I couldn’t be more delighted by the announcement today that Todd Park has been named the new Chief Technology Officer for the United States, replacing Aneesh Chopra.
I first met Todd in 2008 at the urging of Mitch Kapor, who thought that Todd was the best exemplar in the healthcare world of my ideas about the power of data to transform business and society, and that I would find him to be a kindred spirit. And so it was. My lunch with Todd turned into a multi-hour brainstorm as we walked around the cliffs of Lands End in San Francisco. Todd was on fire with ideas about how to change healthcare, and the opportunity of the new job he’d just accepted, to become the CTO at HHS.
Subsequently, I helped Todd to organize a series of workshops and conferences at HHS to plan and execute their open data strategy. I met with Todd and told him how important it was not just to make data public and hope developers would come, but to actually do developer evangelism. I told him how various tech companies ran their developer programs, including some stories about Amazon’s rollout of AWS: they had first held a small, private event to which they invited people and companies who’d been unofficially hacking on their data, told them their plans, and recruited them to build apps against the new APIs that were planned. Then, when they made their public announcement, they had cool apps to show, not just good intentions.
Todd immediately grasped the blueprint, and executed with astonishing speed. Before long, he held a workshop for an invited group of developers, entrepreneurs and health data wonks to map out useful data that could be liberated, and useful applications that could be built with it. Six months later, he held a public conference to showcase the 40-odd applications that had been developed. Now in its third year, the event has grown into what Todd calls the Health Datapalooza. As noted on GigaOm, the event has already led to several venture backed startup. (Applications are open for startups to be showcased at this year’s event, June 5-6 in Washington D.C.)
Since I introduced him to Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, Todd has been introducing the methodology to Washington, insisting on programs that can show real results (learning and pivots) in only 90 days. He just knows how to make stuff happen.
Todd is also an incredibly inspiring speaker. At my various Gov 2.0 events, he routinely got a standing ovation. His enthusiasm, insight, and optimism are infectious.
When Todd Park talks, I listen. (Photo by James Duncan Davidson from the 2010 Gov 2.0 Summit. http://www.flickr.com/photos/oreillyconf/4967787323/in/photostream/)
Many will ask about Todd’s technical credentials. After all, he is trained as a healthcare economist, not an engineer or scientist. There are three good answers:
1. Economists are playing an incredibly important role at today’s technology companies, as extracting meaning and monetization from massive amounts of data become one of the key levers of success and competitive advantage. (Think Hal Varian at Google, working to optimize the ad auction.) Healthcare in particular is one of those areas where science, human factors, and economics are on a collision course, but virtually every sector of our nation is undergoing a transformation as a result of intelligence derived from data analysis. That’s why I put Todd on my list for Forbes.com of the world’s most important data scientists.
2. Todd is an enormously successful technology entrepreneur, with two brilliant companies – Athenahealth and Castlight Health – under his belt. In each case, he was able to succeed by understanding the power of data to transform an industry.
3. He’s an amazing learner. In a 1998 interview describing the founding of Athena Health, he described his leadership philosophy: “Put enough of an idea together to inspire a team of really good people to jump with you into a general zone like medical practices. Then, just learn as much as you possibly can and what you really can do to be helpful and then act against that opportunity. No question.”
Todd is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met, in a career filled with remarkable people. As Alex Howard notes, he should be an inspiration for more “retired” tech entrepreneurs to go into government. This is a guy who could do literally anything he put his mind to, and he’s taking up the challenge of making our government smarter about technology. I want to put out a request to all my friends in the technology world: if Todd calls you and asks you for help, please take the call, and do whatever he asks.