In April, I had the honor and privilege of representing small-to-medium-sized technology companies in Washington, D.C. again this year. This was my fourth year to participate in what is now called AppCon (App Economy Conference), formerly known as the ACT Fly-In.
What is it? About 50 technology entrepreneurs from all over the country come together in DC, learn about important issues that affect their businesses, then meet with policymakers about those issues.
This year, the main topics were 1) Computer Science Education, 2) Encryption and Cybersecurity, 3) Government Access to Data, 4) Internet Governance, and 5) The Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Monday was spent getting up to speed on hot topics and how they affect our businesses. The day opened with remarks by Rep. Blake Farenthold. He offered a much appreciated perspective on the issues as he has a background in computer consulting.
Next up was the “Anatomy of a Hill Meeting.” This session was particularly important for the new people. I remember my first year there and wondering why I was there and what I was going to do. The big takeaway from this is that as business people, we are there to present our individual voices to policymakers. The ACT staff handles all of the policy experts. I am always relieved to know that I don’t need to be an expert on the law to share how that law affects my business specifically.
ACT | The App Association gave us a report/update on what they’ve been up to since last year. They’ve been especially busy with the whole backdoor business with the FBI and Apple. Other notable topics were LEADS, KWI, Connected Health, COPPA, HIPAA, #ACTWearsIt wearable challenge, and FRAND. Checkout those links to learn more.
Throughout the day we had briefings on Computer Science Education, Data Security (Encryption and Government Access), Health, ICANN, Logistics of Capitol Hill, and Social Media.
To break up the day, we had a field trip to the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center where U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman chatted with ACT Executive Director Morgan Reed about a variety of topics related to trade agreements and encryption.
After briefings on Monday, we each received our meeting schedules for Tuesday. Since my company, Thinkamingo, makes educational apps, my past meetings have mostly been with the Federal Trade Commission discussing the development and implementation of COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.) This year was much different for me.
My schedule included meetings with the offices of Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Bill Nelson, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Sen. Al Franken, Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen, Dept. of Education Office of Educational Technology, Dept. of Education Statistical Privacy Advisor, and the House Committee for Education and the Workforce. These meetings took place over Tuesday and Wednesday.
It is unusual to actually meet the Senator or Representative and highly likely the meeting will be with one or more staffers. I find this to be a good thing. The staffers are policy experts who are ready to talk about the issues facing constituents and listen to their stories.
- Encountered great support for K-12 Computer Science Education, encryption, and cyber security throughout my meetings. These are all issues of national security and must be addressed with the appropriate gravitas. The consequences are an unthinkable scenario of outsourcing NSA jobs to China and building backdoors for the FBI whenever they choose. I do think the majority of our politicians are on the right track here. The trick, especially with computer science education, is to put support behind the rhetoric. Walk the talk, people.
- In his office, Sen. Bill Nelson has a model of the new rocket scheduled to launch in 2018, along with a treasure trove of astronaut and space memorabilia.
- FTC Commissioner Ohlausen’s office has a patio. The weather was stunning, so we met out there.
- Rep. Bilirakis’ Chief of Staff Liz Hittos is a fellow Countryside High School graduate. We discussed getting together with Bilirakis and tour the tech entrepreneur scene in the 12th Congressional District of Florida.
- The brilliant people I met at the Office of Educational Technology in the Department of Educaiton are former classroom teachers.
Taking an active part in government energizes me as an entrepreneur and citizen. Developing relationships over time is key to being heard. I’ve learned so much through actively engaging with policymakers. Each year, I reflect on what we’ve accomplished as a business and as a family over the last year and I have new stories to share, both personally and professionally.
This conference is also an important time for me to feel really connected to my business and other business colleagues. Working from home either alone or with your spouse can actually be pretty lonely and can feel disconnected. Sometimes the business doesn’t feel real since we don’t talk directly to customers or have other employees or contractors. Finding those opportunities to have real conversations with people who completely understand you is a relief, frankly, and a reminder that it is reality. Actively participating in The App Association community through the App Economy Conference is a way for me to give back to such a supportive group of people, especially through the Know What’s Inside program.