TheBridge profile: U.S. Congresswoman Suzan DelBene
Name: Suzan DelBene
Current city: Medina, WA
Current job: U.S. Congresswoman to Washington’s first district
Past job: VP of drugstore.com, CEO of Nimble Technology, VP of Mobile Communications at Microsoft, Strategic Advisor at Global Partnerships, Director - Washington State Department of Revenue
Q. Job advice in three words? Never underestimate yourself.
Q. Why are you part of TheBridge community, and why do you think it's important this community exists for tech, policy and political professionals? As someone who has made a personal bridge between my past career in tech and politics, this community is a bit of an anchor. Tech and policy are not always the most popular combination. Innovators can feel like they are being stifled by boundaries laid out by regulations and policies, and politicians can feel like they are falling behind as tech changes too quickly for us to keep up. These are not irreconcilable differences, and I believe TheBridge is a space where we can come to better understand ongoing issues in the tech/policy world. This constructive environment is beneficial to those on both sides.
Q. How are you currently bridging the gap between politics and tech / innovation and regulation? When drafting legislation it is always important to get feedback and input from all stakeholders. When I wrote my privacy bill, I worked with a diverse group including all sizes and types of technology companies as well as consumer groups to make sure we created a bill that protected consumer privacy without stifling innovation - a tricky thing to accomplish. Making sure to include many different viewpoints in the discussion is key to developing the best solutions for all scenarios.
Q. What can innovators learn from policymakers? I think policymakers can teach innovators how to look at things from multiple points of view and to understand the impacts of a product or service on differing communities. Legislators constantly must build consensus to get anything done. It takes time. Innovators are constantly moving when developing new ideas to be first to market and stay ahead of the competition. Taking the time to step back to look at things with a broad view and bring others along with you is also important to success.
Q. What can policymakers learn from innovators? I think innovators can teach policymakers how to embrace change or look at things with a new point of view. Every new class of freshmen members comes in with ideas and expectations that Congress can be slow to embrace. I think the innovators can help us learn to pick up the pace on modernizing policy and look towards the future to be proactive versus reactive.
Q. Favorite spot for a coffee meeting? I’m not in one place very much, but there always is a Starbucks nearby!
Q. Describe how a skill you learned in a previous job helped you in your current job. I worked as a high school football referee after college. It definitely helped prepare me for my current role by teaching to work under scrutiny. You have to work in front of a large crowd, make the best decisions you can based on the data available to you, and no matter what you decide someone is upset with you.
Q. Looking back, what advice would you give yourself in the beginning of your career? The same job advice I gave above—Never underestimate yourself. Having a career in a new field with few women, there weren’t many role models or mentors to help me see the possibilities ahead. And there were extra barriers to getting there. Knowing that you have important talents to offer helps make those barriers seem less insurmountable.
Q. Most underrated virtue in an employee? Being a team player. I currently have a small team of incredible staff members who work closely together to tackle multiple issue areas and many unexpected challenges. They are flexible and ready to jump in to help each other out. We accomplish so much more that way.
Q. Favorite book/podcast/long-form article you recommend? These Truths by Jill Lepore
Q. How do you unwind after work? There isn’t much ‘after work’ when you’re a member of Congress! I’m exaggerating, but my work days are long so finding time to unwind can be tough. I love to be outside and walk, run or hike
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