November 7, 2012

Obama Win Reinforces New Tech Era

Ian Armas Foster

It may have been President Barack Obama’s favorable standing with the auto industry that won him the state of Ohio and thus re-election last night, but it is his technology policies and initiatives that could define his legacy and the direction of the tech industry in the United States for the years to come.

Before the election, Obama addressed the New York Tech Meetup in a letter to discuss his technology plans and policies going forward. For Obama, the keys to ensuring a strong tech ecosystem in the United States include providing increased data access, creating a healthy environment in which startups can sprout, and educating and training the country’s youth for the science, mathematics, and technology jobs that come with those startups.

During Obama’s first four years in office, open source technology was behind many innovations, including advancements in Hadoop, smartphone platforms, and much more. In order to create the massive datasets from which to draw accurate insight, data availability becomes paramount. As such, Obama promised to help that process along in creating a CTO position for America. “I created the position of U.S. Chief Technology Officer so we can pursue new open data initiatives to unleash unprecedented volumes of government data related to energy, education, international development, public safety and other areas.”

From a worldwide tech perspective, if Obama can make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to set up shop in the United States, it would give those ensuing companies extended access to the markets and talent available in the States. “We have a start-up visa program that’s allowing foreign entrepreneurs to establish businesses in America and create American jobs,” Obama said in his letter regarding tech startup.

However, there is still somewhat of a dearth of American technical talent. It helps little that American schools are considered to be falling behind their Western European and Asian counterparts with regard to math and science. Obama hopes to address that with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) teaching recruiting effort that has been underway since he first took office.

“I have set concrete goals to create an economy built to last, including recruiting 100,000 math and science teachers over the next 10 years and training 2 million workers at community colleges for jobs in fields like health care, advanced manufacturing, clean energy and information technology,” Obama wrote.

Unemployment was a hot issue in this election cycle. However, those in the data management industry suspect that there exists a premium on talent, especially with regard to data science. Greenplum estimates that the United States will be short 140,000 to 190,000 data science jobs by the year 2018. Education initiatives such as those Obama has proposed could help bridge that gap.

There also needs to be an increased sense within the populous that technology and data analytics are important. That cause won a victory last night as well.

Nate Silver created a controversial blog called 538 for the New York Times in which he used polling data to predict how the states would go in the electoral college. While most political pundits looked at the polls in battleground states such as Ohio, Virginia, and Pennsylvania and dismissed them due to their being within the “margin of error,” Silver aggregated that data, weighted it, and came up with projections that ultimately proved accurate.

While the fact itself that his methods were widely criticized by the punditry is not particularly important, that brought awareness to what Silver was doing. Now that Silver correctly predicted 50 out of 50 states, there looks to be a realization that data analysis, when applied properly, can deliver powerful insights.

Silver was hardly working with big data (he didn’t have to rent out any Hadoop clusters to aggregate poll data), but the principle under which he worked serves as an undercurrent of the big data initiative today: put together more data to better understand the market, but make sure that data is relevant.

If enterprises realize that opportunity and if Obama delivers on his technological promises, the tech industry will enjoy the path ahead.

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