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Joseph Williams
Joseph Williams. (GeekWire Photo)

While the technology industry in Seattle and Washington state is in the midst of another boom, it’s Joseph Williams’ job to ensure that it continues to grow. He does this as the director of economic development for Gov. Jay Inslee’s Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector.

Williams has a broad range of tech experience, which led him to his new role. He’s a veteran of Microsoft as well as Sun Microsystems and he’s spent a good deal of time in academia, most recently as dean of the School of Business, Government, and Economics at Seattle Pacific University.

“I was a part of four startups, three of which had modestly successful exits, and I learned the most from the one that failed,” Williams said. He’s learning again what to prioritize and advise Inslee on when it comes to Washington’s tech concerns.

“The governor has to care about everything,” Williams said. “Nobody, except for Bill Gates maybe, has the ability to micromanage every element of everything. I’ve never encountered anybody except for Bill who had that ability. So the governor basically has people around him who keep him advised on what’s going on, and I think it’s an educational process for him as he deals with state issues, and the State of Washington is fairly complex. Everything that helps one industry sometimes seems to hamper another and he’s got to find the balance of all that. So the sector leads provide insight and guidance, but the policy leads still come out of his policy office. We’re advisors. He ultimately owns what he does with the advice.”

In Williams’ view, a top concern right now is that the state is not putting out enough computer science graduates, and that will make it tough to compete long term with California. The goal is to work with the University of Washington to expand its program and to help other schools such as Washington State University and Western Washington University make their programs more relevant to companies in the state.

But Williams said it may be unrealistic to expect people to continue to take on college tuition debt when they can go to a coding school such as Galvanize or Code Fellows. “I think the state can take a very interested role in trying to help understand what people are looking for and what they’re willing to hire, what they need to hire,” Williams said.

Learn more about Williams, what he does and how he does it, in this week’s Geek of the Week questionnaire:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I am the ICT Sector Lead for the State of Washington. In this role I provide the governor and the legislature with insights into events and policies that effect the state’s tech industry. I also work with the WTIA, WIN, and other industry trade associations on understanding their issues, concerns, and priorities. Part of the job is talking to VCs, equity investors, founders, and industry thought leaders to develop new opportunities for Washington to shine (e.g., Blockchain, Cybersecurity, Data Analytics). And part of the job is working with the state’s higher ed institutions to address and solve workforce shortages. In effect, I am a liaison and a change agent working to extend the private/public partnership that keep Washington’s tech industry competitive. It’s a challenging job, but a fun one.

“I do it because I believe in Gov. Inslee’s vision for creating and sustaining healthy communities through public / private partnerships that lead to stronger economic outcomes for everyone. I know that sounds like jargon, but the words really go to the heart of my mission.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “The shortage of qualified computer science and engineering talent in Washington is real and it is hurting the industry’s ability to grow. Even with all the state’s university graduates and with the H1B and California inflows, we are around 3,000 deeply technical folks short of what the state’s economy can support. And each of these unfilled jobs support another six to seven related jobs — so we are really talking about 20,000 new jobs in the state if we could just get the right people. How do we get these people? It is a problem everyone is trying to solve. And with the new opportunities in data analytics, we are going to need more data scientists than our universities are currently producing — this adds to the pressure on STEM programs.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “From my wife Jeanene, who is an executive recruiter in Seattle. She spends her long days trying to help companies find the people they need and helping people find the opportunities they want. She works in that interesting space where dreams meet reality, and seeing how she makes it all work is really inspiring.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “My Bluetooth headset. I currently use a Plantronics Focus PLT, and I walk all over Seattle with it listening to podcasts and music, making calls, and listening to baseball games when I can catch a break. I use the PLT with phones, tablets, and laptops — love the versatility, and appreciate no wires!”

Joseph Williams office view
The view from Joseph Williams’ office looks down on the dog park at Amazon’s Doppler building in downtown Seattle. (Via Joseph Williams)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “My role requires relentless networking, so I frequent a lot of coffee shops. My office in Seattle is on the 26th floor of the Westin Exchange Building, across from Amazon’s Doppler campus. I look directly down on Amazon’s really cool dog park, which is great because my office is tiny and otherwise uninteresting.”

What’s your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life? (Help us out, we need it.) “I’ve always worked, lived, and played 24-7, so I don’t really think about work/life as something that needs to be balanced. Rather, I think of it all as a mesh that I need to manage and prioritize. Embrace your blended lifestyle!”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Picard.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time Machine (would use it to grab the other two).”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “build a service that enabled companies to quantify and assess their actual performance on diversity and inclusion.”

I once waited in line for … “six hours to see the first Star Wars movie. We drove from Berkeley to Sacramento, thinking their lines would be shorter. They weren’t.”

Your role models: “Angela Yochem, CIO at Rent-A-Center in Texas, is an incredible role model for how a tech executive should lead. The CIO job has been morphing incredibly over the last two decades, and Angela has demonstrated time and time again why perspective, agility, and execution are critical to success. I also find Nick Berry’s (Facebook) work in data analytics to be intellectually captivating, and I wish I had his facility with numbers.”

Greatest Game in History “Civ4.”

Best Gadget Ever: “iPhone.”

First Computer: “Apple 2+.”

Current Phone: “iPhone.”

Favorite App: “Kindle.”

Favorite Cause: “Higher education.”

Most important technology of 2016: “Virtual reality.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Blockchain.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Don’t let yourself get in a comfort zone. Keep challenging yourself and try on different things. Help others help themselves. And be a force for good.”

Website: Washington State ICT

Twitter: @rhudaur

LinkedIn: Joseph Williams

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