Lerning from the White House’s Tech transformations.

During my time at Harvard University, I had an opportunity to learn from Brook Colangelo, former White House Chief Information Officer (CIO).

*** This post is not political. It focuses on Mr. Colangelo’s challenges and him as a professional.

“I often get asked, what was it like to work for the White House?”

Day One

Mr. Colagelo expressed that being the White House’s CIO is extremely time-consuming; you have to be careful with details, come up with smart solutions and expect the unexpected,  add that to being watched by the press and constant critics that might hurt you as a professional; he was highly criticized when the White House email system was down.

Regardless, Mr.Colangelo quickly realized that the White House’s IT assets were in “pretty bad shape.” A lot of the IT had reached an end of life, there were very few IT leaders in the White House,  lack of automation tools for many record keeping tasks.

“Do not let people put you in a box.
Don’t let them kill your spirit.” 

Mr. Colangelo does not have a degree related to any of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine) fields; many people thought he lacked training and didn’t know any better.  He knew he had to study and learn from tech people while keeping an open mind. “Do not let people put you in a box.” It is true he doesn’t have a STEM-related degree but it didn’t mean he wasn’t capable of solving the White House’s tech issues. Mr. Colangelo divided the problem into three sections: Stabilize core, mobilize the workforce and optimize the systems.
As expected financial resources were an issue to hire Tech professionals, instead they created The White House Office of American Innovation program or internally known as SWAT Team of strategic consultants to bring digital innovation to the white house. The interns met with business costumers and led to new approaches for small and really painful problems to costumers.


Mr.Colangelo acknowledged that the tasks were not easy for these students, they had their failures and bad days but their perseverance and belief that you should never let go a bad day go to waste brought many good things to the White House; Mr. Colangelo feels very proud and grateful to his young interns.


After Mr.Colangelo retired from the White House, he joined a publishing company in Boston, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. At the time, they were struggling to grow an audience for their available books.  Mr. Colangelo expressed that when it comes to business, there are two things that he always keeps in mind:

  1. A good waitress.
    As soon as a customer walks into a restastaurant they have less than a minute to make a smart judgment and think ahead of their customer’s necessities.
  2. Steve Jobs’ quote:

“Get closer than ever to your customers. 
So close that you can tell them what 
they need before they realize it themselves.” 

Houghton Mifflin‘s main goal was to grow an audience but they achieved many things along the way such as: setting up a website, record tracking tools, book organization, all of these which led to the answer that probably one of their main targeted audience was for teachers but if the main goal is to grow an audience probably is best to tailor a website that welcomes a general public and yet targeting professionals in the educational field.

The power of technology is unbelievable strong but if you don’t learn to listen to your customers and your company’s problems nothing will be accomplished. When you set a big goal, you have to slice it into thinner layers, find where the small but important problems are, fix them and you will finish up with productive accomplishments and a better image to build innovation.


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