Q&A With Thomas Temin of Federal News Radio: IT Trends, Best (and Worst) Interviews

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Meet Thomas Temin, anchor and columnist at Federal News Radio. Temin is usually the one conducting the interviews, but he recently took the time to discuss with WashingtonExec future trends in the Information Technology sector, including the “irresistibility” of mobility and the role of private contract awards. Temin also talks about his most memorable interviews (good and bad), ranging from GSA Execs, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, to the former CEO of Apple. A rock band keyboarder and fan of pipe organ music, this interview is bound to be an interesting read.

WashingtonExec: Please tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to a career in journalism.

Thomas Temin: I have wanted to see and witness things and tell people about them since I was in grade school. In high school I was the photographer for two weekly newspapers in my town and pursued photojournalism in college (RIT). But there I became editor of the weekly school magazine and that became what I wanted to do. After college I did the classic — was jack-of-all-trades at a very good weekly newspaper in rural New Hampshire, then went to a suburban daily outside of Boston, where I grew up, then onto a large business-to-business publisher in Boston. I was then was transferred to Government Computer News — 20 years ago a big publication — and have been in D.C. ever since.

WashingtonExec: What is the next “hot trend” that you think will impact the government and the government contracting space over the next few years?

Thomas Temin: IT budgets are likely to flatten, but that will be compensated for by the fast deployment, app approach to software projects. Mobility will be a big driver — it’s just too irresistible for users. New approaches — or adaption and then widespread deployment of existing approaches — to identity management will be very big because the cyber threat makes it impossible to avoid much longer. I see more, not less, contracting out of services over the next few years regardless of what rhetoric is bandied about. Fewer people will want a long government career, and agencies will want the flexibility that contracted out services provide. This won’t be a huge or dramatic shift, more a tendency. I believe social media is a little overblown but seems big because it generates its own echo chamber. But there are some very shrewd federal users in agencies who know how to use  it and know just how much resource to give it. Also fast-growing: use of analytics in its many forms to large data sets to understand phenomena or in a predictive mode. This will add to, rather than necessarily supplant traditional database-plus-report language approaches for mature applications. Cloud? It is here to stay, but probably won’t end up in the forms or formats that look obvious now.

WashingtonExec: Who has been your favorite interview and why?

Thomas Temin: I’ve been interviewing people for 35 years, whether as a reporter, staff editor, chief editor, editorial VP or, now, radio anchor and freelance writer. It’s really hard to say. Many years ago I got a huge kick out of interviewing Congressman Jack Brooks, whose ideas dominated federal procurement for a 25 year period or so. Brooks was a classic Texas politico, shrewd, ruthless, charming.  There were a couple of GSA administrators — Dick Austin and Roger Johnson were hoots, real federal outsiders who were smart in some areas and clueless in others. More recently, I’ve actually found Vivek Kundra to be an engaging and lively interview — his enthusiasm and knowledge of IT trends contrasted with his, well, need to learn just a few things about how procurement really works. Gosh, there are so many. One of my all time favorites, back in another life, was the late Tony Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton-Avnet, which is still a major electronic distributor based in Los Angeles.He taught me a lot not only about physical distribution and its importance in the business cycle, but also about executive style. His major competitor was Steve Kauffman — now a professor, I believe — then the president of Arrow Electronics. He taught me a bit about managerial finance. The most painful interview was when a group of us were interviewing then-Apple CEO John Sculley. It was in his hotel suite just before FOSE or something. He didn’t have a clue about the federal market, so I felt bad that he couldn’t answer the most basic questions.

WashingtonExec: If you had the opportunity to interview anyone, who would it be?

Thomas Temin: Probably former Defense Secretary Bob Gates. Maybe after he’s not protected by an officious flack I will still get the chance.

WashingtonExec: You are usually the one asking the questions and also have a strong personal brand. What are some best practices that you have found when building your brand?

Thomas Temin: If I do have a brand, it’s because I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time or psychic energy trying to build a “brand” specifically. Nowadays some of that is necessary to help stay in the swim, but I don’t see fame via twitter or facebook as a useful end in and of itself. I spend a lot of time preparing for what I’m asked to do, whether moderate a panel, write a piece, or deliver a broadcast and hope my knowledge and skill at connecting the dots for insight tell my story for me. I try to avoid name-dropping, and to never forget I have something to learn from every person. I don’t “live” the market like some. I enjoy the events and conferences and can schmooze with the best of them. But I also have a busy and robust family, sports and religious life outside of the federal IT area.

WashingtonExec: What is something most people don’t know about you?

Thomas Temin: Most people know I am an avid runner and play in a rock and roll band. What they might now know is that I have a deep and abiding love of pipe organ music, of all things. This puzzles even my wife. I don’t get to indulge it very often–there aren’t that many organ recitals. Also, I put hot sauce on nearly everything, including vanilla ice cream.

 

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