10 Contenders (and One Long Shot) for Obama's CTO
Bill Clinton famously sent just two emails during his entire eight years as president. George W. Bush has preferred radio addresses to communicate with the American people.
President-elect Barack Obama, on the other hand, has demonstrated a very strong grasp of digital technologies and their potential to connect constituents and even change the way the U.S. government does business. During the campaign, Obama announced his intention to appoint a national CTO to help improve the sprawling federal technology infrastructure and associated policies. Already there is a great deal of speculation about who might get the CTO job. In the following pages, we've profiled some of the people who have been floated as potential candidates. Despite the fact that the list is heavily weighted toward West Coast technology entrepreneurs, it gives some fascinating insights into the heroes of the software and Internet industries. A few of the names will undoubtedly surprise you, including one well-known long shot appearing at the end of the list.
Microsoft's co-founder and former CEO has experience building and running a large technology organization, and through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has demonstrated interests in using technology to improve healthcare and education. Nevertheless, Industry Standard readers have panned him as a pick for CTO.
One of Obama's former colleagues from the Harvard Law Review, Genachowski advised two FCC chairmen during the Clinton administration. In recent years, he founded a startup incubator and has helped the president-elect formulate technology policy as a senator. Genachowski now advises the transition team on the CTO decision.
Google's CEO has been referred to as a "third leg" to co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, but Schmidt's technology management credentials are hard to beat: He has a PhD in computer science and ran Novell before being hired by Paige and Brin. He's already advising Obama on technology issues, but has reportedly said he's not interested in the CTO position.
The Stanford Law School professor behind the Creative Commons movement would bring a deep understanding of technology law and policy to Washington. But Lessig's appointment would almost certainly be opposed by powerful legal and business interests -- and their friends in Congress -- for his stances on copyright reform and other issues. He has no experience running a large technology organization, which makes this rumor hard to believe.
Felten is another academic whose areas of expertise include security, privacy, and open-source technologies. He may understand software and Internet-related policies, but he doesn't have experience running a large organization.
The KPCB partner and co-founder of Sun Microsystems has excellent technology, management, and entrepreneurial instincts -- as well as some interesting ideas about technology, ethics, and the future of the human race. Would these attributes help him roll with the punches in Washington?
Amazon's founder and CEO has some of the best qualifications for the CTO position in terms of management experience and evaluating emerging technologies. Bezos also has a very strong grasp of many important policy issues. However, convincing him to set aside Amazon and his other ventures might be difficult.
Microsoft's CEO has a reputation for toughness and an aversion to failure, and runs one of the largest technology companies in the world. These elements would serve him well in Washington, but he's not as strong a technologist as Bill Gates. His appointment would undoubtedly be protested by open-source advocates and competitors, who would fear Windows and other Microsoft products being given preference in federal technology contracts and policy decisions.
Shah is one of the few rumored contenders to have actually worked in government. She currently heads global development initiatives at Google, but prior to that worked at Goldman Sachs, the Center for American Progress, and the U.S. Treasury Department. She's also advising Obama's transition team on the CTO search.
Gips is the vice president of corporate strategy and development for Level 3 Communications, and served Al Gore. Although Gips didn't help the former vice president invent the Internet, he was Gore's chief domestic policy advisor and has a deep understanding of technology and communication policies. He too is advising Obama's transition team.
Long shot: Jerry Yang
We had to rub our eyes when we saw this name on the list of contenders for Obama's national CTO. There's no logical reason that the Yahoo CEO and co-founder should be on the list, considering Yahoo's abysmal performance under his watch. Indeed, the source of the rumor appears to be a blog poll. The results of the poll are telling.