It's an impressive array of accomplishments. What you can do with data and code just keeps advancing. "After the last campaign, I got introduced as the CTO of the most technically advanced campaign ever," Slaby said. "But that's true of every CTO of every campaign every time." Or, rather, it's true of one campaign CTO every time.
That next most technically advanced CTO, in 2016, will not be Harper Reed. A few days after the election, sitting with his wife at Wicker Park's Handlebar, eating fish tacos, and drinking a Daisy Cutter pale ale, Reed looks happy. He had told me earlier in the day that he'd never experienced stress until the Obama campaign, and I believe him.
He regaled us with stories about his old performance troupe, Jugglers Against Homophobia, wild clubbing, and DJs. "It was this whole world of having fun and living in the moment," Reed said. "And there was a lot of doing that on the Internet."
"I spent a lot of time hacking doing all this stuff, building websites, building communities, working all the time, " Reed said, "and then a lot of time drinking, partying, and hanging out. And I had to choose when to do which."
We left Handlebar and made a quick pit stop at the coffee shop, Wormhole, where he first met Slaby. Reed cracks that it's like Reddit come to life. Both of them remember the meeting the same way: Slaby playing the role of square, Reed playing the role of hipster. And two minutes later, they were ready to work together. What began 18 months ago in that very spot was finally coming to an end. Reed could stop being Obama for America's CTO and return to being "Harper Reed, probably one of the coolest guys ever," as his personal Web page is titled.
But of course, he and his whole team of nerds were changed by the experience. They learned what it was like to have--and work with people who had-- a higher purpose than building cool stuff. "Teddy [Goff] would tear up talking about the president. I would be like, 'Yeah, that guy's cool,' " Reed said. "It was only towards the end, the middle of 2012, when we realized the gravity of what we were doing."
Part of that process was Reed, a technologist's technolgoist, learning the limits of his own power. "I remember at one point basically breaking down during the campaign because I was losing control. The success of it was out of my hands," he told me. "I felt like the people I hired were right, the resources we argued for were right. And because of a stupid mistake, or people were scared and they didn't adopt the technology or whatever, something could go awry. We could lose."
And losing, they felt more and more deeply as the campaign went on, would mean horrible things for the country. They started to worry about the next Supreme Court justices while they coded.
"There is the egoism of technologists. We do it because we can create. I can handle all of the parameters going into the machine and I know what is going to come out of it," Reed said. "In this, the control we all enjoyed about technology was gone."
We finished our drinks, ready for what was almost certainly going to be a long night, and headed to our first club. The last thing my recorder picked up over the bass was me saying to Harper, "I just saw someone buy Hennessy. I've never seen someone buy Hennessy." Then, all I can hear is that music.
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