Civic Tech and Privacy

Wow, what an honor it was to have him speak in our seminar. He was definitely very insightful. Today, I want to discuss some of the things he said, so I’m going to format this with quotes that I took down and my opinion of what he had to say.

Who does the tech right? Who does the selling right? These are totally mutually exclusive. Spend $99 on marketing, and only $1 on product. Nail the sale side. The government is not a sophisticated partner.

I do not fully agree with that. I understand the point that he is trying to drive home: focus on the selling/sale aspect, and not necessarily the product itself; tell the buyer how great your product is and how it will solve all the problems they’ve ever had, even though the product itself might not be perfect. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I understand how important it is to be a good great salesman—being a great salesman is what will bring in your revenue and eventually get you funding from VCs. I’m just not sure how well-put those words are…let’s take a pencil for example. If I had a pencil and had to sell it to a buyer, it could be difficult to sell him the pencil at my desired price point, considering the competition. All the things you can do with my pencil is no different from the abilities of any other pencil, so I’m not really sure how even the best salesman can spin his pitch to really make the consumer’s mouth water at this pencil, especially if its actually worse than those elegant Ticonderogas out there on the market. Reflecting on this quote, I really think he wanted to show how non-technical some of the agencies the government hired actually were, yet they were successful because they did get hired after all.

Being able to tell someone where to run is better than knowing how to run.

So, once again, not quite sure how much I agree with this assertion. I think it could be useful telling someone how to run, but not knowing how to run yourself can be a big pitfall in terms of your own knowledge and ability to execute. People who know how to run know much more about the exercise, including its possibilities and limitations. If you can tell the person to run from point A to point B to deliver something, that would be productive in terms of making use of someone’s skill and knowledge. However, if you tell him to run 10 miles to point B and deliver the product in less than one hour, that could be a disaster. Just because you know the map, doesn’t mean you know the limitations or difficulties that your worker may run into. Also, what if you need to get to point B in one hour right now? It may be difficult to scout someone to do it, so this may be a good time to have a combination of these skills—knowing how to run and where to run is the best combination. I do not think one is better than the other because they are dependent on each other; I think a combination of both is best.

Coders aren’t scarce. You know what are though? Good ideas.

I can’t agree with this enough. As much as I would love to start the next big idea, it’s just unlikely. While that’s unfortunate, it’s the truth. No one is really going to reinvent the pencil—it’s fine the way it is. There are also a ton of substitutes already out there to appeal to the mass audience. While being a tech entrepreneur will always be my dream, I will always be reminded of the fact that good ideas are scarce because of the huge leaps we have already made in innovating the future. Prior to entering Harvard, I shared the similar mindset that it is better to know where to run than to know how to run. But after coming here, I think that it’s best to know both. That’s why I hope that I am able to learn a tremendous amount in computer science here to apply my skills to building a great innovation. While it may never become something, the learning experience will be invaluable. I’m ready to take my skills to the next level.

~ammer s.



  1. school of applied science

    November 11, 2016 @ 4:31 am


    Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. Thanks share this

  2. profsmith

    November 13, 2016 @ 4:04 pm


    I’d like to focus on your “running” comments. In general, I agree with your assertion that it is best to know where AND how to run. I don’t think David would disagree with you either. I believe he was trying to make the point that the big win comes, assuming you can’t do both extremely well, by knowing where to run. If I can’t run at all, then running anywhere won’t matter. However, if I have some basic capacity to run, I’d rather use that capacity where the payoff is big rather than be a much better runner and use that extraordinary skill where the accumulated payoff is relatively small. The point here is that the Internet offers exponential payoffs. Being really good in a market with small incremental payoffs for being incrementally better won’t give you as much overall payoff as finding the market (where you might not be best able to execute) but you can still capture exponential payoffs. Stated another way, being first to market can sometimes build barriers to the market that make it harder for those “better runners” to later enter it.

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