Vint Cerf Interviews U.S. CTO Megan Smith

By Renee Dopplick, ACM Director of Public Policy
June 16, 2015

ACM Past President Vint Cerf interviewed U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith for this month’s Communications of the ACM magazine. She spoke on key policy objectives, the need to increase the number of students in STEM fields, and the landscape of U.S. technology competitiveness in the global economy. Smith formerly served as a Vice President at Google before President Obama appointed her as U.S. CTO last September.

Smith said her job is to advise the President and the White House staff on how technology, innovation, and data can be harnessed for the benefit of the American people. Her initial focus upon joining the White House included policies related to patent reform, copyright, big data, and privacy. She also has been focusing on increasing the technology talent inside government, such as what exists in the new U.S. Digital Service.

Smith said some of her key objectives are to bring the technology skills and innovative talents that flourish in the private sector into government, expand open government data initiatives for innovative public and commercial use, and increase opportunities and excitement among students, including women and minorities, in STEM fields.

Increasing young people’s exposure to science, technology, engineering, and math is key to U.S. competitiveness in the world, Smith said. Sometimes the difficulty students have is discovering available opportunities, she said. “But some people are not getting access” to STEM educational opportunities, she said, “and we want to fix that.” She sees a need to focus on making sure that youth “feel really fluent in coding and with these kinds of technologies.”

Educational and workplace opportunities also need to be more inclusive. She has been working on ways to increase the visibility of technical women and minorities. Women made up about 40% of the computing field in the 1980s, she said. Now, “for some reason, in computer science we’re staying at 10%, 15%, maybe 20% women at any given time.”

She concluded by thanking Cerf for his “incredible leadership, and what you’ve brought to our world with your innovation, your invention, and also just the way you approach the world. For people who haven’t gotten to interact with Vint, he is an amazing colleague who includes everyone, encourages everyone, and can see how big the talent base of this world truly is.”

Read the full interview.