An MIT MechE Engineer Goes to the White House
By Alissa Mallinson
Megan Smith received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT in 1986 and 1988, respectively. This year, she was appointed to the position of chief technology officer (CTO) of the United States of America.
A past member of the MIT Corporation, Smith has had a prolific and successful career as an engineer; leader; and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) evangelist, one that makes it easy to see why President Obama appointed her to such an important position in the White House.
As CTO, Smith serves as an assistant to the president, advising him and his team on how to harness the power of technology, data, and innovation to advance the future of the United States. Her team’s priorities include supporting the administration’s push for open data and information, advising on a wide range of technology policy topics, and recruiting more top technical talent to serve in government.
Smith has been a leader of both established and startup companies throughout her career, including as a product designer at early smartphone technology company General Magic and at popular LGBT online community and portal PlanetOut, which she led as COO for two years and as CEO for an additional five. She joined Google in 2003, where she was vice president of new business development, leading influential company acquisitions, including the technology that became Google Earth, Google Maps, and Picasa. She also served as general manager of Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the company, during its transition to include more engineering service projects. Smith later became a vice president at Google[x], where she co-created SolveforX and co-founded Women Techmakers.
In addition to her impact on the professional tech world, Smith is also well known for speaking out for greater visibility for technical women and underrepresented minorities both today and historically, as well as for work in debugging inclusion challenges in tech. Smith is also recognized for her work on K-12 programs that encourage and support the interest of young girls and boys in STEM.
In reference to a keynote speech titled “Passion, Adventure, and Heroic Engineering” that she gave last October at the Grace Hopper Celebration, Smith wrote, “I [also] focused on the need for diversity in innovation teams. This is not only about fairness, but it also makes business sense – the data is clear that diverse teams simply create better products and companies; to make great things we need mixed points of view and skill sets. We know that diversity can sometimes be more uncomfortable because things are less familiar, but it gets the best results.”
Smith will deliver the address at MIT’s 2015 Commencement exercises. “MIT has been a leader,” she says, “in training the next generation of creative thinkers who will pioneer new technologies, launch businesses, and bring needed solutions to so many of the greatest challenges facing humanity.”