Megan Smith prompts LGBT innovators to consider government

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith at a White House Tech Meetup in April. (Liz Gorman/White House)

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One defining characteristic of U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith’s leadership over the past year has been her push for inclusion.

That message carried through Monday at the White House’s second LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Summit, where Smith emphasized the need for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender innovators to bring their skills to government.

“It’s through all of us getting together and being really smart and coming up underneath our innovators who have answers to a path” that government can make an impact, said Smith, a lesbian and former CEO of PlanetOut.

And members of the LGBT community, one of Smith’s fellow speakers at the event said, tend to have the experience that leads them to thrive as innovators.

“Because of our identity, we’re just natural innovators; we’re natural outside-the-box thinkers. And we have a unique perspective,” said Leanne Pittsford, founder of Lesbians Who Tech and an organizer of the event. Pittsford said the diverse group of attendees had one big thing uniting them: “We’re all Americans, and we all care about making this world a better place.”

During the event, attendees split into teams to tackle problems involving topics like criminal justice and economic inclusion. In three months, members of each team will report back on the progress of their projects during a White House Google Hangout.

Smith, acting as a sort of spokeswoman for President Barack Obama’s mass recruitment of digital experts to government, encouraged attendees to consider opportunities outside traditional tech hubs like Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin, Texas. Sure it’s important to thrive in those eccentric, tech-driven communities, she said, but “there’s also really important, critical places to show up where you’re more rare — your skill set is more rare.” One of those places is government.

There have always been technical people in government, the CTO explained Monday, but they’ve often been buried in teams of lawyers, legislators and writers with little voice to lead. But in the 21st century, that’s not longer acceptable, Smith said, and there’s a need “to bring technical people into government and lift those extraordinary technical people who are already here up and have a voice.”

“Things are moving fast, and our government colleagues need us to show up and help them,” the U.S. CTO, about to enter her second year in her position, told the audience. “How can we have much better, advanced websites and tech on behalf of the American people? If we can make Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, why can’t we make great stuff from the IRS and for the veterans?”

The key, she said, is “getting people like us who work on that tech stuff … to really solve problems together and see how government could, instead of being parental, be more of a stage on which the play can happen.”

She added that such a move would “really let Americans do the extraordinary things we always have done for all history.”

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Government IT News, Innovation, Megan Smith, White House, workforce
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