On Wednesday evenings for the past few months I have been part of a new class run by the Aspen Institute where a small cohort of experienced tech leaders have been learning about public policy and how to drive change in the federal government. It was announced today.
We got to hear from people who had come into government from the tech industry to drive change — things that worked and what hadn’t. We re-read the constitution (seriously!), wrote practice policy memos, talked with folks who had been responsible for technology at large federal departments, and we prepared novel research for real government stakeholders.
It was fascinating and humbling to get a peek into a very different world than Silicon Valley — at once almost impossibly complex to navigate in its web of stakeholders, departments, and regulations…but at the same time deeply in need of better technical know-how to serve its constituents. The stories were a near-violent mix of optimistic: that it is possible to make a difference, that when you have a win it can impact millions, and that the impact is consequential (sometimes life and death) — and pessimistic: endeavors that took years to assemble carefully to drive to approval only to be shot down weeks later and unwound because of political events and inopportune timing.
I don’t know when it will make sense for me to lend a hand in government, but I believe our democracy should be participatory — that every capable person should spend some part of their career in service. Silicon Valley has traditionally been very removed from DC, not just in space, but in thought. Better bridges between the two could help ensure that the government can more deftly operate technology to improve the health, welfare, and education of its people — and can also benefit tech in having a more nuanced understanding of the impact of technology on a population as well as the upside of better understanding how to navigate government as a vendor.
I’m grateful to my family for giving me the time to do this exploration. It has been fun to push myself in new directions and think about policy as a scalable instrument for change every bit as much as code can deliver. I’m looking forward to putting this knowledge to use to serve the American people.