In a move that didn’t come as surprise to many of the people watching the United States Digital Service (USDS), the now former head of Google’s spam team has decided to stay in the public sector permanently.
One of the most public faces of Google, Matt Cutts was visible in conferences, public events and through his high profile Twitter account as he negotiated his work with Google. His question and answer style videos on YouTube helped developers to better understand how to make sense of Google’s spam filters and get their content where it needed to be. That openness is one of the things that made him so successful and in turn, that helped Google succeed.
Cutts designed SafeSearch, Google’s family filter. He’s listed on Google patents for search and web spam software and his programming skills are well known among his peers. Not only that, Cutts is widely praised for his ability to translate big ideas into workable solutions on the web. During his early tenure at Google around the turn of the Millennium, he proved to be a visionary who was passionate about keeping inappropriate material out of Google’s search engine results.
Every business that works on the web has been impacted by Cutts. The Wall Street Journal once said in 2006 that he “is to search results what Alan Greenspan was to interest rates.” It’s difficult to overestimate the power that Cutts has held over search results, and by extension in the world at large, as search has a major impact on nearly every industry.
The passion that he felt about the power of technology is the reason that Cutts decided to leave Google. He took a major pay cut to step away from Google and into the public sector. Originally his stint was only set to last for three months, at which point he would return to his position at Google. However after seeing the good things that he was able to accomplish through his work at the USDS, Cutts decided to make the move permanent, resigning from Google on December 31st.
Always open about his path, Matt speaks about that passion on his blog and how it drove him to working for the government, saying “All I can tell you is that the work is deeply important and inspiring, and you have a chance to work on things that genuinely make peoples’ lives better.”
Launched in 2014 by the Obama administration, the goal of the USDS is to spread the use of smart technology through the government, improving communication between departments. Before the creation of the USDS, departments within the federal government operated independently with respect to technology. That silo mentality has meant that the government offices didn’t learn from the mistakes of one another. The USDS leans on the technological expertise of top developers like Cutts to improve the functionality of technology and by extension to improve the lives of ordinary people in meaningful ways. Great leadership from an innovator can make all the difference in the success or failure of the entire project.
Working for the government isn’t without its challenges, especially in this politically charged time. The agency that Cutts works for is relatively new and up until last week was headed by its first director, Mickey Dickerson. Dickerson was a political appointee, which meant that he had to step down on Inauguration Day. That leaves Cutts as the acting director unless and until a replacement is appointed for the position. What’s impressive about Cutts is that he sees beyond the politics and into the heart of the issues that matter when it comes to internet safety and technology.
This isn’t just a path that Cutts thinks is right for himself – he wants to see other technological innovators join him at the USDS. Embedded within the announcement on his blog, Cutts included a YouTube video about the work of the USDS to encourage other developers to leave the private sector and make a difference within the public. He writes “The work that the USDS does is critical to the American people, and I’m honored to continue that tradition.” For Matt, this is about the bigger picture and the chance to leave a lasting legacy.
Cutts is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned his Master of Science degree in 1998. He was working on his PhD from UNC in 2000 when he joined the Google team as a software engineer. At the time, there were less than 100 people employed by the company. When he and his wife packed up their car to head out west, they didn’t necessarily know that they were moving to make history.
He still comes back to his alma mater to speak, and to visit his wife’s family here in the NC. He’s still an avid Tarheel fan when basketball season rolls around. You’ll find his brackets on his blog most every March.
Cutts has been working for the greater good since those formative years at UNC, and he continues to work to promote positive technology within the wider culture. The permanent move from Google to public service doesn’t come as a surprise to many of the people who have known Matt or followed him the public eye. His belief that technology has the power to be a positive and shaping force in society has always been a core part of his career, a pattern that is set to continue as he brings his expertise and leadership to the USDS.
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