Making the Tech Industry a Force for Good in NYC

In today’s Wall Street Journal there’s a detailed look at how New York City’s tech industry is looking to influence politics in the city. I’m happy to be quoted in the story, but wanted to offer more context about some of my comments.

When I ran for the NY Tech Meetup board just over two years ago, I had a few simple goals:

  • Make the NYTM community reflect NYC, in all its diversity of gender, ethnicity, identity and economics.
  • Recognize we’re in competition with other cities, especially in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, for talent and innovation.
  • Broaden the definition of our “technology” community to include those in the maker movement.
  • Develop the political power necessary to hold elected officials accountable to the technology industry.

It’s that final point which is most important. We need tech to become a political power. And just a year after these goals were described, Mike Bloomberg came to speak at the NY Tech Meetup. One year after that, Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States spoke at the NY Tech Meetup. Just a few days after that, both major candidates for President of the United States sent the NY Tech Meetup community policy statements about how they would better serve our industry.

It’s important to note: This is about the technology community, not just the technology industry — many of the most important innovations happen outside of companies. And it’s about much more than just the NY Tech Meetup, despite my pride in our organization, because we’re not yet as representative within the meetup as we’ll need to be to speak for the breadth of NYC’s tech community.

Clearly, there’s been a dramatic shift in recognition of the political importance of the technology community. So what do we do with that power?

Beyond a Pledge

In the Wall Street Journal story, I’m quoted saying “To make a difference in this and any other campaign, tech needs its Grover Norquist pledge”. I said this, but I want to emphasize that I am not endorsing the inflexibility and dogmatic perspective that something like Norquist’s anti-tax pledges demand of policy makers.

Instead, my point is that the clarity and coherence of goals as represented by a list of policy priorities can be a useful tool for a community. In our case, having a list of the tech community’s priorities both serves to give politicians a clear understanding of what we care about as well as to force the tech community to have a conversation with itself about what we value.

As I mention in the article, the tech industry is not made up of traditional allies; It forms alliances between capital and labor, between management and workers, and even aspires to better connect companies and customers through its focus on design and usability. The crossing of these lines should be seen as an opportunity to pursue goals that are equally important to people of every class or background, and the initial focus on policy for education and access are a promising hint that perhaps this will be the case.

I’m optimistic about the potential for the technology community in New York City to become just the latest community that graduates into having significant political power.