"If we could all just borrow 5% of Megan Smith's positivity and energy and smile, we'd all be better off." Meetup.com Founder / CEO, Scott Heiferman
On Friday, April 17, 2015, the recently appointed United States Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, organized a gathering of tech-focused community organizers at the White House (or, more accurately, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building). Organized with Meetup.com, the platform that facilitates tech (and many other) communities throughout the nation and the world, this first "White House Tech Meetup" celebrated efforts to create jobs and opportunities in the tech industry, especially for women and minorities.
Several hundred leaders from tech Meetups across the country gathered to learn about homegrown efforts to encourage STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Math) education, teach coding, and increase diversity in tech. Following opening remarks by Smith, National Economic Council Director, Jeff Zients, and Meetup CEO, Scott Heiferman, the day started with two dozen spotlight sessions - quick talks by organizers from around the country. Zach Leatherman from NebraskaJS spoke about his efforts to counter "brain drain" of Nebraska developers to Silicon Valley and other tech hotspots. Matti Dupre from Alaska Web Devs spoke of his work supporting Alaska's web developers.
Ryan Burke, Policy Advisor at the National Economic Council at the White House, spoke of the TechHire initiative to provide training to help meet the employer demand for over 500,000 open IT jobs in the nation. Per Zients, "If we can't fill the jobs, America's leadership in tech innovation won't last."
Special Assistant to the President, Michael Smith, spoke of the White House's "My Brother's Keeper" program to provide opportunities for African Americans. Brett Greene from Seattle's New Tech ("Tech is a seed but community is what it's really all about."), Mandy Godown from Shesays Boulder, Jerry Fitzgerald Steele from Iowa Web Devs, and Jamal & Felicia O'Garro from Code Crew NYC were among the other speakers. All described their efforts to support their local tech communities.
The morning's talks were followed by an afternoon "unconference," during which attendees suggested topics and organized our own groups to discuss topical issues. For the first session, a number of us gathered to discuss the issue of how to grow the pipeline of youth interested in tech and what government and corporations could do to provide support, especially for internship programs. For the second, I joined Paola Maldonado from NYC Tech Latinas who organized a session on the challenges of finding mentors for women in tech.
What struck me about the event was the strong interest that Megan Smith tapped in regular Americans who want to be involved and help. It reminded me of the "Yes We Can" spirit of the '08 campaign, when millions of Americans felt communal ownership of the ability for our government to work with citizens to help improve America. On Friday, with absolutely no talk of partisanship or politics, several hundred of us flocked to Washington DC when given the chance. As Rafael López, Senior Policy Advisor, Impact Technologies for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy stated, "Everyone in this room and everyone out there watching has a role to play in transforming America."
Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman loves saying that group actions begin with someone suggesting: "Let's..." I'm hopeful that this first WH Meetup was the start of a renewed White House effort to embrace the community and provide more opportunities for Americans to serve together with government. Let's do it!