Up close with New York's first CTO Minerva Tantoco

Minerva Tantoco, New York City’s first-ever chief technology officer (CTO), said she pretty much created every job she had at the StartupGrind meetup last May 7. 

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Minerva Tantoco, New York City’s first-ever chief technology officer (CTO), said she pretty much created every job she had at the StartupGrind meetup last May 7.

Tantoco directs the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, overseeing the development and implementation of a coordinated citywide strategy on technology and innovation and encouraging collaboration across agencies and with the wider New York City technology ecosystem.

“We are a little startup inside city hall,” she said.

Tantoco said she remembers being young in Silicon Valley and learning about pressure back in the eighties. “I wasn’t even old enough to rent a car. I had to have 25-year old colleague drive for me.”  Her mother, a chemical engineer, is her role model.

Born and raised in Flushing, Queens, she went to Bronx High School of Science. Tantoco would create her own artificial software company when she was a junior in college. She sold it in 1985. For her family, it was not common to take the tech route, but because she pursued it, she prevailed in doing what she wanted to do with her life.  

As New York’s CTO, which accepted last October 1, she said she probably made “the best decision of my life.” She likes how she is using her skills and abilities to provide technology strategy. “It’s an incredible opportunity. I never thought in a million years I would be CTO.”

Her advice to people: “You can’t be it if you can’t see it,” she said. She also worked for Palm and eventually worked as a CTO in various financial services.  

Tantoco can be serious, but she also likes being irreverent. She said, “Have a single day be meaningful and do things by doing.” Upon realizing the sentimentality of her statement, she joked, “We should have a group hug later.”

In December, New York signed a franchise agreement allowing non-working phone booths to be converted into Wi-Fi free hotspots. It will also offer free phone calls. It’s a city-wide tech strategy. The city also aims to offer more internet access for 22 percent of New Yorkers who don’t have internet at home.

To succeed, she encourages everyone to “always disrupt yourself, or someone else will.”

Having inaugurated the tech talent pipeline, Tantoco sees technology as a path for the middle class to get jobs. “We need the talent. It’s very important for us to empower community schools.” She announced a summer youth employment program to expose kids to the startup world.

In using government data to help New York, she said, “New York has a great privilege. We have largest open data portal. We have an incredible civic hacking community.”

“We’re looking at the data to help predict where we should put public services first, how we can prevent homelessness and crime,” she added.

Addressing the audience, she said city hall “can use a lot of your feedback.”