The government chief technology officer (CTO) fiasco that cost Clare Curran her ministerial post has generated quite a bit of noise on social media and via emails.

New Zealand techies are having a meltdown that people who don't do technology - that is, know how to code and set up and operate computer systems and networks - are considered for the CTO role.

That seems fair enough. Nothing makes you understand what tech can and can't do better than actually building things yourself and putting them to use.


It gives you the experience and knowledge to build not just better IT systems for people, but also how to recover from the inevitable failures and ideally, learn not to repeat them.

There's no magic to that, and many of the leaders of today's billion-dollar tech companies are engineers.

In his 2014 opinion piece published in the NZ Herald, Xero founder Rod Drury asked: "... how does the Government, without deep technology expertise, engage in sorting out the vested interests and overwhelming information flow, in order to come up with a step-change plan to transform our place in the world?"

Drury suggested the CTO should be a person akin to then government science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman at the helm. Gluckman and successor Juliet Gerrard are both scientists.

Almost four years' later, is the government looking for a CTO who is an engineer at heart?

Someone who for instance can engage with the free and open source software community; also explain to the government why breaking encryption for surveillance is very dangerous at a technical level and requires a broad-based discussion that needs to be moved out out of narrow national security scope. Many more issues like that, which require insight into how technology works.

Looking at the job description and terms of reference for the job, the government wants someone with "a high level of expertise in their field". What that field should be isn't spelt out however.

I can think of several techies who could step in as CTOs and who would love to share their wealth of knowledge and expertise - and roll up their sleeves and dig into code and systems to provide the advice based on deep understanding that the government needs.

If that is the government CTO we get, and the person is listened to and supported in the job and doesn't quit in disgust after a few months, it's a win for New Zealand.

If an internet and mobile marketer, accountant, lawyer or chief executive with a meeting-calloused behind who might have ideas about what tech can do, but not do tech themselves gets the job, we're looking at another lost opportunity that'll cost the taxpayer half a million dollars a year.

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