Cast your vote for IT's future

Learning where candidates stand on technology issues is tough, but worth the effort

Dear reader: Ask not what IT can do for you, ask what you can do for IT. With the crucial midterm congressional elections just a couple of weeks away (not to mention a bevy of state and local contests), it’s time to issue my first annual From the Analysts political endorsements.

Inappropriate for an IT magazine, you say? Well, wait till you hear what I’m endorsing. There are lots of issues people evaluate politicians on these days, but their position on or background in IT isn’t usually one of them. I’m suggesting we change that — starting now — by supporting candidates who 1) have a clue about IT, and 2) have an enlightened position about how IT can be used more effectively to improve our world.

Many voters have no idea how important IT is to improving efficiency and enhancing people’s lives. But we do, because we work in the industry — and we’re in the best position to put that knowledge to use. Of course, making IT a central issue assumes the opposing candidates are equivalent on other measures, which they never are. But humor me.

[ Talkback: IT as an election decider? ]

How do you even find candidates who have a position on IT? Not easily. I went to Google News and did a bunch of searches with keywords such as Congress, races, candidate, positions on Information Technology, and got very few results.

In Connecticut’s hotly contested 4th Congressional District, challenger Diane Farrell actually said in a debate that Congress needs to deepen its investment in health information technology. Go, Diane! In Bonsall, Calif., School District Board of Trustees candidate Keith Way says he’ll use his IT background to push for more Web-based educational programs. Go, Keith!

Of course, every candidate has a blog now, but that doesn’t count because chances are none of them actually writes the entries themselves, much less understand what an RSS feed is.

How will we find the tech-savvy candidates? Gotta ask them, and pay attention to their backgrounds. We do know a few high-profile ones. Washington Senator Maria Cantwell made her millions at Real Networks. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg (not running on Nov. 7) founded Bloomberg LP and spent at least a few late nights stringing network cabling through office buildings. Hewlett-Packard ex-CEO Carly Fiorina is rumored to have political ambitions. And former Vice President Al Gore is on the board of Apple Computer — and may have helped invent the Internet, as you know.

So when you meet an IT-savvy candidate, what should you ask them? What are the issues? How about these: How do you feel about H-1B visas for developers? Where do you stand on information privacy and security? How can we put more government services online, faster? How can we use IT to make government more efficient? To stay competitive internationally? Where do you stand on telecom deregulation and re-regulation? On Internet regulation and taxes? On Kerberos vs. LDAP? (Just kidding on that last one.)

Look them in the eyes and remind them that IT is to the 21st century what railroads and world wars and moon shots were to prior generations — a main event that will shape our destiny. And don’t forget about Keith Way if you happen to live in Bonsall, Calif. I hear he’s got some great ideas about IT in education.