Since college, Carlos Ramos has held just about every state government job you can imagine, from park aide at Folsom Lake to tax collector. His latest challenge: getting tapped by Governor Jerry Brown earlier this summer to head the California Technology Agency. As the governor's top technology advisor, the Elk Grove resident must make sure the state's computer systems run smoothly, while figuring out how to keep California on the cutting edge in an era of budget cuts and outsourcing.
Elk Grove Patch spoke with Ramos, 48, as he was settling into his new gig.
What were you doing just before you took this job?
For a few years I was with the health and human services agency as the top technical advisor, working on these large statewide projects that help, for example, the food stamp program to deliver benefits electronically through the use of EBT cards. In 2008, I decided to step out into the private sector with my own consulting practice. It was actually a pretty good experience for me because I was able to advise government agencies and tech companies that do work with the government on a local and national basis.
What inspires you in your work?
As you look around at people's everyday lives, technology is becoming a bigger and bigger part...everything from students doing most of their work on laptops, using PDAs and mobile phones and social networking sites, to adults who use it for everything from banking to [shopping]. It’s become part of our way of life and government needs to follow suit.
What exactly does your agency do?
As service providers we run tech centers that provide all of the computing muscle for the state. That’s what enables DMV offices up and down the state to connect to computers to issue drivers licenses or prison systems to track their prisoners. We provide guidance to all state agencies about how they should use technology, everything from how do they buy it to developing standards for the use of it and protection of privacy and personal data. We’re also a policy agency that guides the way the rest of the government invests in technology.
It’s an exciting combination because as we put out policies we also have to operate under them and lead by example.
Name three ways the City of Elk Grove could make better use of technology.
They have a pretty good online presence. I own a house in Elk Grove and had to replace the air conditioning. I had to apply for building permits, and you can do that online in Elk Grove. One thing they could do is promote the use of online government.
Another thing is to make wireless connectivity available in town. They’ve built up a pretty good physical infrastructure—everywhere you go there’s parks and schools. It’d be nice if they were able to focus that level of attention on digital infrastructure.
One [more] thing they could do is get rid of those red light cameras! [Laughs.]
What are the biggest issues facing the technology industry today? What about your agency in particular?
The demand from the average individual. People are always going to want an app for that, whatever 'that' is. We’re also having to be more careful about the information generated from our use of technology. You hear about identity theft and cyberterrorism all the time. Another issue on the macro level is how do we make sure we have the young people of today skilled and educated to be able to support our technological needs in the future. You see countries from China to Ireland to India gearing up and challenging us.
In terms of the public sector, the challenges are similar but more focused: How do we as state government make sure our systems are kept current and up to date? How do we attract talented young folks to come in and work for the state at a time of budget crises, when we’re experiencing layoffs, hiring freezes?
A third and equal challenge is the demand of consumers for the government's efficient and effective use of technology. Somebody who needs to apply for public assistance should be able to go online, find out what programs they're eligible for and what kinds of documents they need to provide so they can scan and email them in—rather than get on a bus, go across town to an office, have somebody watch their kid, only to find out that they needed to bring their birth certificate.
What do you do when you're not working?
I like to ride a motorcycle. I've coached soccer teams for a lot of years, and I'm pretty active in my church . I like going to movies and eating at the local restaurants.
What are your favorite Elk Grove restaurants?
I really like , and .