Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Engineer -> Cyber -> Startup -> ... Politics?

 

Bloomberg photo of me looking serious in front of computers.

As I wrote in my last post, I've decided that despite spending my entire career in technology (and almost all of it in cyber security), to run for public office. It's not a typical path, and it's not one I suspect is permanent. I outlined some of the reasons how I decided to run in my earlier post, so I won't outline them again here. What I did want to do, is spell out some of the things I think an engineer/nerd/tech-person/hacker/etc. brings to the table from a skill set/perspective point of view and some tech-focused goals. You can see my specific career trajectory at Linkedin, and although I've been fortunate to have a really cool career I honestly believe that many of the technical people I've worked with share most if not all of the aptitudes I describe below. A few of them are unique to cyber folks, and a few are also specific to hackers, but most I think apply across members of the engineering/technology fields.

Aptitudes

  • Analytical mindset
  • Ability to work with numbers/large data sets/statistics/budgets/finances
  • Ability (love?) of reading specs, protocol docs, legal documents, prior art, etc.
  • Ability to focus on facts and not just the emotional component to complex issues
  • Strategic mindset looking at long term implications and not just short term
  • Understanding of computers and technology and software
    • How they're built and how to build them
    • How to use them effectively
    • How to hack/exploit them. And how to (mostly) secure them
    • How to communicate about technical topics to non technical people
    • How and when to apply technology and when to focus on people/process
  • Importance of STEM education
  • How technology drives jobs, education, economic growth, and organizational efficiency
  • Ability to deal with people who passionately take a position and focus on common ground and how to bridge the communication divide. (Linux vs. Windows, Emacs/Vim, SW or HW problem, etc.!)
  • How cyber security affects policy (voting, privacy, corporate liability, government IT spending, etc.)
  • Strong work ethic
  • Seeing new ways of doing things, inventing new ideas.
  • Love of learning, digging into complicated topics and not looking for easy answers
  • Dissatisfaction with the status quo, finding ways to improve processes.
  • Ability to multi-task (I've been told ADHD is common in hackers, I know I have it!)
  • Rational decision making, processes driven by facts/logic/data and not rhetoric/rumor/etc. 

 There are plenty of things engineers ALSO need to have to be an effective politician. A love of people. Good interpersonal/writing/presenting skills. Empathy/compassion. These came from genetics (my extroverted non-engineering mother complemented my Norwegian engineering father nicely!), faith (hard to say you love God if you can't love the people in front of you!) and life (you grow in compassion and empathy as you walk with people who are suffering, experience trauma/difficulties yourself, have children, etc.!)

Tech-Oriented Goals

  • Help secure funding to increase broadband and 5G access across New Hampshire
  • Review and enhance state policies, procedures and technical posture around cyber security, computerized voting, remote education, internal and citizen-facing government software, government networks/systems
  • Ensure the state government works closely with federal agencies to receive and share cyber security threat information and develop policies/procedures for the state and support towns/county-level cyber security posture and programs
  • Pursue right-to-repair legislation that ensures that citizens and companies who purchase products are allowed to repaid/maintain those products
  • Increase government transparency and electronic records access to the public
  • Increase the implementation and security around electronic medical records
  • Accelerate the digitization of legacy paper/analog based processes and procedures, such as requesting legal documents
  • Support initiatives to develop enhanced technical literacy in young people (computer science, IT, science/math curriculum) and retraining programs to provide upward/lateral mobility, particularly with under-represented/minority groups
  • Balanced, data driven approach to the increasing use of physical and online surveillance technologies and the inherent tradeoffs between increased security and decreased privacy
  • Analysis of data-ownership models and the application of privacy-preserving technologies to encrypt/anonymize citizen data wherever possible
  • Embrace of digital currency options and new technologies to enhance business/citizen experiences in the state (electronic tolling, online registration, etc.)
  • Support robust, reliable, high quality online learning options Kindergarten through adult educational levels for accredited and unaccredited programs

I'm sure there are plenty of other things that will come up, and of course my focus isn't purely on technical topics. (Low taxes is one I'm fond of!) But that's a good list of things I think about and a unique POV to bring to the capital leveraging my tech background.

Would love to see others in the tech/security community also get involved in public service, either serving in government or even better volunteering for roles such as poll workers, running for local/state office and supporting good people in your communities who do run. If anyone has questions for me about the process, the campaign, issues, etc. feel free to reach out. Easiest way is email or Twitter.

If anyone wants to volunteer or donate to my campaign, I need a ton of support! From my last post: 

"I discovered that the senator currently representing the district (who by all accounts is a very nice guy) is receiving almost $140k a year from a special interest group, lists government "lobbying" and "representation" among his official duties, doesn't recuse himself from matters related to the special interest and in fact puts out press releases bragging about the millions of dollars in benefits that flow back to the special interest. Not coincidentally, the special interest also contributed over $75k to his campaign"

 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Latest initiative


In 2016 I fulfilled my dream of starting and selling a successful high tech firm. We built a great team where we treated customers and employees with respect and a high performance culture. Siege Technologies built awesome technologies and made a difference in the world which was very rewarding.

I left the company in 2019 to focus on investing, advising startups, and philanthropy work full time. By 2020 I was the managing partner at 10X Venture Partners, GP of a small fund (both at 10X and the fund I'm investing for charitable benefit), advising a number of tech firms and serving on numerous charitable boards doing inspiring things like fighting sexual exploitation, poverty, and addiction (and volunteering/advising a few others.) It was/is rewarding work and seemed like a great place to be for a while going forward. 

But in the summer of 2020, I read a paper arguing that government policies were far more impactful to help the poor than individual philanthropic programs. Minutes after finishing it, two random strangers suggested running for state Senate, coincidentally within 5-10 minutes of each other! Like most people, I didn't have a positive view of politics or politicians and wasn't enthusiastic about the idea at first. Or after a second glance. But after further reflection and numerous discussions, I realized that:

  1. The state Senate is a place that you can make a difference. Numerous important bills came down to a single Senate vote in the last session, and each senator plays a critical role in the direction of the state. NH has over 1.36M people and a budget of over $13B so the impact you can have is much larger than regional charities serving dozens or even hundreds of people. 
  2. If all the good/moral people avoid politics, what can we say if we don't like the people who are in office? Despite the negative views of politicians, there are some good people who serve for the right reasons and not more base drivers like money, career advancement, or pride. And while some may be motivated by greed/anger/extreme ideological reasons or even boredom, there are some who run because they genuinely care and want to give back.
  3. While I've never considered myself a political type, many of the skills I've developed and my strengths and weaknesses will transfer well to a campaign. The campaign trail is much like running a startup and days are consumed with raising funds from "investors", meeting with various stakeholders, learning the regulatory framework, managing operations, building a team, planning and executing a budget, marketing, and trying to attract a large group of people who believe in what you're offering. While serving as a senator will be very different, things like people skills, textual/policy/logical/budget analysis, public speaking, integrity, work ethic, ability to focus on creating "win-win" scenarios, love of others, and conflict resolution will be valuable.
  4. I discovered that the senator currently representing the district (who by all accounts is a very nice guy) is receiving almost $140k a year from a special interest group, lists government "lobbying" and "representation" among his official duties, doesn't recuse himself from matters related to the special interest and in fact puts out press releases bragging about the millions of dollars in benefits that flow back to the special interest. Not coincidentally, the special interest also contributed over $75k to his campaign. 😒 And it's all legal in NH, since senators only make $100/year and we have very lax laws around how elected officials are compensated. When I worked at DARPA, I wasn't usually allowed to accept a free lunch (there were limited exceptions) because of the concern that that free $10 ham sandwich might unduly influence your next contract award... but in NH it's OK to accept 6 digits in personal compensation from groups that lobby for government money while serving as a senator. That's wrong and needs to be fixed.

Filing to run at the state house

As a result of these considerations I decided to run for Senate. I've really enjoyed getting to meet people from around the state and learn more about the challenges and issues facing the state (like COVID-19 and the opioid crisis) and some the unique aspects of our state/government that make New Hampshire unique and such a great place to live.

I don't plan to put the campaign stuff on this blog, will keep it to tech/entrepreneur content. But as a result of the campaign (and hopefully winning/serving!) I suspect that means I won't be posting as much here for a while as I'll be posted on the campaign site at syversen4senate.com, and on socials on FB and Twitter.