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Tech Groups Find New Networking Territory

By Kim Hart
Monday, June 15, 2009

It's not every day that you see tech executives and government officials hobnobbing while sipping a Malware Mojito or Cloud Martini, and snacking on Phishing Tacos and Silicon Valley Sliders.

That was the scene last Wednesday at TechAmerica's reception held at the Mayflower Hotel. Attendees could flit between the "Cloud Computing Cafe" and the "Cyber Security Lounge" while discussing government opportunities for technology firms. Vint Cerf, chief Internet evangelist for Google, who's also called the "father of the Internet," was the keynote speaker, though it was tough to hear him over the chatter in the room.

One of his most quotable quips: "Information isn't power, information-sharing is power."

It was the first major networking event for TechAmerica, which was formed in September by the merger of AeA (formerly the American Electronics Association), the Cyber Security Industry Alliance (CSIA), the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) and the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association (GEIA). The alphabet soup that was the tech industry's lobbying arm now falls under TechAmerica's umbrella, with 1,500 member organizations, to help present a more unified front in Washington. Besides, it was getting tough to get technology companies to pay membership dues for a half-dozen trade groups.

Not surprisingly, the evening centered on providing technology for government. Dan Burton, senior vice president for public policy for Salesforce.com, was interested in joining the numerous conversations about cloud computing. Patrick Taylor, chief executive of Oversight Systems, a firm that helps detect and minimize fraud in government spending, flew up from Atlanta to get more agencies interested in the product. Bob Laurence, who runs the public sector practice for Sybase, hopes the administration's emphasis on collaboration will generate need for a product like his, which manages databases.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was supposed to attend, but she canceled at the last minute because of nine floor votes happening that night.

In the past, AeA has held annual dinners for company and government representatives. But new regulations have cracked down on what types of perks federal employees are allowed to accept, including meals. So the event had the feel of a cocktail hour. Hors d'oeuvres were served, but attendees ate them with their fingers. No forks were allowed to avoid the appearance of a meal. Thankfully, napkins were available.

Many of the out-of-town executives spent a day last week on Capitol Hill discussing how technology can be a key aspect of the economic recovery, TechAmerica President Phil Bond said.

"We want [members of Congress] to know that we'll help them meet the people and companies that can make things happen," he said.

One for the Ladies

A lot of the technology conferences and networking events in the area are disproportionately attended by men. But one new event last Thursday was designed especially for the other gender. (However, there were about a half-dozen men in the crowd.)

The Tech Council of Maryland's Mid-Atlantic Women and Technology Conference brought about 250 female tech professionals to the Reagan Building to talk about strategy, winning government business and figuring out how sites like Facebook and Twitter can help them find customers. The most popular sessions dealt with using social media, led by Matt Goddard, chief executive of Internet marketing firm R2integrated, located in Baltimore and Vienna; and strategies for effective professional networking, led by Lynne Waymon, trainer for Silver Spring-based consulting company Contacts Count.

Casey Coleman, chief information officer for the General Services Administration, coached the women not to be afraid of taking risks, whether it be launching a bold project or gunning for a top position.

She said that's exactly what new federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra and Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra are doing -- introducing "game-changing" technologies to the government sector.

"We're seeing a sea change in information technology," she said, adding that platforms such as cloud computing hold a great deal of potential for agencies.

But pointing to a few of her own failed projects, she said she realized that they were unsuccessful because they "didn't address the human element."

"Building relationships with stakeholders is much more important than the technology," she said.

Before next year's conference, the attendees are considering starting a mentoring program through which younger professionals can learn from those who have more experience in the field. Next year's conference may also invite high school and college students to attend special sessions designed particularly for them.

Kim Hart writes about the Washington technology scene every Monday. Contact her at hartk@washpost.com.

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