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Obama Appoints Non-Tech Guy As CTO 252

Posted by Soulskill
from the jesse-ventura's-political-return dept.
NewYorkCountryLawyer writes "President Barack Obama has named his chief technology officer, and the appointee is not a Silicon Valley name like so many predicted. He is Aneesh Chopra. As the Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, his job has been to 'leverage technology in government reform, promote Virginia's innovation agenda, and foster technology-related economic development with a special emphasis on entrepreneurship.' But Chopra's not a tech guy. Before he got his secretary job in 2005, he was a managing director at the Advisory Board Company, a public-market health care think tank, as well as an angel investor." O'Reilly Radar is running an article discussing why Chopra is a good choice for federal CTO.
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Obama Appoints Non-Tech Guy As CTO

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  • by snl2587 (1177409) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @10:25AM (#27626411)
    Please read the last article linked in the summary. It definitely makes the appointment sound intelligent.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 18, 2009 @10:41AM (#27626541)

    If you want to substantial change the system, check out the open source Metagovernment.
    http://metagovernment.org/ [metagovernment.org]

  • by zmnatz (1502127) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @10:47AM (#27626599)
    I'm gonna reform copyright. The laws are faulty.
    - Let me fill the DOJ with RIAA lawyers.
    The current tech laws need reform.
    - Let me appoint another windbag politician to do it instead of someone who actually knows what the hell bittorrent is.
  • by mpeskett (1221084) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @10:49AM (#27626615)

    From the linked article, I'd say he's onboard with Open Source
    (easiest quote to find: Virginia having "the first officially-approved open source textbook in the country")

    I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing that he's not a tech guy himself; he won't be expected to go out and do the techy work. What the job requires is an understanding of technology and government, and the ability to get stuff done by supporting the right things, managing people... in short he doesn't need to be a geek so long as he has the right geeks working for him.

  • by poetmatt (793785) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @11:03AM (#27626745) Journal

    taking someone who is not very tech-oriented/aligned and putting them as CTO is just like taking politicians and lawyers and asking them to draft bills on technology.

    See how well that's been working for us?

  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @11:07AM (#27626795) Homepage
    The purpose of school shouldn't be teach students to be drones that can't think for themselves. It should be "teach them how to learn". Everybody I grew up with learned on DOS, UNIX (icons ftw) and Apple. We had little trouble adapting to the changing computer world. Now if people learned on Linux right now, they would have a lot less catching up then we ever did, even if they had to switch to windows for a job. Tech concepts and not memorization and you will get a lot further.
  • by Anpheus (908711) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @11:22AM (#27626903)

    Don't you work for non-lawyers all the time? They defer to you because you -are- a lawyer, but I think you might have to rescind your comment :)

    I do IT, and not everyone in the chain of command knows more than I do about IT. They do know more about other things, like management, or sales, or marketing. My job in IT is to enable them to do their jobs, and so I have to know a little bit about their job, and they have to know a little bit about mine, but that's all.

    If we were to live in some upside down world where we demanded everyone paying us had to know more about what we're doing than we do, no one would get anything done. Why are they paying you if they know more than you?

    And this applies to you too, Ray. Your clients pay you, or your firm, or however you have it set up, and they don't know nearly as much as you do. If they did, they wouldn't be paying you.

  • by videoBuff (1043512) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @11:55AM (#27627201)

    Up front, let me say that my response will be colored by the fact that I was in running for a CTO position of a fairly large company. I do not have any government background also.

    CTO jobs generally mean different things in different companies. In situations where there is a CIO and CTO, generally CTO works within guidelines and strategies visualized by CIO and other C-level executives. CTO is concerned primarily with operational parameters like capacity building, capability building, and even confidence building.

    CTO generally understands current technology trends, has an antenna up for receiving tectonic technology shifts, and can visualize alignment of company's business goals and technology goals.

    Somebody from Silicon Valley will have feelers for technology shifts that may be difficult to replicate elsewhere. Aneesh Chopra, from limited background given in submitted story, may excel at alignment, particularly in a government position with multitude of stake holders. He seems quite capable of understanding current technology trends as any person from Silicon Valley.

    So the question basically boils down to this - if CTO of USA is mainly responsible for operational issues as defined above, he is an excellent choice. On other hand, if CTO of USA is charged with coming up technology that nobody can even visualize now, there may be better choices.

  • by pandaman9000 (520981) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @11:56AM (#27627213) Homepage

    O'Reilly's discourse is generalized and vague enough to land me a job as a teacher at MIT, if I use the same level of granularity in my resume'. While the guy may have actually done something, I do not get a Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Linus Torvaldis, etc kind of feel about his accomplishments.

    I'd probably fail miserably at that teaching job, and this guy seems similarly equipped for his position.

    I hope I am wrong. I also hoped i'd be wrong about a dem President+Congress combo meal. That combo is going to give me a heart attack from all the pork in it, and the price is so high that the entire country can't afford it.

    I voted for McCain. Not because I was stoked about 'staying the course' or experiencing little change. It was because I am deathly afraid of anyone that makes me feel genuinely uplifted and excited when I listen to them. I usually use that approach when uncapping the K-Y. So did ObangYa.

  • by Omestes (471991) <omestes AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday April 18, 2009 @12:04PM (#27627275) Homepage Journal

    You grew into OS office software and can go back any time, if needed. Those kids won't be able to do that. You'd effectively be crippling them.

    Are kids dumber now that they ever were? The first computer I had contact with through school was an Apple IIe, did this crush my ability to learn to use Windows when it finally came out? Really, that is one of the most innane arguments I have heard. If we expose our children to many different computers/OSs/software suites, it leaves them with adaptability.

    Hell, it wasn't until rather late in high school that I actually found a computer, in school, using Windows, with Office on it, and all the other "standard" stuff, before that there was some nice DOS boxes, a few early Macs, a TON of Apple IIes, and I even think a lowly C64 and Amiga in there. All of these with their seporate and very different OSs, different "productivity" software, and different ways of interacting with the computer. I, for some reason, doubt that this hindered my ability to exist in society much, much less... you know... use a computer. It probably helped greatly with the second bit, since it kept me from getting locked in to any particular scheme of computing.

    Children are adaptive by nature, and the more we make them experience novel situations, the smarter they get. It forces them out of the rote "click x in menu y to do z", and into the the actual basis of the experience itself into a "I want to do z, now what?" mindframe.

    I know several people who can't use the GUI in Ubuntu/Gnome, just because it doesn't look exactly like Windows, even though it almost exactly the same mechanically. I would rather our children don't become this.

  • I smell astroturf (Score:4, Insightful)

    by whistlingtony (691548) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @12:13PM (#27627371)

    you know, I've been noticing a lot of similiar posts whenever Obama is mentioned... Stuff like:

    "both parties suck, don't bother"
    "Obama lied to us"
    and lots of just little slams. Nothing concrete. Just little jabs here and there.

    I look... and a lot of these are from ACs, or people who seem to have just registered and have very few comments on their record. I smell viral marketing at work....

    Lets face it, Obama didn't run as a left wing ideologue. He's been in 100 days, and although many here are peeved at the appointment of RIAA folks to the DOJ, and everyone is pissed at the bailouts (although I suspect they'd be more pissed if it all tanked and they lost their jobs/houses/etc).... for the most part, Obama has been careful and pretty center of the road. He didn't yank us out of Iraq (which would have been pretty irresponsible IMO). He is yanking funding for stupid military projects that were money sinks. Good for him. He has pushed at teachers unions... Not a very socialist thing to do. He has pushed for healthcare. People get pissed at this, but I suspect they don't realize that when someone without healthcare goes to the ER, we foot the bill anyway. He has scruitinized his appointments more than anyone else.... You think tax problems for political appointees JUST NOW became a problem?

    bah, this is just my opinion. Feel free to have your own....

    The point is, he's been pretty calm, politically centered for a Dem, and careful in his actions. I think he's doing fairly well given the situation. If there is an attempt to influence public opinion... I Hate Viral Marketing.

    Turn your internal virus detectors on folks.

    -T

  • by aesiamun (862627) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @12:17PM (#27627413) Homepage Journal

    If that's true then we can continue teaching them Microsoft Windows in the class room instead of Ubuntu and Open Office and they will be able to do the same thing, "I want to do z, now what?".

    Otherwise, you're teaching them GNOME under Ubuntu and if they have to move to a Windows interface, they will be as confused as if they were trained on Microsoft and have to move to a GNOME based user interface. Chances are, they'll run into a Windows interface far more often than a GNOME interface.

  • by Polumna (1141165) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @12:21PM (#27627453)
    While his post was insightful and deserves some moderation to that effect, I am going to have to disagree. Lawyers and politicians absolutely should be legislating technology because legislation is their job. I couldn't do it. I think our problem has been that they are doing it wrong, for a variety of reasons.

    I find a great deal of irony in your original post and this reply, because while you are obviously a lawyer, your original post demonstrates *exactly* the behaviors I believe are the full requirements I would expect from a great tech executive or politician.

    First, you obviously read a tech article on your own, in your free time, displaying interest. Second, you formed an opinion. Third, you reformed your opinion based on a respected expert. Fourth, and most importantly, you went to a large community of experts (to varying degrees) in order to modify your opinion with the input of people with a greater professional interest in the subject than your own.

    In all seriousness, Mr. Beckerman, despite being a lawyer and not a professional technologist, you would make a better CTO (or politician) than the vast majority of the rest of us. I would even venture to say that technologists shouldn't be forming large policies for as diverse and large an organization as the federal government. They are more likely to have biases and pay less attention to technologies they are less familiar with through professional experience.

    As a side note, if you could chair the FCC or hop on in some tech position at the FTC, I would really appreciate it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 18, 2009 @12:34PM (#27627569)
    I think the argument is more that the schools should be spending their money on, say, teacher's salaries instead of Microsoft Windows.
  • by viralMeme (1461143) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @01:02PM (#27627817)

    From what I know about the technology world, you have hit the nail on the head! So why is O'Reilly wrong? What is the fallacy in his thinking?

    I don't know if he is wrong, but going from that article, I just get a slight wave of nausea. When ever I see market-speak in a 'technical' document it invariably means that it's aimed at the non-technical sector with just enough buzz phrases to keep them warm and fuzzy. Just check out some of the key phrases:

    "The responsibilities of the CIO are to use information technology to transform the ways in which the government does business. The CTO will develop national strategies for using advanced technologies to transform our economy and our society, such as fostering private sector innovation [oreilly.com], reducing administrative costs and medical errors using health IT, and using technology to change the way teachers teach and students learn"

    [actually, that's from a White House Doc. For me that says: we don't know what we are on about :) ]

    Will any of this this ' private sector innovation ' lead to computers that can store-and-retrieve records in a secure and reliable manner and I would have thought that errors in medical records would have been a high priority from the beginning. From a link to a brief bio they refer to 'business intelligence software solution [virginia.gov]'. Yet another high-level-pseudo-technical-sounding phrase. I usually see that kind of thing in 'computer' magazines that contain no actual computer information aimed at the non-technical CTO sector. I don't actually read them but I have had my own CTO quote bits out of one to me, at least until he found out I know something.

    My main point was in reference to appointing a non-techie to the post of CTO. For me, as a dyed-in-the-wool techie. regardless of how many qualifications you have, if you've never (from scratch) built an electronic device or wrote some code, then you aren't a real techie.

    I've seen too many cases of people talking the correct pseudo-technical sounding babel to management, and it being accepted, as neither party know what they are on about, and willfully denying what their own people tell them. As after all, the consultant comes in trailing masses of certifications and awards. Generally it's a lot easier to write about how to do something, than actually implement it.

  • by Kulfaangaren! (1294552) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @01:05PM (#27627855)
    Oh thank you god! Finally someone who actually agrees with me on what the purpose of education is. Teaching should be about stimulating the kids to want to learn, to want to find out the whys and hows!...and give them the tools to do so. Off course it is an other matter in higher education, but that is besides the point here as people seems to be talking about creating mindless drones belonging to one camp or the other.
  • My boss doesn't know anywhere near as much about technology as I do but -- and this is the crucial bit -- he trusts my opinions and my judgment.

    Which is very nice for you, but it's only nice for the company if the tech people in your company

    (a) are always right about everything
    (b) are never wrong about anything,
    (c) have nothing left to learn,
    (d) need no leadership or guidance, and
    (e) are all well qualified to perform their tasks.

    Personally, if I were a shareholder in such a company, I would rather have someone in charge of technology who actually is a technologist, who understands what technologists do, and can understand their problems, limitations, challenges, and abilities, and who can separate the wheat from the chaff -- i.e. recognize which employees or prospective hires are the real thing and which are BS artists.

  • by malkavian (9512) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @02:43PM (#27628719) Homepage
    From what I know about the technology world, you have hit the nail on the head!
    This isn't because there's a flaw in the structure; it's a flaw in the implementation. From my experience of the world of commerce, most managers aren't really managers. They may have 'business qualifications' and a long period of rising through the ranks of a company, but it doesn't make them managers.
    A true manager exists to use the available resources in the best way to tackle a problem, and to do logistics support for those below them, along with providing an accurate picture of the state of their control as far as it fits in the bigger picture to those above.
    What all too commonly happens in management is that the 'manager' decides that something will be done. Gets the message from those below (who are specialists) that this isn't possible, or at least is very stupid. The 'manager' simply says "I'm the boss. Do it. Look at my 'business qualifications', they say I can do this.".
    If they don't listen, then information doesn't flow, and if the information doesn't flow, the technology is likely to be incorrect (right answer, wrong question). In other words, they're not actually a 'manager', they're more a dictator.
    I've worked in IT for a goodly time now (closing on for 20 years), and worked in environments where highly technical people have run the shop, ones where non techies run the show, and even run the show myself, and I personally think it all comes down to the management quality.
    If someone in management listens, and is astute enough to be able to call deals, asks questions of the specialists and use that information to assemble the best resources to tackle the problem (even if it is the specialists who really dictate what the teams are), then things get done well irrespective of how well the manager understands the tech. If they can't provide the right kind of logistics, and work out the right way of putting the right people in the right place, then the tasks will fail.
    It's not about how 'technical' the management chain is (I've seen some huge screwups because the management was highly technical, just didn't really understand the business well enough to co-ordinate the implementation of systems that actually did what the business needed, rather than doing what was technically a good system. Just practically wrong). It's how generally savvy the manager is. Sadly, there seem to be far fewer checks on how bright managers are than on their subordinates, which is where the true problems lie.
  • by pipingguy (566974) * on Saturday April 18, 2009 @03:28PM (#27629105) Homepage
    Just imagine if those upon whose shoulders we stand had to use a specific brand of pencil in order to document their great ideas.
  • by pipingguy (566974) * on Saturday April 18, 2009 @03:43PM (#27629207) Homepage
    Always hire people smarter than yourself (and be loyal to them), that way you learn things. Let's face it, smart people are usually easier to get along with than dumb ones.
  • by sorak (246725) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @04:27PM (#27629615)

    But.. but.. he isn't one of us!

    I mean, did Obama even consider the CowboyNeal option?

    I'm sorry. We already had a cowboy president and that didn't work out. I think we're going to stay away from cowboys for the next few years.

  • by painehope (580569) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @06:47PM (#27630953)

    I agree wholeheartedly with you on this. Unfortunately, you will not find anything even remotely resembling that philosophy in any public school that I've attended or even heard of.

    Instead, you'll find schools where a lot of kids are afraid to take advanced classes or be on accelerated-learning tracks because the other students taunt, revile, and even physically assault them. One of the reasons that I'm so good with my hands is because I attended Houston's so-called "Magnet Program" in middle school. I went into sixth grade at 4'11" and about 80 lbs., and discovered that I had two strikes against me : I was one of about 5 White kids at a predominantly Black/Mestizo school (seriously, we had race riots between the two groups; I fought on the Black side because most of my friends were Black) and I was in the above-mentioned program (which didn't even bother putting me in separate classes or teaching me different material, so I - to this day - don't understand what the damn point of it was). All what I got out of middle school was the ability to knock out kids that were 16 and still in middle school. If you forgot my name, you could say "the cool White kid", because I was the only one of the Magnet students (who were predominantly White and Asian and totalled about 30, of which 5 were White) who would fight back. So I guess I learned something.

    By high school, I was completely disillusioned with the educational system and didn't even bother trying to learn anything (from the teachers, that is) other than Shop classes (which turned out to be useful in the long run, as I can do all kinds of interesting stuff with metal and wood that most CS people can't). I dropped out after my fourth trip through the ninth grade (not due to poor academic performance, but because I was constantly thrown out schools, including the ones for "at-risk" students that I'd get sent to each year), technically while it was still illegal for me to do so (but the school district was so tired of my shit that they turned a blind eye).

    Got my GED a few months later, as soon as the law allowed me to take the test. Enrolled in college classes a few weeks later...and discovered a whole new world!

    One where the principles you quote were actually practiced. Since I'd still read my school texts, even when I was expelled, and have always been an avid learner, there was very little catch-up for me. School became a much more pleasant experience (even though I attended a university in the middle of Houston's 3rd Ward).

    The moral of the story? Public schools suck. They're useless, the teachers are incompetent, the administrators are even more so, and with all this "Politically Correct" bullshit going around now (not to mention draconian "Zero Tolerance" policies), my children (if and when I have any) will be home-schooled. Sure, I'll teach them the same stuff that I learned in school (like how to fight and how to not get caught smoking or selling drugs at school), but I'll teach them what they need to go on to college with open eyes and ears, ready to learn.

    I wish I could say that things will be different by the time I have children, but I doubt it. From my friends and colleagues, I've learned that their children have it even worse than I did (my friend's daughter was arrested - yeah, you heard correctly, arrested - for bringing a pair of regular, sharp scissors to school, and she was about 10 or so; another friend of mine went ballistic and pulled his son out of public school when he discovered that his son spent most of his time sitting there doing nothing while the teacher tried to teach baby books to kids that didn't speak English). So until schools stop catering to the lowest common denominator and start hiring qualified teachers (neither of which I see happening in my lifetime), public (and a lot of private) schools will always be useless.

    End of story. Class dismissed.

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