A Nerd’s Open Letter to President Barack Obama
I originally wrote this open letter to President Barack Obama in January of 2017, the month that our 44th President of these United States was transitioning out of power and returning to private life. Three years later, deep systemic inequities are being laid bare by an unrelenting, discriminating silent enemy, the effects of which are compounded by a corrupt, incorrigible, and incompetent leader. Now more than ever, we need to give talented, empathetic, and humble technologists a seat at the table, so that they may help elevate the voices of the disenfranchised, to those yearning to be heard.
Dear Mr. President:
I will begin this letter to you as I will end it: by telling you, in my humblest voice, thank you for your service to our country.
In a way, I work for you. For the last six months, I have been dedicating my time to the The U.S. Digital Service, now serving as the Director of the Digital Services for the United States Army. Like my brothers and sisters in the Digital Service, I come from the private sector, having worked with organizations like Amazon, Sequoia Capital, and some startups you’ve probably never heard of.
As transition fast approaches, I felt compelled to write this letter to tell you, among other things, that, whether you are consciously aware of it or not, your Presidency is inspiring a whole cadre of technologists, “geeks” if you will, to harness their unique abilities and channel them not towards helping a cab get to a passenger more efficiently, or to make a search engine more performant, or help a box of stuff get to a customer faster; but rather towards service of the American people. That a bunch of geeks would leave the comforts of sushi lunches, rich stock grants, lavish workspaces and generous salaries to enter a foreign maze of government bureaucracy, draconian rules and the jargon of political organizations is awe-inspiring.
Far too many of my peers in technology continue to feel either cynical or paralyzed when it comes to the political process, sentiments that were exacerbated during our most recent Presidential election. And I don’t necessarily blame them. These past few years have exposed an America that is still a work-in-progress; with respect to income inequality, criminal justice reform for our black and brown youth, the dawn of automation and the sun-setting of old world economies, and racism. Where does one possibly start to tackle these seemingly insurmountable, highly complex and nuanced issues that threaten to tear the fabric of America? The vastness of work to be done, coupled with the gravity of the challenge can buckle the most well-intentioned citizen’s desire to serve the public.
Tonight in your farewell speech to the American people, you reminded me of what I believe to be your most valuable gift to us: your optimism about the future, your innate belief in the goodness of all Americans, especially young Americans. You hold us, the American people, to a higher standard of decency, participation, and service to each other, a bar you consistently raise by example. Whether or not we agree with your politics and posture on issues both foreign and domestic, we are inspired by your basic belief that we can do more. That we, any one of us, can always do more.
So here we find ourselves, Silicon Valley “elite” technologists, many of us temporarily orphaned from our husbands and wives and sons and daughters, in Washington D.C., humbled by the community of public servants we now rub elbows with, trying to employ our unique abilities to build a government more connected to the people it serves. And the floodgates are opening. More and more young Americans are discarding their cynicism in exchange for activism — from peaceful protesting, to local volunteering, to working for vehicles like the United States Digital Service. Know and understand in your heart of hearts that it is your vision of the future of America that has inspired me to serve my country in the most productive way that I know how. Through your decency, your dignity, your family, and your work ethic, you’ve infected me with not the desire, but the need to serve.
It has been thus far one of the greatest honors of my life to serve during your administration. And so I end this letter to you in the way it began: by telling you, in my humblest voice, thank you for your service to our country.
With humility and gratitude,