“Technology didn’t win the campaign and should get little credit really,” says Harper Reed, CTO of Obama’s campaign HQ in Chicago for the 2012 presidential election. Reed, who has been working in the tech space for a long time now, says that technology “really made it easier for the team to do their work”.
Reed believes that the success of Obama’s use of emerging technology can be attributed to one man: David Blouffe. “He is the senior advisor for President Obama and is a big believer in innovation,” says Reed. “It’s this belief that is the single reason for all the technology innovation since 2008.”
Reed is a technology engineer who has worked for tech companies in the United States for several years. He doesn’t look like the type of CTO that should be working on a political campaign but he is the type of CTO that is synonymous with the tech world.
With a tech career as the CTO of Chicago-based clothing company Threadless, one of the first successful crowdsourcing companies and one whose revenue he helped increase tenfold during his tenure, Reed made sense for the Obama job. He has been referred to as a “tech pioneer”, a “digital wizard” and “hard to miss in a room”. He is fascinated by how technology continues to shape, transform and empower human behaviour.
Being part of one of the first successful crowdsourcing companies in the mid 2000s, Reed says that “online crowdsourcing is a stepping stone built on the foundation that its offline counterparts created”. Crowdsourcing is becoming a popular model for many online businesses, one of which is crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.
For Reed, working for the 2012 Obama campaign was a different ball game. The road that was paved four years before was different — technology has changed a lot since 2008. According to Reed it was a “given that it would take work to prep the team” for the changes in tech in order to get the plan for the 2012 elections in motion.
Reed is obsessed with data, for Reed tracking and organizing data around his life is important. “I track a lot of data about myself,” says on his site and surely enough that data is displayed, from his gave his weight to how many steps he has taken according to his fitbit. That seems like sort of man to organise take charge of the tech of a political campaign, a dataphile.
The Obama campaign saw a number of challenges and the road to stay in the White House was not an easy one. Data was crucial to the campaign — mountains of information was being collected, collated and used to paint the election picture at Obama’s campaign headquarters — and the tech couldn’t afford to fail them. For Reed and his tech team, the main priority was “making sure nothing broke”. “The biggest challenge was keeping everything up and running,” he says.
The age of disruption: the web is about democracy
Technology is disruptive and constantly changing. Reed’s former company Threadless was disruptive, introducing crowdsourcing to the clothing business, and the clothing sector is still being disrupted especially when it comes to clothing online. Reed says this disruption isn’t just limited to this sector though.
“I think this applies to the internet in general not just online clothing,” says Reed. Echoing the words of WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, Reed says that the internet is “all about democratising”. “The exciting thing, or the disruptors, is how the changes are giving more people access to what they want. For organisations, it’s opening up access to more products.”
Reed is right: open source technology and open hardware are becoming a favoured track for technologists today. One of the key trends that has emerged in the last few years is the use of open source technology to solve issues around energy and the emergence of clean tech.
So what sort of technology excites a man that has steered the tech ship of a presidential campaign, consulted for companies like Rackspace (the cloud-based website host) and Sandbox Industries (a venture capital company with an affinity towards early stage tech projects)?
Reed is excited by “how technology is pushing the envelope in emerging fields like using solar, electric cars. Also how we are seeing the emergence of a 3 to 4 billion middle class that will start becoming a global consumer community.”
Reed will be speaking at this year’s Digital Edge Live conference in South Africa, a conference that looks at the world of digital marketing and the trends that are emerging.