The CTO of the United States

I’ve been struggling to write a comprehensive post of the Grace Hopper conference (GHC) that I went to in October.  It was an action-packed three days followed by a day with my family in Austin, Texas, and followed by a mad rush to the airport to come home early to surprise Mark, and then a week hosting Mark’s parents.  Couple all of that with hosting a weekend guest, having a Halloween party, going to Chicago for a weekend, planning a wedding, and doing a million loads of laundry… I’ve been exhausted and I’m still struggling to emotionally recover.

I figure it’s my blog so I can do what I want, and I want to write about GHC in chunks.  Today I want to write about one of my new heroines, Megan Smith.  I’ll be honest — before GHC, I had no idea who she was.  On the first day of the conference, she was one of the speakers in the afternoon plenary.  She spoke after the CEO of GoDaddy, and I was so annoyed with the GoDaddy talk that I almost left.  I was sitting in the second row though so I figured that I should probably stay.  I’m SO SO SO glad that I stayed!  Megan Smith is awesome.

Megan Smith is the Chief Technology Officer of the United States.  The CTO of the USA.  How badass is that title?!  She became the CTO in September 2014.  The position itself was first staffed in April of 2009.  She is the third CTO.  The CTO is charged with “using applied technology to help create jobs, reduce the costs of health care and help keep the nation secure” (thanks Wikipedia!).

A little background on Megan Smith: she was Vice President of Google[x] and former CEO of PlanetOut (LGBT online community in the early days of the web).  When she was at Google, she helped create the Women Techmakers group — the very same group that sent me to Google I/O and the Grace Hopper conference this year.  She also co-founded the Malala Fund which supports helping girls get educations all around the world.

Megan Smith began her talk with remembering the women leaders before us.  She showed everyone some awesome footage from Grace Hopper’s archives and talked about how the government is promoting technology education.  She also talked about how President Obama is “our science and technology president” — a good reminder of how we want our presidents to be in touch with the technology the American people use on a day to day basis.  It’s easy to forget that the stereotypically slow government has to move at a more rapid pace to keep up with technology.  I’m glad we have a CTO from Silicon Valley that can revolutionize the government’s tech sector.

Megan Smith spoke briefly about the United States Digital Service (USDS) which seeks to improve government websites.  I say she spoke briefly about it because she chose to share her plenary time with 6 other women from the USDS.  Each of them spoke about the USDS project that they were working on: revolutionizing health care with, modernizing the immigration system by making it more user-friendly, improving the services for veterans, combating human trafficking, streamlining picking a college and obtaining loans, and opening up government information to the public.

I was blown away at the range of government services that were being drastically improved.  I got goosebumps when they talked about how they were making it easier for people to apply to sponsor their family members to come to the United States.  I remember all of the months and months on end when my parents applied to get my aunts and uncles to be able to come over from Bangladesh.  Even as a kid, I knew it was this complicated task that you had to read over a million times and then some just to find the right set of dozens of interconnected forms.  My mom is a native English speaker which is invaluable in the process.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who have English as their second language. I was moved to tears when they spoke about simplifying the process and the language with the new and improved immigration website.  I have immense respect for the people who are doing UI and UX on all of the government websites.

Megan Smith ended her talk by getting everyone pumped for finding the Declaration of Sentiments.  The Declaration of Sentiments is the foundational document for women’s rights, drafted in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.  They can’t find it in the Library of Congress.  You can read more about it here (

tl;dr Megan Smith is the awesome Chief Technology Officer of the United States and the United States Digital Services is revolutionizing federal websites.

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