Situation vacant: technology triathletes wanted

Anne-Marie Slaughter in the Financial Times: “It is time to celebrate a new breed of triathletes, who work in technology. When I was dean in the public affairs school at Princeton, I would tell students to aim to work in the public, private and civic sectors over the course of their careers.

Solving public problems requires collaboration among government, business and civil society. Aspiring problem solvers need the culture and language of all three sectors and to develop a network of contacts in each.

The public problems we face, in the US and globally, require lawyers, economists and issue experts but also technologists. A lack of technologists capable of setting up, a website designed to implement the Affordable Care act, led President Barack Obama to create the US Digital Service, which deploys Swat tech teams to address specific problems in government agencies.

But functioning websites that deliver government services effectively are only the most obvious technological need for the public sector.

Government can reinvent how it engages with citizens entirely, for example by personalising public education with digital feedback or training jobseekers. But where to find the talent? The market for engineers, designers and project managers sees big tech companies competing for graduates from the world’s best universities.

Governments can offer only a fraction of those salaries, combined with a rigid work environment, ingrained resistance to innovation and none of the amenities and perks so dear to Silicon Valley .

Government’s comparative advantage, however, is mission and impact, which is precisely what Todd Park sells…Still, demand outstrips supply. ….The goal is to create an ecosystem for public interest technology comparable to that in public interest law. In the latter, a number of American philanthropists created role models, educational opportunities and career paths for aspiring lawyers who want to change the world.

That process began in the 1960s, and today every great law school has a public interest programme with scholarships for the most promising students. Many branches of government take on top law school graduates. Public interest lawyers coming out of government find jobs with think-tanks and advocacy organisations and take up research fellowships, often at the law schools that educated them. When they need to pay the mortgage or send their kids to college, they can work at large law firms with pro bono programmes….We need much more. Every public policy school at a university with a computer science, data science or technology design programme should follow suit. Every think-tank should also become a tech tank. Every non-governmental organisation should have at least one technologist on staff. Every tech company should have a pro bono scheme rewarding public interest work….(More)”