haku Industry Leadership Spotlight Series: Megan Smith

Written by Luis Estrada

Continuing our Leadership Spotlight series, as part of Women’s History Month, we feature Megan Smith, a pioneer in the technology industry who rose to levels never before achieved, becoming the first woman Chief Technology Officer of the United States under President Barack Obama.

Smith spent 11 years at Google, including time as general manager of Google.org and then becoming VP of Google X. She also served as CEO of PlanetOut, one of the premier LGBTQ online media platforms of its time.

Born in Buffalo, NY, Smith grew up with a love for science and technology. She stated in an interview that she was especially grateful for her teachers instilling a love of science from grade school, and her hands-on STEM experiences were key to her career. Smith holds two degrees from MIT and was part of a team that designed, built and raced a solar car 2000 miles across the Australian Outback in the first World Solar Challenge.

Smith achieved some remarkable feats while at Google. She led the company’s acquisitions of Google Earth, Google Maps and Picasa, and also co-created “Solve for X”, a solution program and think tank-like event to encourage collaboration and innovation.

As her career grew, Smith continued to shatter glass ceilings. First, in the technology field, where she started Google’s “Women’s Techmakers” diversity initiative, bringing together thousands of women in tech for events and leadership programs. She also created a White House website devoted to “the untold history of women in science and technology.”

Her career took an incredible turn when she was appointed Chief Technology Officer under President Obama in 2014. She became the first woman, and first openly gay individual to serve in that capacity. “In tech, finding people that look like you can be a huge challenge,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, it tends to advance certain types of people and diminish others. You have to seek out groups and individuals that can help you. If they don't exist, create them.”

The World Economic Forum named her company, PlanetOut, as a Technology Pioneer in 2001, and in her speech, she said 2% of the mail received at PlanetOut was hate mail. “Of that 2%, 90% was religiously based,” she said. In 2015, she was awarded the Rick Weiland Award honoring a member of the technology industry who is accelerating acceptance.

Today, Smith is CEO of shift7, a company she founded in 2018 to connect diverse tech talent across the globe. The company focuses on partnerships for systemic challenges in the economic, social and environmental fields. They highlight achievements and milestones by women and one of their most unique components is a project that tackles equity and inclusivity in media to reduce stereotypes and bias.

Megan Smith is an icon in technology, but her reach spans far beyond just one field of expertise. She is a symbol of what is possible as a leader for women and for the LGBTQ community.



1. https://www.technologyreview.com/2007/10/15/223351/megan-smith-86-sm-88/
2. https://www.businessinsider.com/biography-of-megan-smith-chief-technology-officer-united-states

3. https://www.politico.com/news/2019/10/21/playbook-birthday-megan-smith-053038

4. https://roadtripnation.com/leader/megan-smith

5. https://shift7.com/equity