San Jose, Calif., Taps the Expertise of Retired Silicon Valley Execs

In partnership with Encore.org, the city has invited former IT executives to bring a new dimension to the public-sector workforce.

by / July/August 2017

In its efforts to extend the scope of its IT workforce, San Jose, Calif., has tapped into a sometimes overlooked source of skills. In October 2016 the city teamed up with Encore.org, an organization that brings retirees back to the workplace to share their unique expertise.

The move has been a boon for a city looking to leverage the wisdom of the private sector to enhance IT operations.

“Suppose we look at things like how to use dashboards to be more accountable,” said Khanh Russo, director of strategic partnerships and innovation for San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo’s office. Private-sector retirees “understand product development and product management in a way that is very different from how government might approach this kind of effort. They know how to make it scalable and repeatable. User testing and surveys just come naturally.”

The program has attracted half a dozen former Silicon Valley executives, people whose deep expertise brings a new dimension to the government workforce. ”We have ex-executives from Cisco and Intel, people who bring a private-sector lens,” said Chief Innovation Officer Shireen Santosham. “They help us to rebuild our IT infrastructure, to think about our service strategy. It’s also an engagement tool: By having these folks do a year in government, they then can go back into the community and talk about their experiences and hopefully inspire more folks to come back and work in government.”

A 28-year veteran of Intel, Sing-Man Yuen came to San Jose as an Encore fellow looking to address issues of digital inclusion. He said his private-sector mindset helps to drive a more pragmatic approach among his public-sector peers.

“We see some of the low-hanging fruit, and I am the one who keeps pushing, who keeps saying we should start doing something. Even the small wins are important,” he said. “In the private sector, it is very clear: Making money is the bottom line. In the public sector, there is the mission, but the specific things are more negotiable. I think I bring a higher level of focus to the effort.”

Adam Stone Contributing Writer

A seasoned journalist with 20+ years' experience, Adam Stone covers education, technology, government and the military, along with diverse other topics. His work has appeared in dozens of general and niche publications nationwide.