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Philly’s Office of Innovation and Technology is getting its first CTO (with a caveat)

The City of Philadelphia's tech department is seeing some leadership changes, including the promotion of its first director of digital services and this new chief role. Plus, an update on the OIT Apprenticeship Program.

Center City at night. (Photo by Flickr user Michael Righi, under a Creative Commons license)
Update: This story and headline have been updated to reflect that the City of Philadelphia did once employ a chief technology officer, but in a different capacity. Details of the differences have been added. (3/23/22, 9:30 a.m.)
Change is coming to the Office of Innovation and Technology.

The department, tasked leading with the major updates and projects relating to the City of Philadelphia’s use of technology, recently promoted a member of its team to a new role of director of digital services, and will soon be hiring a CTO. Both roles will be the first for Philly gov — with a bit of a caveat for the chief title.

Sara Hall, formerly OIT’s user experience practice lead, was recently promoted to the digital services position, which will oversee combined teams of content, UX and digital forms within the department. She started with the City in 2017 as a product manager and has worked on projects like the redesign.

“The UX and content strategy teams have always collaborated closely, but they haven’t been together in this type of formal way. The work won’t really change but now, the teams will have increased representation in OIT,” Hall told about how the change will affect the team’s work.

Hall will report to the TBD chief technology officer, which the department is currently hiring for. This role will be specifically focused on tech strategy and road mapping for the City, a department spokesperson said. The CTO will report to Chief Information Officer Mark Wheeler, who’s been in his position since 2018.

The job description also refers to the CTO role as “deputy CIO,” and that’s important. While there’s been a variety of leadership roles in the city’s tech history, including enterprise director titles, innovation officers, chief information officer as head of IT operations, a CTO role has not formally existed in OIT before. However, it has existed within Philly’s city government — briefly, and in a different capacity. (Shoutout to Jeff Friedman for pointing this out after this story first published!)

As explained by Deputy Chief Information Officer for Innovation Andrew Buss, yes, Allan Frank was chief technology officer in the early aughts. But Frank oversaw what was then called the Division of Technology, and the CTO role was more akin to the CIO role held now by Wheeler.

The position has gotten some “great applicants” so far, Wheeler told last week. (Here’s a helpful breakdown of what CTO means for other government entities across the country.)

He also noted that Hall’s promotion was an effort to prioritize user-first content strategy across all of the city government’s departments. The director role can have more standing in big projects and across-department efforts.

“It essentially gives her more of a voice, a presence, and shows that she has more than one team behind her,” Wheeler said.

Sara Hall. (Courtesy photo) checked in with Hall this past fall, as she spoke about the launch of the two-year OIT Apprenticeship Program, which brings tech training and mentorship in software engineering or user experience to city workers in different departments. The program starts with a three- to four-month bootcamp with either LaunchCode or General Assembly, depending on whether the apprentice is taking the engineering or UX route, respectively.

Wheeler said the first three apprentices started the program in January, and hailed from previous roles in the City’s public property and water departments as well as within OIT itself. All three expressed that they had an interest in tech at some point in their lives and saw it as an opportunity to develop and advance in their careers, the CIO said. Two are enrolled in the software engineering program, and one is in UX.

The interest workshops the department held were heavily attended, Wheeler said, showing the program has a lot of promise. He hopes that after a year of this cohort of apprentices, the department can support more cohorts going forward.

“I would be committed to funding it out of our budget,” he said.

Companies: City of Philadelphia / Office of Innovation and Technology

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