Interview with Miguel A. Gamiño Jr., CPA
Chief Information Officer (CIO), City & County of San Francisco (appointed 12/4/14)
Executive Director of the Department of Technology
Miguel A Gamiño Jr. provides strategic direction for San Francisco’s use of technology. He counsels Mayor Lee, the Board of Supervisors and city departments regarding opportunities to leverage technology to improve government services. Gamiño is also a successful tech entrepreneur, having launched two successful IT companies in El Paso, Texas before heading to the Bay Area.
MEDA: First off, congratulations on your new position as CIO for the City and County of San Francisco. What do you see as the focus of this important role?
MG: I see my job as having a two-pronged focus. As San Francisco’s CIO, I am charged with leading the strategy and advising Mayor Lee and the Board of Supervisors on the ever-evolving tech landscape and how the city should be leveraging tech to improve City services and community engagement. As the Executive Director of the Department of Technology, I have the operational responsibility to deliver on that strategy.
Historically, technology has been mostly internally consumed, but we are starting to see that tech is becoming public facing, which also requires the need for greater transparency. Tech has evolved and woven into traditional civic services—a key to the delivery of such traditional services as public safety, transportation, and collecting taxes. Tech has become a consumer product, becoming the service itself. For example, #SFWiFi, our free public WiFi service, is a consumer service, not just something being supported by tech.
MEDA: It is great to see a Latino in such a position of power regarding tech. This makes you a role model for the community. We appreciated your sitting on our “Latino Career Panel” at our last “Get Connected!” event. How do you see yourself putting a face on how Latinos and tech can be one?
MG: There’s much talk around diversity–the tech sector suffers from that challenge. Coming from El Paso where the University of Texas El Paso was the #1 engineering school for Latinos, in some ways, I took this for granted. The divide is more apparent in San Francisco. I want to inspire Latinos, ensure there is a seat at the table for us in the tech sector, and that I live up to the responsibility for the community I represent. If you go to the consumer side of things, the Latino population is one of the fastest-growing groups in the U.S., so tech service providers would be smart to recognize that wave.
I see this divide on a global level, too. I recently helped to form a City CIO’s Club in conjunction with my colleague in Barcelona, Spain. This group is worldwide, but it was interesting to sense the urgency from CIO’s in Spanish-speaking nations including Chile, Colombia and Mexico. They are action oriented and do not want their populations to be left behind. I hope to influence and motivate these countries to step up their tech game.
MEDA: Our Mission Promise Neighborhood “School Climate Survey” indicated that 23 percent of students at our four target schools do not have high-speed internet in their home. When you worked in city government in Texas, you spearheaded “Digital El Paso.” Can you explain how that worked and could potentially be replicated in San Francisco?
MG: It took a community effort, bringing together tech companies, City leaders, the community colleges and neighborhood influencers. This started as a digital divide project when I was still a tech entrepreneur. Once I joined the public sector, I was able to continue this work from the other side. El Paso has one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation, called Segundo Barrio. We were able to build out WiFi in that neighborhood, educating residents on the importance of high-speed internet.
We also started a project at local community colleges, whereby students learned skills as they refurbished donated computers, with these devices then being donated back to the low-income community. I learned a lot about what connectivity could do for a community, but that the connectivity had to be delivered in a way that was meaningful and approachable if you really want to impact the “Digital Divide”. I think we are doing a great job in San Francisco of staying aware of the diverse communities and focusing on delivering connectivity. We are seeing good user adoption of #SFWiFi on Market Street and the 30+ parks and recreation centers. We’re moving forward with further expansion. It is often the most popular topic I’m asked about at various industry conferences. Clearly broadband connectivity is a priority across the nation, and around the world.
MEDA: Finally, what do you see as the biggest challenges as CIO?
MG: There are two main challenges. The first is taking care of the underlying, yet critical, infrastructure. Balancing the need to deliver public-facing service improvements and innovations, with the less exciting foundational “plumbing” that nobody sees. It’s the newsworthy balanced with the gritty.
The second challenge is managing the tug of war between the fast pace of tech and the slower pace and conservative nature of government bureaucracy. Recruiting and retaining IT talent is tough, leading city government to support responsible risk-taking of a startup culture, and implementing the right technology at the right time to make a meaningful and timely impact on City services and operations. It also takes longer for things to happen, so if I am planning for something a year out, I have to figure what the latest and greatest tech thing will be down the road and build enough flexibility into the process to adapt along the way. These challenges are difficult, but it’s all part of my job, as I work to make every facet of San Francisco life tech savvy.
MEDA: Anything you would like to say to Latino community organizations?
MG: I’m still relatively new to my hometown of San Francisco, and as a Latino in a tech and civic leadership role with our City, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to the community. I’m eager to participate in the strong Latino community organizations, like MEDA. Consider this an open invitation to other Latino leaders to help me get engaged with our community in a meaningful way!