TheBridge profile: Vivian Graubard
Name: Vivian Graubard
Current city: Los Angeles, CA
Current job: Director of Strategy for Public Interest Technology, New America
Past job: Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer and founding member of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS)
Q. Favorite spot for a coffee meeting? The Sofitel in D.C. is always quiet, has great cappuccinos and a wide tea selection, and is open but cozy.
Q. Describe how a skill you learned in a previous job helped you in your current job. Context switching! One of my first jobs at the White House (and ever!) was as a confidential assistant to the US Chief Technology Officer. Because there were so many portfolios our office covered and so many different people we met with on any given day, I learned to context switch while also being able to retain a lot of information. My brain became a rolodex and I learned to connect the dots between people in order to make useful and strategic connections.
At USDS I would often lead multiple, concurrent discovery sprints. One day I might be focusing on the refugee admissions process and the next I was in West Virginia trying to close data loopholes in the gun background check system. In my current role, I’m always developing new projects and partnerships, and have daily meetings on a broad range of issues -- from criminal justice reform in Los Angeles to family separation and the opioid epidemic. My ability to switch lanes in an instant and recall information while remaining focused and not losing sight of our goals has served me well.
Q. Job advice in three words? Speak the truth.
Q. How are you (or your company, org, nonprofit) currently bridging the gap between politics and tech / innovation and regulation? When I left the administration, it was clear that we had made strides in bringing technologists to the implementation process -- and even still, we have a long way to go. But an area that I felt was often neglected was the role of technologists in designing policy. It's not enough to just implement policy well, especially if the policy is not centered around users or their needs! Our goal in building the Public Interest Technology team at New America is to create better models for designing user centered and results driven policy. Better policy design will lead to better policy implementation down the road -- especially if the implementers are at the table early and often!
Q. What can Silicon Valley (innovators) teach DC (regulators)? D.C. hasn’t yet figured out how not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Silicon Valley has perfected the art of iterating, and that’s something that D.C. should embrace. Taking smaller steps that build to bigger outcomes over time could really reshape policy making.
Q. What can DC (regulators) teach Silicon Valley (innovators)? The government is really good at accounting for a wide variety of users because they have to—an agency has to design systems and products with all of the potential users of that system in mind. They can’t just decide to not create a process for someone who is visually impaired because doing so would create more work. So when the government gets things right, it can be pretty inclusive and we know that products that are inclusive and accessible result in better experiences for everyone!
Q. If you had to live in another city, which would it be? Paris! I love walking the Seine early in the morning and late at night while snacking on a croissant (or raspberry macarons!)
Q. Last time you were completely unplugged? Never, but I’m working on it for my honeymoon this fall.
Q. How often do you work from home? I travel a lot, so when I’m not traveling, usually around two weeks out of the month, I work from home.
Q. Which Member of Congress / regulator is most tech savvy? There are a lot of incredible people in Congress who I admire. But respectfully, the bar for tech savviness is set so low, which underscores the need for tech expertise in policymaking, because every law has a tech component now, whether in design or in implementation. That’s why programs like Tech Congress, which places technologists on Congressional staffs, are so important.
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