO GE
    Jean-Michel R. Arès – CIO Coca Cola
    Rollin Ford – CIO Walmart

    These are the type of people that could make some real progress in the role.

  3. I think people are looking at this all wrong. You don’t want great IT CEO’s in the position. You want great CIO/CTO’s of large companies.
    Gary Reiner – CIO GE
    Jean-Michel R. Arès – CIO Coca Cola
    Rollin Ford – CIO Walmart

    These are the type of people that could make some real progress in the role.

  4. Good question, Robert. Thanks for asking it.

    I second Ed Felten.

    And, while I appreciate Phil Whitehouse’s nomination of yours truly, I’m busy and far less qualified than Ed (and many others).

    FWIW, the extant Office of Science and Technology Policy is here: http://www.ostp.gov. It’s headed by John H. Marburger, III. Here’s a quick look at its bureaucracy: http://www.ostp.gov/cs/about_ostp/leadership_staff.

    I’ll say more in Linux Journal this morning. Have a look over there if you’re interested. http://linuxjournal.com.

  5. Good question, Robert. Thanks for asking it.

    I second Ed Felten.

    And, while I appreciate Phil Whitehouse’s nomination of yours truly, I’m busy and far less qualified than Ed (and many others).

    FWIW, the extant Office of Science and Technology Policy is here: http://www.ostp.gov. It’s headed by John H. Marburger, III. Here’s a quick look at its bureaucracy: http://www.ostp.gov/cs/about_ostp/leadership_staff.

    I’ll say more in Linux Journal this morning. Have a look over there if you’re interested. http://linuxjournal.com.

  6. In the second role that Lessig mentioned — pioneering the use of technology — you should all be watching people already involved with the Obama campaign. Adam D’Angelo may be too young, but watch out for Leonard Lin. He’s got a rare combination of geek knowledge and a Jedi-like ability to make bureaucracies work for him. After selling his startup to Yahoo he became involved in the movement to rejuvenate the company and had some notable successes. Taking on antiquated procedures in federal government would be an even bigger challenge, but he might be the guy for the job.

  7. In the second role that Lessig mentioned — pioneering the use of technology — you should all be watching people already involved with the Obama campaign. Adam D’Angelo may be too young, but watch out for Leonard Lin. He’s got a rare combination of geek knowledge and a Jedi-like ability to make bureaucracies work for him. After selling his startup to Yahoo he became involved in the movement to rejuvenate the company and had some notable successes. Taking on antiquated procedures in federal government would be an even bigger challenge, but he might be the guy for the job.

  8. Robert,

    I like all the candidates you suggested but I think there’s still someone I believe is very often overlooked: Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of HP.

    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. She understands how technology can and does effect our lives and has shown a gift for crafting corporate strategy to be both effective and efficient.

    Personally, I think Carly would be a fantastic choice. Too bad her time at HP has tainted her a bit. But I think if we look at her accomplishments beyond HP, we can see how she would be a strong candidate.

    That’d be my choice.
    That’d be pretty damn cool.

    Anthony

  9. Robert,

    I like all the candidates you suggested but I think there’s still someone I believe is very often overlooked: Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of HP.

    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. She understands how technology can and does effect our lives and has shown a gift for crafting corporate strategy to be both effective and efficient.

    Personally, I think Carly would be a fantastic choice. Too bad her time at HP has tainted her a bit. But I think if we look at her accomplishments beyond HP, we can see how she would be a strong candidate.

    That’d be my choice.
    That’d be pretty damn cool.

    Anthony

  10. Bill Gates would actually be the ideal candicate for this. (As long as he doesn’t have directly influence over policy, but serve only as an advisory role to the leadership).

    * He has a fantasic ability to grasp a hugely disparate set of very complex technology, and a great ability to articulate it to those who don’t.
    * He is already retired and don’t control Microsoft tactical operations anymore.
    * He already has done large filantropic work to make technology available to the masses, inline with the democratic platform.
    * He is socially liberal, and used to be a democrat until Microsoft was attacked under the Clinton presidency (at which point he switched). Either way I don’t think he’ll mind serving under a Democratic president.

  11. Bill Gates would actually be the ideal candicate for this. (As long as he doesn’t have directly influence over policy, but serve only as an advisory role to the leadership).

    * He has a fantasic ability to grasp a hugely disparate set of very complex technology, and a great ability to articulate it to those who don’t.
    * He is already retired and don’t control Microsoft tactical operations anymore.
    * He already has done large filantropic work to make technology available to the masses, inline with the democratic platform.
    * He is socially liberal, and used to be a democrat until Microsoft was attacked under the Clinton presidency (at which point he switched). Either way I don’t think he’ll mind serving under a Democratic president.

  12. Any name will just create “Oh Hell NO” type responses. I think this is just a way to drum up page hits… Like I just did

  13. Any name will just create “Oh Hell NO” type responses. I think this is just a way to drum up page hits… Like I just did

  14. Long Tail Stephen Manesish Corollary – Less of Lessig, is actually More.

    We don’t need a CTO, just as most good companies don’t need self-important ‘IT as an entity’ CTO or CIOs, as every technology decision is in reality just a business decision.

  15. Long Tail Stephen Manesish Corollary – Less of Lessig, is actually More.

    We don’t need a CTO, just as most good companies don’t need self-important ‘IT as an entity’ CTO or CIOs, as every technology decision is in reality just a business decision.

  16. @Dave Winer:

    In case you aren’t from this country and live in a socialist state, we have something in this country called capitalism. It allows companies to succeed or fail based on the free market. In addition, if I’m not mistaken we already have a bureaucracy the regulates the hell out of companies like Comcast, thank you. Any role this mythical CTO would play in this space would be somewhat redundant. . The LAST thing we need is MORE govt. intervention. But I understand that’s anathema to Democrats.

    The country does not need a CTO. What critical, pressing problem does the US have that this “national” CTO would solve that that justifies me paying more Federal taxes to support such a position?

    Mark’s insightful comments only serve to reinforce how naive, inexperienced and clueless Barry H. Obama-ssiah is. A “national” CTO! Gimme a break! How ignorant about the Federal Govt can this man be? Did he even pay attention on the rare occasions he showed up on the Senate floor?

  17. @Dave Winer:

    In case you aren’t from this country and live in a socialist state, we have something in this country called capitalism. It allows companies to succeed or fail based on the free market. In addition, if I’m not mistaken we already have a bureaucracy the regulates the hell out of companies like Comcast, thank you. Any role this mythical CTO would play in this space would be somewhat redundant. . The LAST thing we need is MORE govt. intervention. But I understand that’s anathema to Democrats.

    The country does not need a CTO. What critical, pressing problem does the US have that this “national” CTO would solve that that justifies me paying more Federal taxes to support such a position?

    Mark’s insightful comments only serve to reinforce how naive, inexperienced and clueless Barry H. Obama-ssiah is. A “national” CTO! Gimme a break! How ignorant about the Federal Govt can this man be? Did he even pay attention on the rare occasions he showed up on the Senate floor?

  18. This is one of the most ignorant posts I’ve ever read. The last thing this country needs is another buraucracy. But leave it to Democrats (Barry) to think more govt. is better. Each and every Dept of (fill in the blank) has a technology officer, as does TOTP. I’m not sure what problems the US is having in this space that are serious enough to warrant me paying more in Federal taxes to expand govt.

    Actually Al Gore would be a good choice. Not because he’s smart; he’s actually a moron. But he’s perfect fit because he is the biggest policy wonk ever, and a moron, so thankfully nothing would get done.

  19. This is one of the most ignorant posts I’ve ever read. The last thing this country needs is another buraucracy. But leave it to Democrats (Barry) to think more govt. is better. Each and every Dept of (fill in the blank) has a technology officer, as does TOTP. I’m not sure what problems the US is having in this space that are serious enough to warrant me paying more in Federal taxes to expand govt.

    Actually Al Gore would be a good choice. Not because he’s smart; he’s actually a moron. But he’s perfect fit because he is the biggest policy wonk ever, and a moron, so thankfully nothing would get done.

  20. I hate to be a buzz kill, but we don’t need a national CTO to help shape the nation’s tech policies. The government already has organizations that the government’s tech direction. If they’re not doing an adequate job, fix them. Don’t add to an already bloated government.

    From the private sector standpoint, they don’t need direction from DC.

  21. I hate to be a buzz kill, but we don’t need a national CTO to help shape the nation’s tech policies. The government already has organizations that the government’s tech direction. If they’re not doing an adequate job, fix them. Don’t add to an already bloated government.

    From the private sector standpoint, they don’t need direction from DC.

  22. I’m going to be unpopular… if we’re going with an actual tech CTO, I want someone under the age of 30.
    Yes, at 42 I’m on the other side of the fence.

    But the kind of person I’d want for CTO is someone who lives and breathes the future of tech – not someone who has spent the past two plus decades getting jaded by it.

    Then again, I don’t have any names to posit. Probably because the kind of person I’m talking about is out there living and breathing tech right now, not “established”.

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