President Barack Obama is famous for his affinity for his BlackBerry and science fairs, but the tech love goes a lot further than that. Todd Park, the U.S. chief technology officer, today described the President as having a “very high geek quotient” with a “go go go” attitude when it comes to new tech initiatives — which, yes, he likes in and of themselves, but more importantly as a means to an end.
The comments were made during a fireside chat at TC Disrupt in New York, where Park along with U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel also announced the government’s big plans for opening up its data and courting developers.
“He is focused on how technology and data help you get the right healthcare for your family, pick the right college for your kid, help keep your kid safe, make the best decisions on save energy bill,” said Park. “It’s tech as a means to an end.”
At the sidelines of the stage, Park told me that when he and VanRoekel proposed the whole idea of open data to the President, he got very fired up and wanted to act fast. “He loved it. The first thing he said to us was ‘Go, go, go!’” he said.
But, yes, he is a bit of a geek, even still. On the subject of Obama and science fairs: “He hangs out five times as long as needed.”
VanRoekel noted also that how technology is an important factor in how people should conceive of economic recovery going forward. “When you look at U.S. history, the majority of Fortune 500 companies were founded in bad economic times,” he said, and at the same time they have been marked by “inflection points” in technology that helped to catapult these companies forward. “We have an opportunity to seize that [model] again,” he said.
As for the government itself, there is a general sense of risk aversion prevalent among of public servants when it comes to technology, VanRoekel admitted. That will play out especially with the proposed Data Act, which will put a lot of requirements on public servants. The two are trying to stem the possible tide of dissent early on with this: “I want to have conversations with Congress right now,” said VanRoekel, who wants to know: “What is the burden put on federal agencies in this process?”
But Park added, “If you can figure out a way to release their mojo, they can do amazing things.”
An interesting connection that he drew here was that public servants, by definition, are not motivated by money — something he said that he noticed characterized the best entrepreneurs when he was still in the private sector (he had a long carrer as a consultant at Booz Allen and also in health tech):
“When I was in the private sector one characteristic that differentiated the best entrepreneurs from the others was that they were not in it for the stock options but for a mission, to deliver something that was helpful… Every entrepreneurial journey it turns out is like this.”