The Republican National Committee has hired a senior Facebook engineer with a decade of experience in Silicon Valley to fill its newly created position of chief technology officer, The Huffington Post has learned.
Andy Barkett, 32, an engineering manager at Facebook and a California native, will head RNC efforts to make the party more competitive in the digital realm, the RNC confirmed Thursday evening. One source called the decision to hire Barkett “a relatively speedy development.” Barkett will split his time between Silicon Valley and Washington, sources said.
At Facebook, Barkett “was in charge of dozens of engineers on six production engineering teams responsible for thousands of servers and scaling systems in mobile infrastructure, messaging, advertisements, newsfeeds, platforms, and payments,” according to the RNC.
He also is “an angel investor for multiple start-ups,” the RNC said.
Barkett said in a statement provided by the RNC that it is “essential that the Republican Party has the resources to drive voter turnout as we look toward the elections of 2014, 2016 and beyond.”
“Silicon Valley welcomes the party’s efforts to be more creative and innovative, and I look forward to helping the party accomplish these goals,” he said.
The CTO position was a key component of the RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project report earlier this year, which came in response to presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s loss to President Barack Obama and laid out a plan for the party to catch Democrats in several areas, including the use of technology and data tools.
The report said the position should be filled by May 1 and described “the immediate need for the RNC and Republicans to foster what has been referred to as an ‘environment of intellectual curiosity’ and a ‘culture of data and learning.’”
“The RNC must lead this effort,” the report said. “We need to be much more purposeful and expansive in our use of research and more sophisticated in how we employ data across all campaign and Party functions.”
The person hired as CTO, the report said, should “identify, recruit and hire a working group of data scientists, tech and digital advocates to build a structure that can eventually be deployed during the 2014 midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race to provide a 21st century digital, data and tech operation for our candidates.”
Only a month ago, the RNC was reportedly looking at three prospects whose backgrounds were all political: Katie Harbath of Facebook, Rob Saliterman of Google and Mindy Finn of Twitter. Each came from the Republican political world and had been hired by tech companies.
Barkett, meanwhile, earned a political economy degree from University of California, Berkeley, in 2002 and an MBA from UC, Davis, in 2009. He has worked for more than a decade at tech companies as an engineer. According to Barkett’s Facebook page, from 2002 to 2006, he was a software engineering manager at OnWafer Technologies, which “manufactures lithography and plasma etch products to the semiconductor industry” and was acquired by KLA-Tencor Corp. in 2007, after Barkett’s departure.
In 2006, Barkett went to work for Google, where he was a technical program manager for two years. During that same period, he co-founded Greenlight Apparel, a “fair-trade, organic clothing company.”
Barkett left Google in 2008. He was a senior IT management consultant at Taos Mountain Inc. for several months, then a senior director for engineering at Livescribe Inc. for almost two years. In January 2011, Facebook hired Barkett as an engineering manager.
“This guy is obviously in a different mold,” said another source knowledgeable with Barkett’s hiring. “This guy is actually from the engineering side. If I’m looking at it from the RNC’s perspective, getting somebody who is really an engineer and has been doing this on the tech side makes a lot of sense.”
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said he was “confident that with Andy’s experience and our continued efforts to build meaningful relationships with experts in Silicon Valley, we’ll see the changes to this part of our operation that we all agree are both important and necessary to winning elections in the future.”
Scott McNealy, the Sun Microsystems co-founder who has been advising the RNC on digital strategy, said Barkett’s hiring would be a “huge boost” to the party.
“Andy Barkett is a not just a strong advocate of fiscal conservatism and the ability of private enterprise to lift everyone in our nation, but he is the real deal as a technologist too,” McNealy said in a statement provided by the RNC. “His deep background with several Silicon Valley stalwarts meshes nicely with his exceptional data base and app pedigrees.”
Barkett graduated from high school in Sacramento, Calif. One of his first jobs, while he was still an undergrad, was in the IT department of the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
“Basically, the other people who worked in the ‘IT’ ‘department’ accumulated broken computers all day and then I fixed them in the afternoon,” Barkett wrote on his Facebook bio page. That comment was removed from his page after he was contacted by HuffPost.
Barkett told the UC, Davis School of Management that his work at Facebook involved “analyzing strategic opportunities and threats, and knowing how to motivate engineers to tackle them.”