Eugene Huang is an introvert who's on an extended lecture circuit, a high-level government official who dislikes politics and, as of Oct. 1, one of the youngest state Cabinet secretaries in the nation.
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) appointed Huang, 28, as the state's secretary of technology last month after George C. Newstrom resigned the post. Although Huang (it's pronounced "Wong") had been Newstrom's deputy since the beginning of the Warner administration in 2002, their styles are very different.
Virginia Technology Secretary Eugene Huang, 28, was a college sophomore when he met Gov. Mark R. Warner.
Newstrom, 57, was a longtime executive of computer services giant EDS, known for his diplomacy and deep local connections as well as a passion for golf. Huang, who grew up in Beverly Hills, is a marathoner, the founder of a start-up, and currently on leave from Oxford University, where he is finishing a PhD in economic history and a dissertation on mobile phone standardization.
"It is a difference of age and energy," says Peter Jobse, president of the state-funded Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon. Still, he says Newstrom and Huang have similar goals. "The mission is simpatico," Jobse says.
Since Huang took over he has spoken to crowds at least three times a week, not the easiest undertaking for the most introverted of introverts (according to personality tests he has taken). Preparing for the New York City Marathon this weekend, the lanky Cabinet secretary is trying to eat more to keep up his calories. Yes, he says, he would rather be running or researching than negotiating with state legislators and preaching the virtues of Virginia's technology community. But he says he also has a sense of how technology has changed his generation, and of what Virginia can do to better compete in a high-tech world. Huang is embarking on a finite opportunity: Because Virginia has a one-term governorship, Huang has 15 months to make his mark on the job, and the state.
Working with Newstrom, Huang helped refocus the Center for Innovative Technology, which over the past few years has lost funding and struggled to define its mission. Now the CIT focuses primarily on nanotechnology, biotechnology and homeland security, Huang says.
On his own, Huang hopes to address what he sees as Virginia's biggest technology problem -- the lack of a world-class research institution, the likes of Stanford University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which helped define the technology meccas of Northern California's Silicon Valley and Boston's Route 128, respectively.
" Alan Merten will kill me for saying this," Huang says of the president of George Mason University, "but there isn't a high-tech research institution that exists in Northern Virginia."
Huang brushes off the notion that Washington area operations such as the National Institutes of Health could replace a university. "You tell people 'government' and their eyes glaze over," he says. So in the next year, how can Huang solve this problem? Huang says one possibility now being explored is to establish a Northern Virginia outpost for Virginia Polytechnic Institute, located in Blacksburg.
One of Huang's other projects is to use government resources to bring high-speed Internet access to areas of the state that don't have it.