Why former Obama CTO Megan Smith may be the ideal advocate for pursuing an education in coding skills

Megan Smith might have spent some of her formative years growing up in Fort Erie, Ont., but her education and work has taken her to a role at one of the world’s biggest tech companies, a job at the White House and now a mission to bring coding skills to the world.

Smith was the keynote speaker at a recent women in technology summit hosted by Waterloo, Ont.-based enterprise software firm OpenText, but her message goes beyond gender, race, class or any other demographic identifier. Having led new business development at Google and serving as the third chief digital officer for the U.S. government under Barack Obama, she has come to developing digital talent in  programming, web development and similar areas is one of the only ways to ensure technology is used for the betterment of all mankind.

Speaking at the OpenText event, Smith said the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) should not lead people to expect that machines will one day do everything on her behalf. Instead, she pointed to a series of projects around the world where governments are opening up data sets to be used by citizen coders, and large organizations that are desperately seeking those who can mold technology in new and creative ways.

“Technology is for anything you can apply it to. We’ve got a bunch of problems in the world, but we’ve got a lot of talent, too, in this room and around the planet,” she said. “There are people who might apply technology to an agenda that they set themselves, rather than the agenda that’s previously been set by others about what and who tech is for.”

Smith could serve as great inspiration for anyone thinking about using Course Compare to take the next step in technology education, whether it’s to change careers, develop further in a current role or pursue a passion project. Now the CEO of Shift7, she is entirely focused on promoting participation in technology and tech education, which she said could unlock the “collective genius of the community.”

Though her own educational background was originally in mechanical engineering, where she earned a degree from MIT, Smith noted that shorter, IT-focused vocational courses like coding bootcamps are producing highly qualified job applicants that can rival those who might normally have come from more traditional four-year computer science programs. 

“All around the world, people are feeling nervous about the future, they’re feeling unincluded in the future,” she said. “We’re not using our resources across our governments and our communities to include everyone and make everyone part of the future. We need to figure out where are the populations we could pull in to a different experience? We need to bring more people to the table and inspire them with creative confidence. Only then can we solve some of our biggest problems.”

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