By Jason Hibbets
To a technology director at the White House, the State of the Union is like the Superbowl. While the world is watching the President of the United States deliver an address to the nation, Leigh Heyman and his team are managing the media technology behind the scenes to create an enhanced and interactive experience for the viewers. How many of you watched the State of the Union on YouTube this year?
As the Director of New Media Technologies at the Executive Office of the President, Heyman uses strong leadership to chart new technical territory for the White House. If you ever get to meet him in person, the first thing that will likely grab your attention is the presidential lapel pin on his suit. It's a little intimidating, but his broad smile and confident handshake tell the whole story.
It's one of confidence and openness, and it's what struck me when I met Heyman for the first time at the Palmetto Open Source Conference in Columbia, South Carolina. He was presenting a talk about We The People, the White House online petition platform. It is one of many tech projects with a nod towards a more open and transparent government that Heyman and his team have led, including WhiteHouse.gov which runs on Drupal and various White House hackathons held at the White House itself.
Though no less extraordinary, it's somewhat old news that the White House has been using open source technologies in it's efforts. At DrupalCon San Francisco, the White House revealed their first contributions to Drupal. What's exciting now is they are consistently giving back to open source projects and writing web APIs.
This marks a new era for the government's relationship with open source, and is due in part to the work the New Media Technologies team does to promote a more transparent, collaborative, and participatory government.
In this interview, Leigh Heyman gives me some of the backstory on how he came to work for the Executive Office of the President and some fun facts about the famous Death Star Petition. He also discusses recent new media projects at the White House, shedding light on how they might live beyond the current administration and forge a new relationship with US citizens.