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Tech Tour of Duty

TQ @ the Table: During President Obama's Administration, close to 500 technologists, data/computational/social scientists, engineers, design thinkers, and entrepreneurs, were recruited to be part of an elite digital corps.  This networked team of fixers and builders was embedded across all parts of government and called upon to bring vast and critical changes, the likes of which continue to have resounding impact from millions of Americans, and an an extended network of collaborators around the world.  

In the 21st century, effective strategy and operations of all kinds are intimately connected with tech, especially digital networked technologies. To meet this challenge and opportunity, any team is strengthened when it is cross-functional and includes people with high “tech IQ” (“TQ” —modern technological intelligence, expertise, and significant field experience), just as it should include economists, lawyers, organizers, policy makers, and scientists. At best, excluding disciplines leads to sub-optimal outcomes. At worst, it can lead to organization-threatening disasters.

DoD Bug Bounty


Sprint, Pilot, Capacity Build: Hack the Pentagon was the first bug bounty program in the history of the U.S. government. The Department of Defense Digital Service, with the fierce support of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, pioneered the effort, which first ran from April-May, 2016.  More than 1,400 participants registered to take part and of those 250 [white-hat] hackers submitted a vulnerability.  138 reported vulnerabilities were found to be "legitimate, unique and eligible for a bounty".  $75K in total was paid out in bounties at the conclusion of the program.


Scout & Scale: Miami-Dade, FL found that 97 people with mental illness accounted for $13.7M in services, spending more than 39K days in either jail, the ER, state hospitals, or psychiatric facilities.  The county provided mental health de-escalation training to their police officers and 911 dispatchers and opened a 12-bed stabilization unit. From 2011-2016, Miami-Dade police responded to 50K calls for service for people in mental-health crises, but made only 109 arrests, diverting more than 10K people by safely stabilizing situations without arrest.  The county jail population fell by 70%, allowing the county close 1 jail, and save $12M a year.  Data Driven Justice (DDJ), launched by President Obama, is led by a bipartisan coalition of 140 city, county, and state governments (covering 100M people).  All jurisdictions have committed to using data-driven strategies to divert people with mental illness away from the criminal justice system into effective, community based treatment. Read More here.

Communities of Practice:  The Police Data Initiative (PDI), launched by President Obama, is led by 130 law enforcement agencies (covering 44M people).  The PDI has collectively released 175 datasets on policing, including: use of force, officer-involved shootings, and citizen complaints.  The PDI community (and the DDJ coalition) hold bi-weekly calls to scout and scale working solutions across the communities of practice.




Creative Confidence & Continuous Learning:  President Obama launched the TechHire Initiative in March 2015 to get more people from all backgrounds into the over 600,000 open tech jobs that pay 50% more than the average private-sector job. A little over a year after launch, more than 1,500 employers in 70 communities are working with new training programs such as coding boot camps, resulting in thousands of new hires.  To date, nearly 4,000 people have been placed, and companies like GE Digital, JP Morgan, and Capital One are hiring talent based on candidates’ demonstrated abilities, rather than the name of the institution on their degrees.

The continued success of TechHire will come from the same source it has to date: grassroots partners. These employers, innovative training programs, local government, workforce development organizations, and others in communities are collaborating to push the boundaries of the status quo, using strategies such as:  hiring based on skill, not pedigree; training in months, not years (including immersive and on-the-job training); a 'pay for success' training model; and broadening the circle of opportunity (with a focus on low-income Americans, minorities, veterans, and the long-term unemployed).

State Dept Sprint on ISIL Brand


Sprint, Pilot, & Capacity Build: A 'SEAL' team of brand experts, technologists, data scientists, and community organizers, was asked to spend a few weeks at the State Department to help reframe the art of the possible for interagency teams tasked with the formidable challenge of using culture, diplomacy, media, and community programs to minimize and diminish ISIL recruitment.  After a collective rethink and reset, the Global Engagement Center was founded through a Presidential Executive Order.  The Center now plays a critical role in countering ISIL’s messaging by using modern analytics technology and leveraging the best talent and tools across private sector and government. 

UN Solutions Summit for SDGs



The UN Solutions Summit was created to lift up exceptional innovators -- technologists, engineers, scientists, and others -- who are developing solutions that address one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and to catalyze a grassroots effort, where communities scout and convene resources around solution-makers. The first Solutions Summit in 2015 immediately followed the adoption of the SDGs by all UN Member States at the UN Sustainable Development Summit. It demonstrated again that people already have extraordinary solutions in progress to our most complex challenges.

Hidden Figure: Katherine Johnson

In 2015, President Obama bestowed the Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest civilian honor, to Katherine Johnson—a NASA mathematician who exhibited exceptional technical leadership, calculating and verifying trajectories that took the first Americans to space and to the moon.  Johnson’s recognition by President Obama marks a proud moment in American history because until recently, Johnson’s critical technical contributions to the space race were largely unknown.

In December, 2016 the feature film Hidden Figures, which chronicles Katherine's time at NASA, debuted to critical acclaim, and as of March 2017 grossed $220M at the box office, against a production budget of $25M.

South By South Lawn

Spaces for Radical Collaboration: "...Much like the festival I dropped by in Austin earlier this year, SXSL is, at its heart, a call to action. The folks out on the lawn today are artists, creators, entrepreneurs, and innovators who will share how they've used their unique skills to engage their communities in making the change they want to see -- whether it's curing cancer, fighting poverty, empowering women, and so much more.

...We've got a virtual reality exhibit where people can experience what it's like to live in solitary confinement and learn firsthand why it should be banned from our prisons...We'll discuss questions that will define the coming decades: How do we harness technology to solve our most stubborn problems? How will we sustainably feed ourselves in the near future?  How do we foster innovation in the heart of our cities? How do we, as citizens, engage to bring about lasting change?..."

-President Obama

The Malala Fund


One month after Malala Yousafzai was shot in Pakistan on her way back from school, a group of women and men from around the world came together to establish the Malala Fund, with the intent that once Malala recovered she could use the platform as a vehicle to pursue her vision for girls education and empowerment.  Today the organization, directed by Malala and her father, is actively engaged in advocacy, investment, and empowerment.  It has a portfolio of education projects in six countries and works with international leaders and local partners to invest in innovative solutions and advocate for access to quality secondary education for all girls.

Google Crisis Response: Haiti 2010 Earthquake


The 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti in 2010 was one of the deadliest on records; casualties were estimated at 250,000, with reconstruction costs on the order of $14B.  Immediately after the earthquake, the country's single undersea fiber optic cable link was knocked out, compounding an already underdeveloped telecommunications infrastructure.  Network engineers at Google were able to quickly assess the situation on the ground with their industry counterparts in Port-au-Prince, and through USAID crisis responders, sent critical equipment to the team of engineers on the ground to help re-stabilize the network.