Miguel A. Gamiño Jr: SF CIO. Entrepreneur. Race car driver.

Miguel A. Gamino Jr., the CIO of the City of San Francisco, spoke with TechRepublic about his career history, his work philosophy, and what it takes to keep his city on the cutting edge.

Image: City of San Francisco

Ask people which US city is spearheading technological innovation, and many would probably answer San Francisco. The City by the Bay hosts some of the world's biggest tech companies and top tech talent.

Managing the IT for the city itself is no small task. One of the people leading that effort to make it live up to its reputation is City of San Francisco CIO Miguel A. Gamiño Jr. He took the position in July 2013, and he has been managing a balancing act ever since -- he has to juggle proper stewardship of the city's resources with the constant availability of new technology.

"It's a blessing and a curse being here in the center of the tech universe," Gamiño said.

The blessing is that he has resources and inspiration available to him that aren't available to other city CIOs. The curse is that the high expectations of the community can be a challenge. People expect the same kind of services and innovation they see from the tech companies in San Francisco, but Gamiño has to be responsible in selecting and deploying new tools.

Innovation is all around him. Gamiño can look out his office window across the street and see the headquarters for technology giants such as Uber, Square, Twitter, and Yammer. As far as what attracts so much technological progress to the city, he said it has to do with the inertia created by the tech ecosystem.

"If you wanted to be in the oil business, you would go where the oil is," Gamiño said. "If you want to be in the tech business you go where the raw materials are -- [materials] being the people talent, and the ecosystem, and all of the things that are required to successfully launch new technology. Even just the spirit of embracing risk and change and disruption."

The talent piece is especially important, as skilled technology workers know that jobs are in high-demand in the area. Also, Gamiño said that the culture of the city attracts certain kinds of young people and innovators who want disrupt the norm. There's something about San Francisco that pulls in people who want to change the world.

That translates when he's hiring as well. Due to the talent pool in the city, job candidates typically already possess a high level of technical skill. Because of this, he's focused more on finding folks with a particular set of soft skills, things he can't teach them.

"It's passion, attitude, and character," he said. "I think that, in this business it requires a person who's mission driven, who can be inspired by the mission and that is the principle motivator."

After graduating from The University of Texas at El Paso in 1999, he worked for a big corporation where he learned a lot about business operating in a well-structured environment. In the early 2000s, he had an idea that spawned a startup.

"I took a Cisco callmanager, put it in a data center, we wrote a little code and served it up as a multi-tenant service," he said. "This was well before the term 'cloud' was coined, but it was essentially the same philosophy."

He later had another iteration of it that was close to what we would call the private cloud. He wanted to make big expensive technologies available to small and medium sized businesses. After his second startup, he took a sabbatical for a little while.

During this time he met the city manager of El Paso, TX and she convinced him to help the City of El Paso fix its IT department.

Went into it thinking of it as a project, but it turned into more than that. He fell in love with the mission. and his preconceived notions of public sector work were shattered. A little later, San Francisco was recruiting for their CIO and the recruiter contacted him.

"I always told myself there were only three cities that I would seriously entertain continuing to do this for, and San Francisco was at the top of that list," he said. "So, it was really serendipity I guess."

While he'll admit that he doesn't think much about his legacy, Gamiño hopes that he helped people realize their potential. He still keeps in touch with the first person he ever hired in his career and he gets excited seeing the success of people he's worked with.

In his own words...

What's the best thing you've read lately?

"Probably the most recent is Responsive City. I've actually had the pleasure of meeting Susan Crawford and having some interaction with her. So, I've not only read the book but benefitted from actually talking with her about it. Then, quite frankly...again I don't know if this is good or bad, or if this is just the changing times, but what I read the most is Twitter. Keeping current on the things that are happening and shaping our industry is kind of what I do as another hobby, so to speak. I find that things that come to me on Twitter are current and digestible, and little snippets that I can fit into gaps here and there."

If you weren't working in tech, what other profession would you love to try?

"The truth is, I've always said the only thing I'd rather be doing is racing cars. Because, I raced for a while, not professionally, but on the local amateur circuit and I did pretty well. I always thought the only thing I'd rather be doing would be racing NASCAR or Formula One or something like that. That would be my other dream job, I guess."

What is your no 1. philosophy about work?

"I've coined a phrase, kind of a vision statement if you will: 'We are an IT services startup, happening from within the government to serve the government.' And, the quote that I've coined is that 'we aspire to be the tech partner of choice, not the IT department of mandate.' What's being said in that statement is we want to be service driven and competitive, and hold ourselves to the same expectation as the marketplace. But, we also want to shed the governmental philosophy that you're mandated, or you're forced by the powers to consume IT from me, so you don't have any choice. It's a false sense of entitlement, because our customers really do have choices. But, it also does not center our focus on what's important, which is delivering quality service efficiently and effectively, that ultimately improves city services."

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