Innovators Network

Megan Smith - CEO, shift7 & Former Chief Technology Officer, Office of Science and Technology Policy, The White House

Smith graduated from M.I.T. with a degree in mechanical engineering. In 1987 she was part of a small team of students that built a solar-powered car and raced it across the Australian outback. For her master's degree project in 1988, she built a joystick with motors underneath that produced a variety of tactile sensations. She has shown a knack for gravitating to the most prominent young companies in Silicon Valley.

While at General Magic, a company conceived by Apple Computer veterans to do for mobile computing what the Macintosh had done for the desktop, Smith began drifting from engineering to business. She began working with the company's corporate partners, and in time, the only daily reminder of her own technical work was a desk drawer filled with mechanical engineering paraphernalia.

After leaving General Magic, she joined another start-up, PlanetOut, a Web site catering to gays and lesbians. By 1998, Smith was the chief executive of PlanetOut. The plans for an initial public offering were dashed by dot-com crash. PlanetOut is still around, and after a merger in 2001, it is profitable. But Smith is now working on business development at Google, where she’s helping Google revolutionize the search-engine world and teaching up-and-coming engineers how to fix the real one. As a Reuters Digital Vision Fellow at Stanford University, she advised researchers from around the world on ways to bring technology to developing nations. She also advises Design That Matters, an organization that enables engineering students to bring their technical expertise to bear on problems in the Third World.

"Helping people access things they need is one of the best things you can do," she says of her work at Google. "It's exciting to work on a set of products that really helps people in their daily lives." What's the next big thing? Smith expects to see enormous growth in online photography. "This year there are going to be 29 billion cell phone photos taken."

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