If you are among the millions of Americans concerned about cybersecurity at the Democratic National Committee—and how could you not be?—then the home of the party’s tech braintrust might not give you much hope.
The tiny, charmless office, with “DNC Tech” scribbled in dry-erase marker on the door, contains one desk and two computer monitors. Nearby, an overturned couch pokes out from an elevator shaft, a leftover from the widespread departures that followed Hillary Clinton’s defeat. And that, of course, came after intruders, believed to be tied to Russia, hacked into the DNC’s computers.
If the office itself seems lacking, the resume of its newish occupant is anything but. Raffi Krikorian, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology grad who joined the DNC as chief technology officer this summer, most recently led Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, meaning he was responsible for getting Uber’s self-driving cars on the road in Pittsburgh. Before that, he rose through the ranks at Twitter to vice president of engineering, where he managed the infrastructure that runs the platform.
Following six years of CTOs steeped in political campaigns, Krikorian brings a uniquely hardcore technical pedigree. That may serve both him, and the party, well. Preventing history from repeating itself requires embedding Silicon Valley technological chops in a nearly 200-year-old political non-profit. Already, Krikorian has recruited engineers from Uber, Twitter, and Pinterest to join his team of 20 and counting. Together, they’re devising ways both to use technology to engage a broader swath of the electorate, and also ensure that technology doesn’t create new vulnerabilities.
Working for the “blue team” as Krikorian calls it, comes with all of the pressure and few of the perks of Silicon Valley. After word spread of the Russian hack, the DNC tech team was widely criticized for failing to heed warnings from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that the party was under attack. Now, the responsibility of cleaning up that mess falls to Krikorian. This week, he spoke with WIRED about why he took the job, his plans for securing the party’s infrastructure, and why he’s trying to phish his own staff. Edited excerpts follow:
Issie Lapowsky: You joined the DNC at a time when many others had run away. How come?
Raffi Krikorian: It never crossed my mind until around Inauguration Day. I was in a hotel room in San Francisco, and I was just like, “Gahhh!” I called my friend Alexander Macgillivray, who used to be deputy CTO of the United States and said, “What can someone like me even do in this world?” He laid out two or three options. The DNC was the hardest to get a hold of. I kept pinging, pinging, pinging until the chief of staff took my call. He then introduced me to DNC Chairman Tom Perez, and Tom’s first question was, “What can we do about our cyber problem?” I was like, “Can we just not call it a cyber problem? Can we start there?”