The importance of having experience

I just watched this video of myself in a graduation video from 2008 at the Harvard Kennedy School. I was there with a few other guys in the dual Master’s degree program. Most of the others were also attending Harvard Business School. There were four of us doing a joint degree with MIT Sloan (MBA program) but I was the only one interviewed.

In the video I said that in 10 years I would probably be plotting my campaign against Jason Elliott, a fellow Bay Area Californian in my HKS class, for governor of the state. Ten years later I am indeed plotting my political rise, albeit at a much more local level, and Jason is helping to elect Gavin Newsom as our next governor after spending nearly a decade in San Francisco’s City Hall. I spent the last ten years working in tech. 

Experience matters, especially in California. I believe voters want to see not only thoughtfulness but also a robust political resume, time spent on the ground, working in the community, and living a well-rounded life. I don’t want a life-long political wonk representing me. Private sector experience is important. Family life is important. Since most adults in our county have kids, I would want my representatives to have kids too. I want them to also value parks, schools, safety, and view these public services through the eyes of a parent. 

That’s what I think about when I reflect on these past ten years. I’m not that young guy in the video anymore, joking about girls, not having any real commitments other than showing up to class and paying my rent on time. It’s real life now with real pressures. I’ve been doing for the last few years what every other mid-30s male in Contra Costa County has been doing. Saving up for a house, earning to pay the mortgage, trying to get enough sleep and spend time with the kids and maintain a strong relationship with the spouse and keep the house clean and try to have a little bit of fun too. It’s a lot but we all do it. 

Most candidates running for office in their 20s don’t know these kinds of pressures yet. You can’t shortcut it. You can’t read about it. What they say is true: you can’t know what it’s like to have kids unless you have them. It’s just different when you’re a parent. Maybe it’s unfair, but as a parent myself, I want to see other parents in office public office.

There are exceptions, of course. Governor Brown is one. 

But more than that, I want to see years, even decades, of experience living and working in the Bay Area and having a significant career outside of government and politics. I like candidates who can take a private sector mindset to public office. It doesn’t mean that they can change government, but I think it means government will be less successful at changing them. I don’t know this for sure, though. I’m still learning and so far, in my work with Voxloca, I’ve been impressed by the open-mindedness and speed by which our customers in Bay Area cities will move. It’s a lot better than I expected. 

My thinking on this public-private sector experience dichotomy will evolve in the coming years but this is where I’m at with it now.  

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