The Man Who Built Twitter's Tech Team Is About To Start Building Up New York's Tech Scene

greg pass twitter

Photo: LinkedIn

Meet Greg Pass, former chief technology officer of Twitter — and the new ambassador of tech for New York City.Pass today announced he is joining Cornell’s New York tech campus as its founding entrepreneurial officer — responsible for tracking down top prospective entrepreneurial talent and training them in New York City.

Pass advised city officials and Cornell representatives throughout the whole proposal process to bring a huge tech campus to New York. Now he’s going to be a huge part of it. 

Why is this a big deal? We caught up with pass to find out what he’s working on. Here’s what we learned:

  • Pass is great at finding and hiring talent. He was responsible for hundreds of hires at Twitter after he became CTO of the company.
  • The program will be a mix of academia and Y Combinator apprenticeship. Advisors will be working very closely with each student.
  • New York tech is booming, and mayor Michael Bloomberg has a keen interest on seeing it succeed. That’s why the city is making a huge deal out of this New York tech campus.

BUSINESS INSIDER: Why now? Why did you guys decide to make a huge push for New York tech?

Greg Pass: The idea is for the new program, is that we really ought to have someone specifically focused making sure that the academic program and industry partnerships will successfully result in entrepreneurial value for students and faculty and the New York tech community. It’s a new role for the university, it’s gonna be my job to make sure that happens.

Bloomberg was the initial impetus. He was ready for a university, to give the land on the island and a few other potential spots to a university. This proposal process went on for much of last year. That’s when I got involved, early in the proposal process. They reached out to me, so I advised the end of the proposal process and over the course of the last year after I left Twitter I started getting more and more invested in this project and feeling positive about it. The more we talked about it the more it was clear that a role like this could help the success of the program.

BI: What was your role at Twitter? How will that help you out here? 

GP: My experience was building the team at Twitter. Over the course at the three years, half of my job was interviewing and hiring and putting the team together. I probably interviewed a thousand engineers and hired hundreds. It became more and more clear the impact talented entrepreneurs and engineers can have on a thriving organisation. But those engineers are very difficult to find — not only in New York, but in Silicon Valley. Hiring that type of engineer is rare and hard.

“But those engineers are very difficult to find — not only in New York, but in Silicon Valley. Hiring that type of engineer is rare and hard.”

I see this as a unique opportunity to give back to my profession and figure out how to better cultivate the types of students interested in making an impact. How can we actually educate those types of students better and give them a better education to increase the size and quality of the talent pool.

Being based in New York is gonna have a big impact on New York’s tech scene.

BI: What are some of the traits of New York’s tech scene that jump out to you right now? 

GP: I think a very impressive piece of evidence came out last week in the centre for Urban Studies New Tech city report. They did a lot of research across the country in a number of ways of measuring the tech profile of different regions. One of the striking measurements in there is the new york region was the only region in the United States with positive growth in the number of venture capital deals. It’s higher than Silicon Valley and other regions like Austin. That’s not absolute numbers of course, the Valley has a much greater amount of investment dollars, but it shows a surge is happening in New York. 

The things that impress me the most are the startups that, to me, feel very New York in character and culture. For example, Fancy, you could relate that to Ad Tech in a creative way. We are an advertising hub and there’s a lot that could be done to back it technologically. Readability is an interesting example of a design tech company that really also reflects the strength of New York in particular. Kickstarter jumps out to me, a finance and tech play. is interesting, it’s an art and tech play.

BI: Why did you end up leaving Twitter and what brought you to this opportunity?

GP: Working and building a new academic program is not what I expected to be doing. I was blindsided by the opportunity, it’s an opportunity to build a new kind of school from the ground up. It’s in New York and New York is surging right now, and I don’t know how to say no to that new opportunity. It’s also working with Dan Huttenlocher, who I’ve known for a long time, and also this team we’re going to build. There’s so much interest and excitement in this project. The team we can put together is gonna be phenomenal. I think also, I’ve been fortunate to have some success as an entrepreneur, and I think it’s important that when opportunities come up to give back to that profession in some way.

I came to Twitter through the acquisition of Summize. Myself and the other co-founders, which pivoted into a real-time search engine, we were connected to Twitter practically. We knew the venture capitalists who found them at Union Square, like Fred and Brad. That deal just made a lot of sense from the user’s point of view. That happened very quickly. Once there, I took over the leadership of the engineering team.

BI: What do you think of some of the other alternative education forms, like Khan Academy?

GP: I love Codecademy and others in that space are a perfect complement of what we’re trying to do in the new school. There’s not just one education model that fits all, there are some of those startups that can be breaking through to gain proficiencies in a lot of areas. With a grad school, we’re talking something more akin to an apprenticeship. You’re sourced with an industry advisor who’s literally invested in your success and paying attention to your success. That’s a different level of mastery.

Cornell Tech is somewhere in between academia with industry experiences, a lot of the things that would happen at Y Combinator, a lot of the types of experiences you’d get there would be part of this program. There would also be an academic curriculum because students would be entering with a master of their field as well as entrepreneurial experiences. I could see if things like Khan Academy are successful, as students enter the traditional academy, learning on your own will be part of the expectation

“As students enter the traditional academy, learning on your own will be part of the expectation.”

BI: What’s the profile of a student you’re looking for? 

GP: We want to bring students that are specifically interested in making a difference and having an impact on technological innovation and are entrepreneurial. They won’t all start companies themselves, but they want to be part of a creative organisation that wants to change the world. That’s the kind of student I came into contact with a lot at Twitter. Certainly I looked for that at Twitter, that changes over time though. The kind of person you look for when you have 15 engineers than when you’re scaling rapidly. But certainly the most impressive thing is when you hire those key creative and entrepreneurial engineers that have an asymmetric impact on the company.

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