A 24-year-old former Capitol Hill intern who has already struck it rich with an app bought by Facebook has joined the White House as the first ever “Director of Product.”
Josh Miller says in a blog post he interned with a senator in 2009, before dropping out of Princeton to co-found Branch, a conversation app bought by Facebook for a reported $15 million in 2012 . (Miller’s Google+ page lists the senator he worked for as Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.)
Miller didn’t sound too impressed by the Capitol’s tech savvy.
“I’m not sure what it’s like these days, but in 2009 it didn’t feel like Congress was at the forefront of the technological revolution that had delivered the iPhone a year earlier. While answering phone calls and opening mail that summer, the stuff internships are made of, I wasn’t exactly encouraged by how elected officials interacted with their constituents. When people would reach out with passionate perspectives and genuine calls for help, they were generally met with canned responses. The culprit wasn’t a lack of care, though; it was a lack of tools.
Envisioning a different system, I wrote a memo outlining how a simple internet app could improve how we engaged with the people we served. Unsurprisingly, the story ended there, but the experience motivated me to take my passion for creating novel technology products elsewhere.”
Miller certainly hasn’t bought into the cynicism in Washington.
“I’m as giddy, wide-eyed, and determined as ever,” he said, and called his new job “a dream.”
“Wouldn’t it be great if your government had a conversation with you instead of just talking at you? … Imagine if talking to the government was as easy as talking to your friends on social networks?”
A White House aide sent the following background on his role:
“Josh is joining the Office of Digital Strategy to continue the work of engaging the American people online, where he will report to Chief Digital Officer Jason Goldman and work with colleagues on the Office of Digital Strategies team. As the White House’s first director of product, his focus will be on prioritizing the experience of our users — the American people — across our platforms of engagement. He’ll also draw on his background building a company and in industry to infuse an entrepreneurial perspective into our processes and approach to work.”
It’s the latest hire that fits into President Barack Obama’s effort to improve what he acknowledges is the “terrible” state of federal government technology by creating, in effect, a startup.