Former Philadelphia Chief Data Officer Mark Headd has put to rest speculation surrounding his next career move in a joint announcement with civic technology provider Accela, where today, April 7, he has started as the company’s “technical evangelist,” a position aimed at growing Accela’s developer program.
Philadelphia Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid called Headd to be the city's first CDO in August 2012. Since then, Headd has supported the city’s open data and civic technology efforts, publishing multiple data sets and assisting Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of Innovation in improving the city’s technology infrastructure, upgrading aging systems and launching an open data/transparency initiative.
On March 20, Headd said via his personal blog that he would step down from his role. And on Friday, April 4, he told Government Technology that he always knew the position wouldn’t be permanent, but felt that what he’d set out to do had been accomplished.
“It just seemed like a good time [to exit]. We had just accomplished a lot," he said. "The team that I was able to build in the city of Philadelphia is a good one. They’re talented, they’re motivated, they have a good plan."
Despite the many projects and initiatives he collaborated on, Headd did not single out anything specific as the defining takeaways from the experience. Instead, he said he was grateful to participate in Philadelphia’s efforts to institutionalize IT innovation via policy measures, forward-thinking positions, and community and private-sector engagement.
“It can’t be about bureaucratic heroics; it’s got to be about something that is not about one person or just a small group of people," he said. "It’s got to be about something that pervades the culture of government, and I think you’re seeing cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and San Francisco starting to get there.”
In his new role as a technical evangelist for Accela, Headd will remain a staunch advocate of the movements he’s championed in Philadelphia, such as the call for open data access and increased transparency. However, his duties will now gravitate around Accela’s Civic Platform — a hub of cloud, social and mobile technologies — that intends to increase its offerings of government and citizen-facing apps worldwide.
Accela President and CEO Maury Blackman said a compelling aspect of Headd’s background, when reviewed for the position, was his native connection with both the tech industry and government culture. Blackman said it’s anticipated that this experience, coupled with his insights, will provide a bridge into the community they haven’t had before.
“To have a visionary leader, someone who understands the market, who understands the needs of government, as well as what citizens want from their governments is something that doesn’t happen every day,” Blackman said. “I think tat having someone of his stature and with his understanding of what the development community wants from a platform — and the ability to really take that an evangelize it — is a tremendous asset to us."
As Headd settles into the role, he said it's a lot like going back to his hacker roots, working hand in hand with developers to help them build on the company’s platform, while simultaneously using his know how gained in Philly to aid other municipalities with open data strategies and best practices -- a consulting task also embedded into the job description.
“At heart I’m a hacker, someone who really likes to be down in the weeds, writing code, working with developers and solving problems,” Headd said. “I’ve seen that whole thing from soup to nuts.”
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.