Tomorrow, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google parent company Alphabet, will testify before Congress. His appearance on Capitol Hill, following in the footsteps of Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Sheryl Sandberg earlier this year, represents a likely new normal for tech leaders. As technology becomes even more central to our everyday lives, company executives can expect even more invitations to visit Congress.
Looking back, it’s very likely that 2018 will be remembered as a watershed year. If software was already eating the world in 2011, it was 2018 when Congress and the public began to wonder if tech was beginning to bite off more than it could chew.
The Zuckerberg hearings were clearly a big part of that, but the growing scrutiny of Facebook is only part of the story.
Also in 2018, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft’s stocks hit historic market valuations, repeatedly swapping places as the most valuable companies in the world. Amazon announced its HQ2(s) to a lot of criticism. More and more companies were breached (as was the Republican National Committee). The first pedestrian was killed by an autonomous vehicle. The Russians started targeting Members of Congress on their personal devices. It’s become clear that— because of these and other events in 2018— government is increasingly wanting to play a greater role in the tech sector.
But Zuckerberg hearings in April also put on public display what I’d experienced for six years as a staffer in Congress: government doesn’t have the technical expertise to understand how technology is reshaping society.
There are real risks here. How do we feel about a Congress that doesn’t understand Facebook’s business model attempting to regulate Facebook, or an institution that prohibits two-factor authentication imposing greater security or breach standards on the private sector?
Ensuring that government and governmental staff understand how tech works is urgent, and more urgent with each passing day. A Congress where only seven of the 3,500 legislative staff have any formal technical training— which is my count after over a decade working on and with the Hill— is not going to cut it.
That’s why we are growing in 2019 to do our small part to meet this challenge. Thanks to support from the Ford Foundation, Knight Foundation, and Democracy Fund, in January 2019 we are launching our largest, strongest, and most diverse fellowship class yet. Their experience spans tech, the military, and the federal government, and we couldn’t be more excited to announce them.
Aaron Barruga served as a Green Beret in Army Special Forces. Barruga started his own company and worked as a counter-terrorism consultant supporting law enforcement and Department of Defense agencies.
Leisel Bogan is a technology and policy professional who served as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s Chief of Staff and Director of Research and with experience navigating complex operating environments including China, MENA, Europe, Eurasia, and Japan.
Allison Hutchings is a former senior project engineer from ATA Engineering who worked on the design and analysis of satellites, launch vehicles, military tents, roller coasters, and advanced engineering software.
Eric Mill is a former senior leader at U.S. General Services Administration and its 18F team who oversaw Login.gov, a government-wide service offering secure, private authentication to millions of people accessing public services.
Maggi Molina is a former Air Force radar technician, attorney, and cloud engineer who has spent the last three years creating programs to help the military community gain technology and entrepreneurial skills.
Emily Paul is a former user experience researcher at Salesforce and technologist committed to the equitable design, development, and use of technology.
Frank Reyes is a former U.S. Navy Electronics Technician and served as a Senior Relationship Manager for Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) applying emerging technologies to commercial business data.
Nate Wilkins is a former Navy SEAL and Information Systems Technician who became a Technical Subject Matter Expert in his 11 years of Active Duty.
Tech issues aren’t going to get any less relevant to Congress or any other government office or agency. Building governments that are equipped to understand how technology is changing society is the governing challenge of our generation. We couldn’t be more excited to take that on in 2019 with this incredible class.