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De Blasio Names Minerva Tantoco First New York City CTO

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, September 9 2014

Minerva Tantoco at New York Tech Meetup (NYTM)

Mayor Bill de Blasio named Minerva Tantoco as first New York City CTO Tuesday night in an announcement that was greeted with applause and cheers at the September meeting of the New York Tech Meet-Up.

In his remarks, De Blasio said her task would be to develop a coordinated strategy for technology and innovation as it affects the city as a whole and the role of technology in all aspects of civic life from the economy and schools to civic participation, leading to a "redemocratization of society."

He called Tantoco the perfect fit for the position as somebody who is "great with technology, has a lot of experience, ability and energy to create from scratch and is a true New Yorker."

Tantoco was most recently UBS'S CTO for client-facing technology in the Asia-Pacific based in Hong Kong.

Under the Bloomberg administration, Rahul Merchant was the city's first CIO in addition to being the seventh commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, while Rachel Haot held the title of Chief Digital Officer, the position she now has working for Governor Andrew Cuomo.

"As a girl from Queens and the Bronx High School of Science, it is truly an honor to be the first ever CTO of New York City," Tantoco said as she took the stage. "Thinking back to what drew me to technology, it was its ability to transform and empower and ultimately drive change in all aspects of life. It's a great field for optimistic creative people who like to solve problems," she said. "Our goal is to make New York City the most tech and innovation-friendly city in the world." As a start, Tantoco said the city would be gathering feedback from the public on Twitter using the hashtag #forwardnyc.

De Blasio also emphasized that Tantoco would work to deepen the city's connections with the tech community as he praised the example of the Heatseek application, which gave a demonstration at the Tech Meetup with the mayor in the audience. The tool, which is a finalist in the city's Big Apps competition, aims to counter New York City heating code violations by using mesh networks of temperature sensors to report heating violations, aiding the housing court process, notifying tenants, lawyers and landlords, and integrating its reports with 311 data.

He not only highlighted the tool's "badass" name, but also emphasized it as a successful example of using technology as an organizing tool, echoing his own efforts to launch a watchlist and map of the worst landlords as in his previous position as Public Advocate. When the team's creators. William Jeffries, Jarryd Hammel and Harold Cooper, expressed the wish that the housing authority should replace their sensors with the new connected ones Heatseek is using, de Blasio promised that he would arrange a meeting for them with the Housing Commissioner and Housing Authority officials, stressing the tool's great ability to give government the opportunity to "to know and act on information" from citizens.

According to a city press release, Tantoco will direct the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, under First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris. She will join Anne Roest, whom de Blasio named Commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications in May, after she had previously worked for the State of New York and other de Blasio advisors, including technology and innovation advisor Jeff Merritt. De Blasio also announced Tuesday that he was naming Kristen Titus, a former executive director of Girls Who Code, to lead a city tech talent pipeline initiative.

Bill de Blasio at NYTM

In several previously published news interviews, Tantoco, who is the holder of four patents related to systems and methods for processing a loan, has spoken about how discovering her passion for coding led her to technology leadership roles. In an interview last year with ComputerWorld Hong Kong, she explained that she was initially on a pre-med track in college but "fell in love with computers" while taking a statistics class. She then switched her major to cognitive science and philosophy "to study the mind with the use of computers," she said in the interview. "Besides learning to create software programs for language processing, I also wrote fun stuff like games for my programming assignments."

In a 2012 interview with theglasshammer, an online community for women executives, she described how coding was an "unusual activity" at the time, and how she became a sysadmin, including working on a VAX computer mainframe at Vassar college. In that period she noted, as a liberal arts college, Vassar didn't have a computer science degree. "So my early education was focused on artificial intelligence, and designing systems that are smart and can address real world problems."

As a junior, she met three people from Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group who were launching a start-up focused on automating management consultant strategy, she told theglasshammer. She became one of the first employees there and the company was sold five years later. That early experience shaped her start-up mentality that "if you come across a problem, you can develop a solution for it," she said in theglasshammer interview.

She subsequently worked at start-ups and firms focused on electronic publishing, public relations and e-commerce sites. Her job as a CTO at Grey Direct Advertising coincided with the birth of her daughter. "I think I was one of the first-ever pregnant CTOs at the time," she said in the interview. "And it was an exciting time – Internet advertising was just being born… and so was my daughter!”

Tantoco also developed a strong interest in mobile technology, becoming a senior product manager at Palm and working with IBM on enabling enterprise software on Palm devices, she said in the interview. She then moved to the financial services industry, starting at Merrill Lynch and helping to develop one of the first Blackberry apps for investment managers. More recently she said she is focused on developing mobile apps for customers and clients on iPads and other devices.

In the theglasshammer interview, she said she was especially interested in how technology has upended previous distinctions between work and leisure time, from the "bring your own device" to work mentality to the ability to work and collaborate remotely. "We’ve completely moved away from the industrial revolution, but a lot of our work structures are built on that," she said in the interview, specifically as they relate to the intersection of private, public and corporate technology. "I don’t think we’ve spent enough time thinking about the blurring of these lines, and that also has privacy and security implications...Instead of securing the environment – like at a physical bank – we need to secure each application individually."

Asked in an October 2013 interview with Forbes what technology innovations she was most excited about, Tantoco said she was fascinated by the "combination of artificial intelligence applied to the massively growing amount of systems, data, and interconnections" as it manifests itself in wearable computing technologies, gamification and biometric advances such as voice recognition.

"My personal hope is that we use these technologies to spread knowledge and improve education, especially in underserved communities," she told Forbes. She stressed the importance of encouraging more women in technology, positions for which coding skills are the entryway. Beyond women-focused hackathons or groups like the New York-based Girls Who Code program, "we need to do more, start earlier with mathematics, as well as provide support for those first 5-10 years in the tech industry," she told Forbes.

"One-to-one mentoring and sponsorship are critical throughout one’s career, and it’s important for executives to provide visible support for women in the industry to counteract the current gender gap," she added, as she pointed to her own role models such as Anita Borg. Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, and her mother, who studied chemical engineering but became a COBOL programmer in her 40s after her children left for college.

Also this week, the New York City Mayor's Office announced that the first websites have gone live with the new .nyc top-level domain name, which is being distributed through a selective process overseen by the city and Neustar, a Virginia-based domain registrar. At the beginning of August, de Blasio had called on businesses, organizations to sign up for the new domain names as part of a 60-day landrush period. During that period, a domain name is allocated if there is only one applicant for a particular domain name, before the process opens to the general public on Oct. 8 on a first-come, first-served basis.

Some of the early .nyc websites belong to New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray, the NY Tech Meetup, Pace University, General Assembly, news outlets Gothamist and Gay City News, the Shubert Organization, MISTER, a digital design and new technology agency, Livestream, New York Rugby, the New York City Beekeepers Association, entrepreneur Hillary Mason and the tech Coalition for Queens. De Blasio also recently named Jukay Hsu, founder of C4Q, as a new trustee on the board of the Queens Borough Public Library system.