Obama’s CTO pick: good for higher ed?

Aneesh Chopra, the United States' first CTO
Aneesh Chopra, the United States' first CTO
President Obama announced this morning that Aneesh Chopra, Virginia’s secretary of technology, will become our nation’s first chief technology officer.

Judging from the White House’s technology agenda, the CTO’s main job appears to be mainly making sure that governmental agencies “use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.” But we know from Obama’s remarks today, there’s more to the job than that.

Obama said the CTO “will promote technological innovation to help achieve our most urgent priorities — from creating jobs and reducing health care costs to keeping our nation secure.”

That sounds like a bigger job than just keeping the tubes from clogging. It also sounds like something that could have far-reaching effects. Chopra’s duties might be of interest to higher ed types, who are also involved in achieving our nation’s most urgent priorities as they pertain to education, research and technology transfer issues.

So, how does the new guy look, from a higher ed perspective?

It’s hard to say just yet. But from the little I’ve read about it this morning, I’d say, Not too shabby.

Tim O’Reilly thinks Chopra will make a fantastic CIO and cites a few achievements during Chopra’s tenure in Virginia that relate to education. Specifically:

Integrating iTunes U with Virginia’s education assessment framework. Virginia plans to use iTunes U to share digital content at the K-12 level, and that content will all support the Virginia Standards of Learning.

Initiating the Learning Apps Development Challenge, a competition for the best iPhone and iPod Touch applications for middle-school math teaching.

Entrepreneurial Silicon Valley types apparently disagree with Obama’s choice and O’Reilly’s endorsement, mainly because Chopra doesn’t have any start-up experience.

Well, he doesn’t have much technology experience, either. As TechCrunch points out, Chopra is not a lifelong coder.

But he is an experienced policymaker who knows the ropes of bureaucracy, and O’Reilly thinks that’s what the federal government needs for this job. Plus, he’s been with a think tank and has experience working in the health care industry.

Chopra has been focused for the past three years on the specific technology challenges of government. Industry experience does little to prepare you for the additional complexities of working within the bounds of government policy, competing constituencies, budgets that often contain legislative mandates, regulations that may no longer be relevant but are still in force, and many other unique constraints.

Furthermore, O’Reilly says, Chopra grasps the importance of open-source — not just in software, but as an approach to governance, innovation and forward movement. Much like his new boss, he sees government as “an enabler, not the ultimate solution provider.”

I’m hopeful that this sort of approach at the highest levels of government — an interest in facilitating the use of technology to enable learning, research and the accomplishment of other goals — will translate to other departments that set the higher ed and research agenda in this nation, such as Education and Energy, and research agencies (the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, etc.), to move the education agenda forward.

That’s a lot to ask of one governmental office — especially a new one with such an ambitious agenda and full to-do list of its own. At the same time, however, sometimes it takes a new start, a fresh approach, to get the things done that need to get done.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

One thought on “Obama’s CTO pick: good for higher ed?”

  1. Since I was offline this weekend, I missed this news, but Chopra sounds promising. While we need more technological innovation, there are plenty of innovations that haven’t been widely adopted–and could be. Jeff Brenzel at Yale is fond of urging us not to let perfection be the enemy of the good; there’s always going to be a “better” technological solution–but there are many, many solutions that are good enough that many of us will benefit from them. You’ve cited two great examples.

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