What We Learned: Trump and Tech

What We Learned: Trump and Tech

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On Wednesday night, Austin Tech Alliance hosted “Trump’s Impact on Tech in Austin,” which was aimed at addressing what a Donald Trump presidency means for Austin’s tech sector. With President Trump now officially sworn in, let’s recap the discussion.

The evening kicked off with welcoming remarks from David Edmonson (Austin Tech Alliance) and quickly segued to Matthew Dowd, ABC News’ Chief Political Analyst. He was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Omar Gallaga (Austin American-Statesman) and featuring Ainee Athar(FWD.us), Shalini Ramanathan (RES Americas), and Ian Clarke (The Freenet Project).

The entire event is available for viewing here and at the end of this post, but here are three main takeaways:

Innovators have an opportunity.

Matthew Dowd spoke about four upheavals we’re witnessing across our country: economic, cultural, technological, and faith in our institutions. These shifts and the resulting changes provide an opening for new, innovative ways of approaching common problems. Dowd put it on the shoulders of innovators and entrepreneurs to step up:

“If you really want to have serious disruption, figure out what we need to do in our politics to make the change. Because Donald Trump has created a great opportunity, whether you agree or disagree with him … He’s given us an opportunity to figure out how to navigate change in a creative and innovative way through independence and imagination.”

As Austin Inno’s Billy Utt writes, “Innovators have the opportunity to bring people together for the communal good. We have the raw materials — nearly every American has a smartphone with access to the entire Internet, but how many can name their local school board superintendent or comptroller?”

Over the next four years, how will the tech community help to solve some of our most pressing challenges — especially those related to our country’s divided politics?

There’s a lot that’s still unknown.

Both Dowd and the panelists pointed out that there is often a disconnect between what Trump says (or tweets) and what his cabinet appointees say, resulting in a lot of confusion about how the new administration will approach policy areas that are extremely important to the tech community.

Immigration is the perfect example, writes the Austin Monitor’s Chad Swiatecki:

“The issue with probably the most impact for all tech communities is Trump’s emphatic but sometimes contradictory positions on immigration. Because immigrants make up a large portion of tech talent and founders, creating barriers to entry or enacting widespread deportation would likely make it even more difficult for tech communities in Austin, Silicon Valley and elsewhere to find badly needed employees and executives.”

Many of these questions — whether related to immigration or another policy area — will surely be answered over the coming weeks and months, but until then, observers are left to read the tea leaves.

Your voice matters.

The fact that so much is seemingly yet to be determined means that there is no better time to get involved and speak out. Each person in Austin’s tech community provides a unique perspective, and regardless of what you care about — from clean tech to open data to immigration reform — there are others who share your values and also want to make an impact.

As Shalini Ramanathan said, “We all have an issue that we are passionate about that maybe is a new story or that can change hearts and minds. My personal view is it’s more important to be strategic and do that than to wear yourself out signing Facebook petitions.”

Ainee Athar put it this way: “Now is the time to find an issue you care about and show up for it.”

While the evening’s discussion dealt with policy issues on the national level, the same need to show up applies closer to home at the city and state levels. That’s what Austin Tech Alliance is doing: working to build a culture of civic engagement in the grassroots of Austin’s tech sector through participating, speaking out, and voting.

ATA’s focus is on City Hall and the state Capitol, two landmarks in the heart of downtown Austin that too often do not hear from the 100,000+ employees of Austin-area tech companies. If you’re interested in changing that, sign up for ATA’s email list to stay plugged in to what we’re up to.

Interested in watching the entire event? See below for the live stream.

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