Derek Slater wants to create a more open, secure, and inclusive world through access to information. He currently serves as the Global Director of Information Policy at Google — a hefty title with a range of responsibilities. On some days, it might be asking big-picture questions about free expression and engaging users with high-quality content. On other days, it might be testifying in front of Congress about online misinformation, hate speech, and terrorism.
As a passionate advocate for community and connection, he also serves as a volunteer digital coach for Community Tech Network. “My whole self is meshed with the rational, speed, scale, automation stuff,” reflects Derek. “But that doesn’t fill my soul in the same way that working with my community does.”
Derek’s interest in technology dates back to his early years. With a software developer for a mother and a rabbi as a father, Derek grew up at the intersection of technology and community organizing. He was simultaneously excited by the policies of the early internet and invested in the daily lives of those around him. At age 16, he began writing and publishing articles about information and internet policy. What was intended for a small audience blossomed into something much bigger. He soon found himself traveling across the country and in conversation with like-minded people.
Fast forward through college and various stints in different policy roles, Derek continues to integrate his passions for people, technology, and democracy into his career at Google, as well as other parts of his life. (His better half, Lila Bailey, is policy counsel at the Internet Archive, a nonprofit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.)
After connecting with CTN’s Kami Griffiths years ago, Derek began volunteering with us in 2015. Back then, all of our programs were conducted in person. Every Friday, Derek would enjoy a short walk from his home to the Rosa Parks community center to engage with learners and offer tech support. “There would be somebody who needed help getting a job, or wanted to move their photos into Google, or just needed someone to talk with,” reflects Derek. “I could just be around for them. It was a great experience.”
Eventually, Derek had to halt his volunteering as a new position led him to travel around the world. It wasn’t until this past winter that Derek felt something was missing: “I want to do my job, but I also want to be here rooted in San Francisco with this community.” When he reached back out to CTN, we were eager to set him up as a digital coach for one of our Home Connect learners.
So how does a tech-savvy Google executive teach digital skills to total beginners? It starts with getting out of his comfort zone. “Being a leader at this company and sort of having this bird’s eye view, it’s not easy to see the little things,” Derek reflects. “It’s a good sort of discomfort to take a step back and see things through their [the learners’] eyes … see how confusing technology can be sometimes,” he says.
Indeed, teaching internet skills to a newcomer is no easy task. It requires that we stop taking for granted that access to information and technology is enough. After all, the tools and actions that feel intuitive to some can be confusing to others — that the magnifying glass icon means to search, or that the left arrow means back, for example.
In the end, the challenges and breakthroughs are all worth it for Derek: “To listen to my learner reset, take a breath, then see her turn the corner and get a little bit better week after week, that totally fills my heart.”
CTN is grateful to have such an enthusiastic and talented volunteer on our team. Want to join in? Consider donating an hour of your week to help build a more digitally inclusive world for all.