Four months into her tenure as the White House’s chief technology officer, former Google executive Megan Smith is still struggling with “culture shock” at the federal government’s clunky technology, according to a profile on Smith in the New York Times.
Before coming to the White House and serving as the president’s top technology official, Smith was the VP of Google’s secret research lab, Google X, which helped create Google Glass and the company’s driverless car prototype.
Now, she uses a BlackBerry and a 2013 Dell laptop.
Despite using technology that would be considered outdated and clunky in Silicon Valley, Smith is optimistic: “We’re on it,” she told the Times, of trying to bring the federal government into the year 2015, technology-wise. “This is the administration that’s working to upgrade that and fix it.”
Smith has only two predecessors: The title of US chief technology officer was created five years ago by President Obama.
The problem with the role of CTO is that even though she directly advises the president, Smith lacks a budget and authority over other federal agencies, according to Clay Johnson, the co-founder of the Department of Better Technology, which ran Obama’s online campaign in the 2008 election cycle.
Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior adviser, first took notice of Smith three years ago at an event about how to get more girls and women into science.
“She is infectiously energetic,” Jarrett told the Times. “She has been able to translate for those of us who are not as well versed in technology how we can use innovation to do good.”
Smith is working to increase the presence of women working in science and technology in the White House. She’s the first female White House CTO, and now, according to the Times: “Four of the five divisions of the Office of Science and Technology Policy are headed by women. Last month, Ms. Smith created a page on the White House website devoted to ‘the untold history of women in science and technology,’ including the stories of pioneers like Ada Lovelace, the world’s first programmer.”
Most importantly, Smith serves as a bridge between forward-thinking Silicon Valley and the federal government, which is often derided as backwards-facing, with outdated technology. Last year, the US government came under fire during its nightmarish rollout of federal health insurance website healthcare.gov. Late in 2014, Smith advised President Obama on net neutrality. She made sure he listened to both Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, and Vinton G. Cerf, Google’s vice president before Obama declared himself a proponent of a free and open internet.