It’s clear that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the Democratic and Republican nominees, have had very different approaches to the presidential election. What isn’t clear, are their respective views on issues in technology.
Hillary Clinton, the Obama-endorsed Democratic nominee, recently released a detailed technology initiative that states her stance on technology talent shortages, net neutrality and privacy, amongst other issues. On the other hand, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has remained surprisingly quiet on issues in technology. His comments on technology are primarily focused on the issue of the H1B visa cap, and his stance on device privacy and encryption.
Clinton’s newly released Initiative on Technology & Innovation certainly has the Silicon Valley talking about the potential impact she would have if elected. It covers topics like net neutrality, diversity in the tech industry and an expansion of programs to develop qualified technology workers here in America. Recode.net joked that Clinton’s initiative was a “love letter to Silicon Valley”. Many Silicon Valley tech executives like Mark Benoiff of Salesforce, Reed Hastings of Netflix, and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, have now formally expressed their support of Clinton. Just a few weeks ago, nearly 150 influential technology leaders signed an open letter denouncing Trump for his “reckless disregard of legal and political institutions.” Donald Trump has secured the support of Peter Thiel – the billionaire cofounder of Palantir and PayPal.
Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, there’s no denying that the results of the presidential election could have a major impact on the Silicon Valley. How will the Silicon Valley continue to secure the engineering talent it needs to thrive? Will we see a deeper partnership between technology companies and the US government? Is the H1B visa cap going to raise, or even decline?
Addressing the Engineering Talent Gap
Engineering and technical talent power innovation in the Silicon Valley. Talent comes from a variety of sources – emigrating from different parts of the US, visa holders from other countries, and even talent born and raised in the area. The H1B visa, in particular, has become a hot topic for both Clinton and Trump.
The H1B visa is reserved for highly specialized workers in math, science, and technology fields. The amount of people applying to receive an H1B visa hit record highs in 2016, with over 230,000 applications vying for 65,000 spots. The Immigration Innovation Act of 2015, otherwise referred to as the I-Squared Act, could essentially triple the cap and open it up to 195,000 visas. While tech leaders like Mark Zuckerberg back the initiative, there are also concerns for the effect it will have on American workers.
Hillary has been careful about voicing her stance on this issue throughout the presidential election. However, back in 2007, she stated her commitment to raising the cap for H1Bs. Initially, Trump was strongly opposed to raising the H1B cap, and in fact stated that it should be even harder for applicants to receive their visas. Trump has since backed off from his initial statements, noting that he understands the Silicon Valley’s need for strong engineers. He contends the prevailing wage for H1B visas should be raised, as this will encourage companies to give priority to entry-level jobs to domestic workers. Trump and Clinton have each agreed that there should be a more streamlined route to retaining talented individuals who got their education in U.S. universities.
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Expanding Access to Computer Science Education
Another way the technical talent gap is being filled is through expanded access to a computer science education. Companies and the government alike agree on that. Access to quality computer science education could help narrow the widening gap between the amount of available tech jobs and qualified tech talent.
The Computer Science for All initiative was started by Obama in 2016 calling for more access to computer science classes for all students. Clinton not only supports this initiative, but called for an expansion of this program by offering more funding. The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a huge growth in the number of jobs available over the next 8-10 years. In the Computer and Information Technology sector, the BLS expects growth of 12% between 2014 and 2024.
Some argue that there isn’t a talent shortage, but a development and exposure shortage. This calls for an increase in professional development of groups who are currently underrepresented in the tech industry, such as women and minorities. Clinton and Trump’s individual initiatives mirror this call to action by addressing the need for diversifying the tech industry. Clinton suggests a plan for opportunities for career development to meet the ever-changing demands in labor. Trump’s plans for raising the prevailing wage will help encourage companies to hire minorities and women as well.
Technology Security and Privacy
Earlier this year, the FBI asked Apple to create a “backdoor” for them to access the phones of terrorists and other such subjects in the wake of a tragedy. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook set the precedence for technology companies by protecting the rights of its users, while also complying with the investigation. This opened up a controversial debate… should the government be allowed to access citizens’ phones through a backdoor?
In her Initiative on Technology & Innovation, Clinton supports the decisions that Tim Cook made, and reassures Americans that they are entitled to privacy on their devices. Clinton also makes the point that as we continue to innovate, the government and companies must find better ways to work together. Trump views encryption as a threat to security, and was loud in calling for a boycott of Apple in response to Cook’s resistance to the FBI. Although, it was unclear if he supports the “backdoor”, or the hacking of the device in that particular instance. He has not formally discussed his stance on encryption to date.
It remains to be seen…
In coming months we should continue to gain insight as to how the election of either candidate will affect the Silicon Valley. Many questions remain about Trump’s stance on technology initiatives. While he has not talked in depth about his thoughts on the government’s place in technology, there’s no shortage of speculation on what his policies may be. Areas where Trump was vocal, such as his opinion on the H1B expansion, Clinton has remained quiet. It remains to be seen what impact the presidential election will have on the Silicon Valley. Perhaps Elon Musk said it best when he said, “”[I] believe in supporting reasonable candidates that show wisdom in their actions, understanding that no one is perfect, and empathy for all.”