Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne, A Beacon Of Light For NYC's Hopeful Digerati?

by Ross Kenneth Urken · January 24, 2011

New York is ever becoming an extreme tech-hub, and today's announcement that Rachel Sterne, 27, will fill the civic position of Chief Digital Officer marked a bellwether of New York's increased reliance on and celebration of the digerati.-

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's  announcement of the position six months ago came coupled with a posting soliciting someone to

"help develop forward-thinking policies on social media, digital communications, web 2.0 initiatives and other tools to better serve the public."

After months of resumes and interviews, the City chose Stern, founder of a citizen journalism site GroundReport and an adjunct professor of social media and entrepreneurship at Columbia Business School. She also runs a digital strategist consulting firm called Upward that helps "organizations chart and execute a powerful, results-drive product, communications and engagement strategy online."

In her position, as Capital points out, Sterne will serve the twin purposes of helping the City use social media and also supporting the city's tech scene of start-ups Often the relationship between the city and its now flourishing tech scene has been a trouble one, and Capital sees Sterne as a type of emulsifier:

"Local startups and venture capitalists have not always been happy with the Bloomberg administration: For more than 10 years, the city has been in conversations with leaders of the scene, who have been asking for support for the existing tech community--with more 'digital native' liaisons and possible rent abatements, for example."

Sterne told Capital she would focus on making technology serve citizens better by saving tax payers money through efficient utilization of services online. Just think how speedy bureaucracy could be through the Internets.

Caroline McCarthy over at CNET calls it slightly differently from Capital's analysis: "Sterne's job won't involve wrangling the scores of small tech start-ups that have popped up like mushrooms in the city."

To be sure, Bloomberg values that tech-sphere energy within Gotham, but his approval of Sterne seems more a vindication of his belief that well-used technology can make for better government than a complete endorsement for her to help budding companies.

He focused, of course, on the importance of the grassroots tech start-ups in the city in his January 19 State of the City address:

"Recently, New York was named the number one city for young entrepreneurs and that's a great sign for our future, because as much as we are competing with places like London and Hong Kong for private investment we are competing with places like Boulder and the Bay Area for the college graduates whose ideas will attract investment, and power the 21st Century economy."

Funding for tech growth, by extension, has been important for Bloomberg, himself an entrepreneur:

"Last year we passed Boston in venture capital funding in technology, putting us ahead of every place but Silicon Valley."

As Foursquare Co-Founder Dennis Crowley wrote on his Tumblr, "Bloomberg was talking about how NYC was recently named the number one city for young entrepreneurs and then he named a few startups--'the social networking site foursquare, that was started around a kitchen table in the East Village and now has more than 5 million user."

[Foursquare co-founder Naveen up on stage with Bloomberg]

Though Sterne's role may not coddle the next FourSquare into existence, her civic presence does represent a new trajectory for the city's commitment to the capabilities of social media.

Of course, the ladies over at Change the Ratio are ecstatic about the decision. Sterne falls soundly somewhere on the Female Tech Influencer Matrix.