Innovation

Silicon Valley CTO explains why Trump happened

The morning after the 2016 election, one Silicon Valley executive turned a conference keynote into an exploration of how tech-like disruption has come to politics with the election of Donald Trump.

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Joyent CTO Bryan Cantrill used Silicon Valley-style disruption to explain Donald Trump's victory.

Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

A few weeks ago, Bryan Cantrill realized that his keynote address on day two of the Structure Conference was going to take place the morning after the 2016 US election. Judging by how close and contentious the US presidential race has been, Cantrill wondered if he might have to give his talk after a long and dramatic election night.

When Donald Trump surprisingly swept into power with a force that few expected, Cantrill tweeted that he would scrap most of his talk about cloud computing and instead focus on a topic that Silicon Valley knows well—disruption—as a way to understand Trump's victory.

He posted, "So my keynote at #structureconf tomorrow on the state of the cloud is going to address what we're seeing tonight; it's not unrelated."

As part his 7-post tweetstorm, Cantrill—the CTO of software company Joyent—also noted, "We (I!) often observe that 'software is eating the world' — but tonight we are reminded that there are people that feel devoured."

SEE: The 2016 presidential election is far worse, and much better, because of technology

When he strode onto the stage with the kind of energy of someone who's already had three cups of coffee before 10:00 am, Cantrill practically shouted, "Disruption, it's not just for economics anymore. It's for politics."

He went on to explain why we should think of the Trump victory beyond the candidate himself and look into what caused so many Americans to vote for disruption.

"The fear felt by one part of America this morning is the fear another part of America has felt for a generation," he said.

While Cantrill clearly doesn't hold a very high opinion of Trump, he was very fair in assessing the larger impact of the moment. He also laid a portion of the blame at the feet of the technology industry.

We're living through a period of tremendous economic and workforce disruption and the future of software and artificial intelligence is only going to accelerate it. Many more types of jobs will be put at risk and new opportunities will open.

"The storm is going to blow ashore," he said. "We have to collectively learn how to come to grips with it."

Work is going to change, and skills and job preparation have to change to keep up. "Computational thinking is literacy," he said. "We as a society have an acute literacy problem."

He also made an appeal not to write the scared people who have been displaced in the changing job market, as we naturally look at the results of the 2016 election and see two Americas.

"We should not underestimate the ingenuity of both Americas," Cantrill said.

You can watch the full 22-minute talk below and you can also see Cantrill's slides on SlideShare.

About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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