Miguel Gamino: Connecting the City of New York
Story By: Steve Penhollow
Before anyone had coined the phrase “cloud service,” Miguel Gamino Jr. created a cloud service. Visionaries are often people who create things before people can come up with the words to describe them. Nowadays, Gamino is New York City’s Chief Technology Officer, a role he had previously held in San Francisco.
Gamino’s title in San Francisco was Chief Information Officer, but his duties were similar to what he is doing now.
“When I was an entrepreneur, I invested my own private money and time into helping build a public-facing, free WiFi network called Digital El Paso,” Gamino said in a phone interview. “And in San Francisco, on top of going in and doing the operational improvements, I was given the opportunity to focus on this broadband story that I personally find very important.”
Gamino said his proudest moment in the City by the Bay was when he and his team got a story about their broadband efforts on the cover of the San Francisco Chronicle.
“I felt like broadband was finally entering the mainstream conversation,” he said. “That it wasn’t just a bunch of geeks in a room or people in an echo chamber. It escaped that echo chamber into the general conversation.”
The goal in San Francisco (a goal that continues to be pursued in Gamino’s absence) is pervasive broadband, meaning that every person in the city will be connected to a speedy, efficient Internet.
In 2016, Gamino was asked by the city of New York to switch coasts and develop a Smart City and “Internet of Things” (IoT) strategy.
“That was an invitation I could not refuse,” he said. “The conversation I had with the Mayor confirmed for me that, all the way up to the Mayor, there was … not just (a serious) commitment to doing it, but an understanding of why it should be done.”
Gamino said technology can make the city — and make life in the city — more inclusive and equitable.
“Now I’m here and I am focused specifically on fulfilling the commitment to broadband for all New Yorkers,” he said.
Some of society’s efforts to evolve technologically can create even wider digital divides, Gamino said.
Technologically advanced classrooms help us compete on the world stage, but if children don’t have access to those same tools at home, “we could inadvertently be putting some (children) at a further disadvantage,” Gamino said. He believes we have to take a “full life cycle” approach when considering access to technology and global systems.
Gamino and his team are driven in their endeavors by “who New York is.”
“We have such a diverse population,” he said. “We have such a diverse set of industries, a diverse set of needs and resources. By virtue of keeping up with those things, we tend to continue to find ourselves leading a lot of the conversation.”’
Which is not to suggest other cities aren’t doing equally cool and even cooler things.
“There are other cities that are doing great things that we haven’t thought of,” Gamino said. “But I think very often we find ourselves thinking creatively about solving problems, being very focused on inclusiveness and equity and caring for that very important diversity aspect of our community.”
That’s all part of the DNA of New York, Gamino said.
“My role is to make sure we are bringing technology into the conversation very, very actively,” he said, “but also very, very responsibly for all those non-technology outcomes. Technology is always about benefitting people and their lives and public experiences, not just technology for technology’s sake.”
Ubiquitous, high-quality broadband will lead to “the next wave of industry,” Gamino said, “and progress and prosperity will come, in my belief, sitting on top of that hyper-connected community.”
It was hard to find mentors when he was younger, Gamino said, so he is focused now on giving back as much as he can.
“I very rarely turn down a request for a meeting or advice,” he said. “I guess that’s the way I’m compensating for having not done it really well when I was coming up the ranks. I am trying to find people who might be at risk of making the same mistakes I did and being very accessible to those people, because I want them to have the benefit of whatever I have to offer.”
Paying it back and paying it forward is vitally important, said Gamino, who tries to help people realize their potential even when they are able to recognize that potential themselves.
“As often as you can, you have to do right by people,” he said. “At the end of the day, whatever business or industry you are in, it involves people. Never forgetting that. It’s easy to get focused on profit margin … and on the tactical, technical components and forget why you’re doing this in the first place.”