Megan Smith ’86, SM ’88, the newly installed chief technology officer (CTO) of the United States, is coming home to MIT once again. This time as the June 5, 2015, Commencement speaker. After earning two degrees and serving two stints on the MIT Corporation, she certainly knows the campus layout.
And she knows the issues facing technology creators and entrepreneurs. Until her White House appointment, she served as a VP of New Business Development at Google, initiating partnerships and acquiring the Google Earth, Google Maps, and Picasa platforms.
Smith was on the leadership team of the famously secretive Google[x] project. Many MIT alumni work on that project, including Mike Cassidy ’85, SM ’86 and Rich DeVaul SM ’99, PhD ’04. Their Project Loon aims to use solar- and wind-powered balloons to connect remote areas to the Internet. She also co-created the Solve For <X> project that invites inventors to “accelerate progress on technology moonshots.”
In a 2007 Technology Review profile, Smith noted that as an MIT mechanical-engineering student, she built a solar car and drove it in the first Cross-Continental Solar Car race across the Australian outback. “I loved all my time at MIT,” she said, which included serving as a young alumni member of the MIT Corporation from 1988 to 1993 and later on visiting committees. In 2006 Smith rejoined the MIT Corporation and resigned earlier this year.
Smith arrived at Google from PlanetOut, an interactive media company and series of web sites serving the gay and lesbian community; she was COO and then CEO until 2001. Earlier she worked at Apple Computer Japan in Tokyo, where she developed the multimedia market. She served as product design lead and then as manager of General Magic, an Apple Computer spinoff devoted to developing a PDA precursor.
As CTO, Smith guides the President’s technology policies and initiatives such as using technology to help create jobs, reduce health care costs, keep the nation secure, and increase access to broadband. In her new role, she joins the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, headed by John P. Holdren ’65, SM ‘66.