Rachel Sterne, NYC's "Hot" New Chief Digital Officer, Is Making Nerds Lose Their Minds

via Rachel Sterne's Twitter
Today brought the news that 27-year-old Rachel Sterne, Mayor Bloomberg's first-ever chief digital officer in the office of media and entertainment, has upgraded her privacy settings on Facebook. This is interesting because she hadn't already done so, and also because the Wall Street Journal used that opportunity to snag some rather funny quotes from her friends, things that might not play so well in Bloomberg-ville. So she's already teaching us social media 101: Personal page, private.

But the real thing everybody is either dancing around or stomping all over is what she looks like: Pretty. Young. Girl. Consider the nerd hive-mind blown.

On AOL's tech site, Engadget, writers "question her analog existence," comparing photos of the human Sterne to the "incredibly lifelike" Female Android Gemenoid-F. Commenters there have proceeded to wage a rather vehement debate on issues of sexism, female denigration and lookism. As one commenter writes, "in typical appalling techblog fashion, male editors can't think of anything to say about a female in the technology field than to denigrate her appearance or say 'she's hot' or, somehow, say both at the same time."

And yet, people still can't stop talking about it! Maybe because, as another commenter synthesized, "Any picture of a cute woman followed with a public comment area of geeks and nerds will contain statements such as 'i'd hit that,' 'she's hot' etc."

Else around the digi-verse...

Animal New York's Bucky Turco has a photo of her kissing a guy (which has since been deleted from her Flickr).

From a commenter on CNet:

She's like a Hot young female Jack Ryan minus the combat training.

From Twitter:


From a Wall Street Journal commenter: "How come these special appointments are always young, attractive women? You never see a nerdy little guy (like me) offering advice. Sour grapes? Maybe."

Meanwhile, one of our (former) own just wants her to get a little respect. Good point. As such, let it be known that Rachel Sterne is founder and CEO of citizen journalism site GroundReport and digital media consultancy Upward Strategy. She's an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School. And, in her role as chief digital officer, she'll help streamline New York's digital footprint. She's 27. And she's attractive. Nothing wrong with any of that.

Now, let her show us what she can do.


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Even though she's 28, I'm sure she's perfectly qualified to be the CHIEF DIGITAL OFFICER of NEW YORK CITY...

I mean, she's got a degree from NYU in... History?

Not Computer or Software Engineering?  Not Computer Science?  Not even something like Business Administration?  Nope!  History Major.  Does she at least have some technical qualifications, like CCNA or a CompTIA certification?  Nope.  History Major.  Six figure salary, paid for by the NYC taxpayer.

OH!  But she did run a blog.  That's not the kind of thing your average 20-something could do.


I guess the village voice is censoring my comment on what nerds think is wrong with Rachel Sterne's hiring (hint: a profound lack of experience or accomplishments, and absolutely nothing to do with her gender, appearance, or age).


The "nerds" are upset because she's absolutely lacking in experience; someone no technologist (or nerd) would pick to evangelize technology for a city of 8 million.

Let's pick apart that overinflated bio:

First of all, the definition of "adjunct professor", for those unfamiliar: "Typically part-time non-salaried, non-tenure track faculty members who are paid for each class they teach." Rachel's adjunct professorship is in Marketing, where she has one class scheduled: Social Media And Entrepreneurship:


"This highly participatory course will explore the growth potential, revenue models, marketing methods, funding strategies and product design of social technology."

At a glance, it would appear that Rachel is at least remotely qualified to teach this class -- she is a self-described startup founder. Indeed, the course description states:

"The course will center on a real-world social media marketing challenge, introduced by a startup founder on the first day of class"

Let's dig into Rachel's startup a little further. According to Crunchbase and media sources, the startup, Ground Report, was launched in 2008, and has had no funding outside of friends and family. No angel investment, no significant VC -- not even a notable startup incubator and a small grant of $25k. It also has no significant traffic, revenue, staff, or ultimately, success. In terms of both business success and technological complexity, the site is just another blog.


Despite this near total lack of success, Rachel has, however, done a surprisingly good job of promoting herself in the startup community as a social media and entrepreneurial expert. The lack of any significant accomplishments notwithstanding, in 2009, while still listed as GroundReport's CEO, she was able to parlay this self promotion into Upward Strategy: a one-woman "digital strategy" consulting firm.


From Upward Strategy's FAQ:

"A: One of the biggest fallacies in startup entrepreneurship is that "if you build it, they will come." The truth is, you can't fake community. It takes hard work and an engaged, accessible staff to cultivate support and engage your audience. Upward takes a multi-channel approach to assisting you in building your digital community and press traction, within a startup or nonprofit budget."

You'd think that she could have applied some of that claimed expertise to growing GroundReport, where she was still listed as CEO. If she'd stayed here, outside of the public sector, nobody in New York would have minded much. The world is full of self-promoting social media experts, and one more won't hurt anyone.

However, from here, Rachel has now moved onto a tax-payer funded position for which she is absolutely, entirely unqualified. This is where we, the citizens -- and especially the technologist citizens -- find ourselves exceptionally peeved.

New York City could use a sharp technologist, which is why it's such a shame they didn't actually hire one.

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