Feb 8, 2017

Obama techie: Silicon Valley under-appreciates government

Josh Miller, a former Facebook product manager and entrepreneur who served as the White House's first product chief under President Obama, started a new job this week. He's now entrepreneur-in-residence at Thrive Capital, the venture capital firm founded by Ivanka Trump's brother-in-law, Joshua Kushner.

Joshua's brother Jared, of course, is a top adviser to Trump. In an interview with Axios, Miller, 26, said he isn't at all concerned about the family ties, and spoke about they key differences between Silicon Valley and the government.

Why we care: Tech employees from Silicon Valley flocked to Washington for stints in the Obama Administration, helping in some ways to bridge the cultural divide between the two coasts. It remains to be seen how Trump's own digital operation will shake out, but it's a safe bet that Silicon Valley workers won't be lining up to help the administration after the immigration uproar.

Silicon Valley's misconceptions about government: "I think people do not appreciate how much the government does for them...I know there are very sort of libertarian tendencies in the Valley … I think people just latch on to the worst examples, which I think you can do anywhere."

Regulations aren't all bad: "As a private citizen, I don't want anyone to play fast and loose with my health and safety," says Miller, adding there's always room for improvement.

Government is more diverse than the tech industry: "Coming from a white male-dominated world of Silicon Valley, it was so refreshing and so wonderful to work with such a diverse group of people," says Miller. He adds that the diversity he encountered wasn't just limited to race and gender, but also extended to the ideas during brainstorming sessions, and people's personal and professional backgrounds.

Meeting people where they are: That's how Miller described his team's approach to various projects. For example, he helped get the White House on Snapchat because that's how many young Americans are choosing to engage. His team also built a chat bot for Facebook's Messenger app. "The idea that citizens are talking to each other on social media every day but there wasn't a way to send us a message on social media just felt like a hole in our suite of tech products," he said.

The answer is not always an app: "Most hard problems cannot be fixed by apps and websites," says Miller of one of the hardest lessons he learned during his tenure. At times, he would be invited to a meeting to help, only to realize that "this is not a technology problem, this is not something that the internet can really solve. We need Congress or we need policy."

Go deeper