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Gov. Wolf: Pa. ‘shouldn’t be the shrinking violet when it comes to innovation’

Wolf, flanked by part of his innovation team, spoke about open data and tech talent at the Philly Tech Week 2017 presented by Comcast Dev Conference.

Governor Tom Wolf at #PTW17. (Photo by Roberto Torres)
Admitting your own ignorance is a very smart thing to do. Particularly when you’re an elected official.

Thats why, when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf showed up for our Dev Conference on Wednesday surrounded by part of his innovation team, we got a sense the conversation would become deeper and of more value.

The Q&A with the governor — part of Philly Tech Week 2017 presented by Comcast — went down at Temple University’s Fox School of Business and was moderated by Editorial Director Christopher Wink. Alongside Wolf, the panel was comprised of:

  • Sharon Minnich, Pennsylvania Secretary of Adminstration
  • Julie Snyder, Pennsylvania Director of Data and Digital Technology
  • Krystal Bonner, Pennsylvania Director of Digital Communications and Strategy

Wolf got off to a nostalgic start, bringing memories of his punch-card programming days in college. Admittedly, he’s done with his career in coding. He declined to try his hand at writing a bit of code at a neighboring workshop prior to his Q&A. Instead, he listened.

“I was there at the [workshop] and didn’t talk to them but asked them questions,” Wolf told the audience. It would be a constant element in his discourse for the day: Wolf is looking for feedback from the tech community.

“People are beginning to think: how can we do things different and smarter and better [through technology]?” Wolf said.


At the state administration level, tech pushes have  been aligned with Wolf’s campaign slogan: “Schools that teach, jobs that pay, government that works.” For example, the release of these data sets, the first result of state government’s OpenDataPA program.

The next step in the space of open data, Snyder said, is a statewide hackathon called Code4PA, slated to go down in September in Harrisburg University (with plans in the works for a Philly site, so look out for updates on that).

The director said one of the challenges for making data available has been cleaning it up. “It was the first time we noticed that we needed data cleanup,” Snyder said. Her biggest plea to the tech community: suggest data sets for publication here.

Wolf chimed in to add another hurdle in the road, which will sound familiar for those of you following along with the open data movement: it’s the first time such an effort has been attempted, so there has been resistance in some departments.


What about talent acquisition? How’s the state keeping up with something that poses a challenge even to the flashiest startups? Minnich points to an internship program that leads to hiring as part of the push for tech hires in the state.

“We’ve also been hosting women-in-tech events at the college level and soon we’ll be going to the high school level,” Minnich said.

Wolf adds one caveat, though: tech talent needs to be visionary, yes, but also be aware of the context they’re entering. “We want people who are smart and have tech skills, but that are also aware of how that technical intelligence can be applied to the world in meaningful ways,” Wolf said.

The governor said that all tech policy was geared at “trying to bring government to place where it’s more responsive, where it can do things faster,” which, as Snyder pointed out, involves redesigning how citizens interact with the state’s services online.

We want to make sure our schools are magnets for people who want to build families.

Just like tech companies around the world, the state is interested in keeping tech talent where it is, Wolf said. For that, he brought up an issue we’ve heard before directly from tech staffers: quality of schools.

“We’ve made great strides but we need to make sure we’re doing it in all zip codes,” Wolf said. “There’s no entrepreneur that’s not thinking about starting a family. We want to make sure our schools are magnets for people who want to build families.”

Wolf closed out the conversation doubling down on the request for feedback.

“We need to hear more from you,” Wolf said. “We’re doing everything from changing our tech to opening up our datasets but we need to hear more from you.”

But he mentioned one last problem with Pennsylvania, one we’ve noted before of Philadelphia: it doesn’t brag enough about its successes.

“I am Pennsylvania’s Cheerleader in Chief,” Wolf said. “This state shouldn’t be the shrinking violet when it comes to innovation. We need to tout its strengths.”

Series: Grow PA
People: Tom Wolf
Projects: Philly Tech Week

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