When HP needs an expert to explain technology to people in government, it turns to Tommy Gardner. The Chief Technology Officer for HP Federal, Gardner is a US Navy veteran who’s run the Navy’s R&D budget, overseen its Deep Submergence and Advanced Technology Programs, and once commanded a nuclear submarine. He holds multiple technical and professional degrees, including an M.S. in Management of Technology from MIT, a masters in Public Administration from Harvard University, and a Ph. D. in Energy Economics from George Washington University.
Gardner also enjoys a long-standing connection to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). He currently chairs the ASME Industry Advisory Board and was recently named an ASME fellow. We met up with him in Palo Alto recently – after he’d flown in from meetings with ASME at the White House - to learn more about the honor, and to hear the perspectives on technology and innovation that he’s been sharing with Washington’s movers and shakers.
HP: Congratulations on being elevated to ASME Fellow, Tommy. Can you tell us a little more about your association with the ASME?
Sure. I joined the ASME as a student at the US Naval Academy and have been a member ever since, so I’m really humbled to receive this honor. One of the reasons I chose mechanical engineering is that I remember in grammar school watching my father studying for his Professional Engineer (PE) license. He was a Mechanical Engineer. At the time I couldn’t understand why he was studying after he’d already graduated from college. I was wondering, if you had to study your entire life? It turns out that you are better off if you do. I went to the Naval Academy and learned more about mechanical engineering and I wanted to emulate him. I have been a PE for forty years and have been a volunteer for ASME for the last twenty years. I’ve kept learning new things throughout my life. I’m always up for more education.
HP: You were at the White House yesterday in your capacity as chair of the ASME Industry Advisory Board – what was the conversation about?
We were talking about how this professional society of 130,000 members can help inform White House policy from a technical point of view. We were asking: what technical issues should we get our membership to comment on or give you insight on? Significantly for HP, they were very interested in 3D printing. As a result of the meeting, we’ll be following up with the US Government’s American Innovation Council on the topic. I also had the chance to speak with the associate director of the Office of American Innovation and shared the work on MegaTrends led by HP’s Chief Engineer Chandrakant Patel along with an industry study on Future Trends in Technology from an Information Technology Industry Foundation (ITIF) group that I chaired soon after I arrived at HP last July.
HP: So what are the trends that you think the government should be aware of?
The primary things we looked at in the Future Trends study were artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, 3D printing, and 5G wireless networking. Those are all areas of interest for us at HP. With AI, we’re interested in using it for making better decisions around condition-based and predictive maintenance. Blockchain has many potential applications and potential for market growth. We’re doing a lot to make sure we’re aware of them all. We’re number one in the world right now with 3D print. That market is expanding exponentially. 5G networking will soon open up additional bandwidth for our devices, so we’re keeping a close eye on that as well.
HP: HP Chief Engineer Chandrakant Patel has described you as a member of his “Commando Team” in the HP CTO’s office. What does that entail.
Chandrakant is an icon in engineering, not just mechanical engineering but the whole engineering field. It’s an honor to be working with such an accomplished Engineer and Mentor. He’s also a great manager of people and understands what HP’s needs are. Our job on his team is to support him in the areas that he’s focused on. For me that includes helping to educate the technical community – making sure that we are mentoring the next generation of technical experts and providing them with the training in new technologies that they need to be aware of. We’re doing some education around blockchain right now, for example.
HP: Can you talk about your work with HP Federal – what’s the CTO’s role there?
After 27 years in the Navy with the last twelve spent doing acquisition for the Navy and the intelligence community, my main focus is on using that experience to support HP’s sales efforts at the federal level. I understand how the federal system works as well as anybody and my technical background and education gives me credibility with government administrators to speak with authority about our products and why they are better than anybody else’s on the market. I used to do the job of the federal executives, so I have credibility and understand the problems they have. Because I’m not a salesman, but a technical guy who has been in their shoes, they’ll give me the extra time to explain the issues that other companies don't get.
HP: What are the ‘Why HP” themes that you like to emphasize when you talk with senior leaders in government?
Perhaps the most important is that computers aren’t commodities. You can’t buy them simply at lowest cost. They may look the same, but under the hood there’s a whole lot of difference. If you are not buying the best cyber security that money can buy, you are putting the nation at risk. So one message is that HP offers the world’s best cyber-protected computers and printers – and that we’re working on the next generation of cyber-security today. We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to develop that generation, when most other manufacturers don’t have the resources, the scope, the scale, and most importantly the talent and leadership to compete. We’re also a US-based company owned independently of any government and that allows us to mitigate supply-chain risk much more confidently than many other companies.
HP: You also have a mandate to look ahead and think about longer term technology trends. What are the areas that interest you most?
Right now I’m focused on several things. One is blockchain and thinking in particular about its potential application for transportation in the age of autonomous vehicles. Another is quantum technologies. That includes the quantum computer, which is still fairly far out, quantum sensors for example used to detect low magnetic fields, and quantum keys and quantum algorithms for cryptography. Some of these are much closer to fruition. We’re already seeing quantum key distribution in the utility industry. I’m also interested in 3D print development. I spent time this morning with a small company in Palo Alto doing work with NASA on nano-scale plasma 3D printing. There’s a lot of exciting work both within HP and beyond our walls to keep track of.