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Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett on 'Re/code Decode' Podcast: 'Talent Is Ubiquitous, Opportunity Is Not'

Good move: The senior adviser to the President does not have a private server.

Mike Kepka for Re/code

This week on the "Re/code Decode" podcast, we traveled to the nation’s capital to talk to one of President Barack Obama’s top staffers, Valerie Jarrett.

Perhaps one of the most high-profile members of the administration, she is the senior adviser to the President and oversees the Offices of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement, which do outreach to state and local officials, as well as stakeholders across the board (from businesses large and small to college students to athletes). She also is the chair of the White House Council on women and girls, which is charged with promoting women, including in STEM.

In a wide-ranging interview, the non-techie Jarrett talked about the need for the government to catch up in the tech arena and to push for more training for U.S. workers in the fast-growing area.

"Talent is ubiquitous, opportunity is not," said Jarrett on the issue of gender and racial underrepresentation in tech. "We have laws against discrimination. [Changing] culture is something that has to happen on the ground."

She also talked about the need for the government to get more digitally savvy, part of the promise of the Obama presidency that was supposed to be tech-smart and then ended up stumbling badly with the rollout of its health initiatives. The disastrous website was, said Jarrett, a really bad software glitch for the administration, but also a learning opportunity to improve.

That has been helped by an influx of Silicon Valley techies to D.C. to help fix tech. "Yes, you can make a fortune in Silicon Valley, but once you’ve made that fortune, do you want to keep making your fortune or do you want to give to your country that you love?" Jarrett said of asking techies to serve. "A lot of these folks really want to solve problems, and if you’re gonna solve a problem, why not solve a problem that’s really going to help our country."

For herself, she would like to learn to code, because she has no tech prowess. "I have none. I am shameless about it, [but] I have help for that."

Among the other topics Jarrett discussed:

President Obama’s tweeting process: "[President Obama] likes [Twitter] because it’s authentic. We get to look at them, but he decides."

On her own tweeting: "I have to hold back. I have to be appropriate. But I try to engage, and I wish I had more time to have conversations."

On Congressional need to invest in infrastructure, including digital: "There are lots of investments I’d like to see our government making that unfortunately, given the composition of Congress right now, are not likely … We’ve been unable to get Congress to do the kind of investment in infrastructure generally, and digital infrastructure is part of that equation."

On what she’d like to see invented by Silicon Valley: "I would have liked another 10 years between 20 and 30 … At that age, women, in particular, are trying so hard to get their career going at the same time they’re mindful about a biological clock. And so I always thought if you had another 10 years in there, you could do both."

On whether she has a private server: "I do not."

Tune in here for more.

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