The United States has appointed a new chief technology officer
and, in turn, women across the country have gained a new role model
as they attempt to break through the
gender bias in the tech industry.
On Thursday, the White House announced the appointment of Google
veteran Megan Smith, who was most recently vice president of the
company’s Google[X] “moonshot lab.” In replacing the outgoing Todd
Park, she becomes the United States’ first female CTO.
It’s a fitting appointment. In addition to being a gifted
programmer and technologist, Smith has been one of the country’s
leading advocates in the movement to get more women into tech jobs.
Just this summer, Smith led the team behind Google’s Made with Code initiative, a new
campaign aimed at getting more young girls interesting in coding.
The MIT graduate was also a driving force inrecruiting more women to Google’s I/O
conference this year, where 20 percent of the audience was
female, up from just 8 percent last year.
In an interview with Wired earlier this summer, Smith explained
that one reason so few young women pursue careers in tech is that
they lack visible role models. “There are 2 to 3 million women
programmers in the world. We need to see them more,” she said.
Now, Smith is about to step into one of the most visible roles
there is. It’s also one of the most amorphous roles in government.
The responsibilities that accompany this position, which was
created just five years ago, have varied greatly in just a short
amount of time. Smith’s predecessor Todd Park’s tenure, for
instance, was largely defined by his hands-on efforts to salvage
the botched Healthcare.gov rollout, whereas Aneesh Chopra, the
country’s first CTO, fulfilled more of an advisory role.
According to The White House blog, in her new role, Smith “will
guide the Administration’s information-technology policy and
initiatives, continuing the work of her predecessors to accelerate
attainment of the benefits of advanced information and
communications technologies across every sector of the economy and
aspect of human well-being.”
Smith joins the White House at a time in which there is renewed
focus on using technology to improve government. The most recent
example of this is the establishment of the US Digital Service unit.
In all likelihood, Smith’s time will be more than occupied leading
this effort to modernise government. That means encouraging more
diversity in tech may well become a secondary mission.
And yet, having a woman fulfil one of the top roles in tech will
likely have its own halo effect. As Smith told a room full of young
girls at an event this summer introducing Google’s Made With Code
initiative, what women really need are more “heroes.” “Nobody’s
encouraging you. Nobody’s showing you the value of why you’re doing
this and why it’s so impactful on the world,” Smith said at the
time. “We want to show you that you have incredible heroes who
already do this work.”
With this new role, Smith certainly solidifies her position
among those heroes.
This article originally appeared on Wired.com