New kid on the tech block

New kid on the tech block
© Greg Nash

Alyssa Betz’s personal “oath” on her business card states simply: “Make them proud.”

Oath, where Betz is senior director of public policy, has all of its employees draft a three-word personal mantra. Each one is intended to help explain and distill an employee’s personal ethos, which Betz says is something the young Verizon subsidiary is trying to do itself.

“Because we’re new as an entity, we get to reintroduce ourselves to the Hill and the D.C. community,” she said in a recent interview. “So that’s our focus right now as a policy team.”

Oath, now eight months old, was created as an umbrella group after Verizon purchased various parts of Yahoo’s internet businesses, including Tumblr, Yahoo Sports and others. Verizon merged them with brands including AOL and HuffPost, which it bought in 2015.

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The remaining parts of Yahoo’s business that were not sold to Verizon now operate as Altaba, which owns a significant stake in the Chinese digital commerce and technology platform Alibaba.

Oath’s fresh face may be an asset at the moment. The company’s comparatively low-profile brand has helped insulate it from attacks on technology firms as lawmakers and think tanks grow increasingly critical and advocate for new regulations.

While some observers have grim forecasts for tech’s relationship with Washington policymakers, Betz is optimistic. She believes that the industry is merely entering its adolescent phase, by nature a little volatile.

“I kind of I see the ‘techlash’ as tech growing up. I feel like we’re in the teenage phase where we’re growing up, we’re learning,” she said, adding that much of the novelty has now worn off, giving way to more critical questions about the industry.

“The pendulum will swing back to people really enjoying engaging with tech companies in the way that they did before,” she added.

Betz got to Oath after dipping her toe into politics at Howard Law School, after which she clerked for a year.

“I decided I wanted to do something that wasn’t just law,” she said, which led her to a job in then-Rep. Mel WattMelvin (Mel) Luther WattFannie Mae and Freddie Mac reform should put American taxpayers first Watchdog: Former Rep. Mel Watt attempted to 'coerce' employee into relationship Budding housing crisis must be nipped now MORE’s office.

The North Carolina Democrat served on the House Judiciary Committee in the middle of the Stop Online Piracy Act/Protect IP Act fights over copyright laws in 2012 — one of the biggest tech policy battles to capture the general public’s attention. Millions of constituents contacted their representatives pushing them to vote down a controversial bill that would have bolstered copyright protections. Critics feared that the bill could deliver a substantial blow to free speech.

The experience gave her an appreciation of intellectual property law and technology issues.

Since leaving Capitol Hill, she has helped Oath navigate other high-profile technology policy fights in its support of strong, Obama-era net neutrality rules and in its fight against surveillance provisions covered in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

While Oath has managed to avoid the level of scrutiny tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter are under, it has still found itself in hot water at moments.

Before Yahoo became Oath, it suffered several massive cybersecurity breaches, earning sharp criticism from lawmakers.

Media reports also found evidence that its blogging platform, Tumblr, was used like Twitter and Facebook by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency to sow discord and influence the U.S. political process around the time of the 2016 presidential election.

Betz says that Oath has been cooperating with congressional investigators in the matter.

Oath’s current legislative focus is on Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese Trump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom MORE’s (R-Utah) Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act.

Internally at Oath, Betz has also given attention to issues of diversity and inclusion, with which tech has struggled.

A number of studies, including a recent Government Accountability Office report, show significant underrepresentation of women and of black and Hispanic minority groups. Asians and Asian-Americans, who are better represented as a whole, are often not promoted to more senior positions at companies.

Betz believes Oath will become an industry leader on diversity, but 2016 numbers suggest that the company doesn’t fare better than most Silicon Valley firms.

“The other diversity and inclusion question is about retention,” she said. “When people are here, do they feel like they’re a part of the culture? Do they feel like there’s other opportunities for them?”

“The question about how to create that culture that’s accepting of that is one that we’re all trying to answer,” Betz noted.

She thinks that one potential answer could be a stronger relationship with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

“HBCUs are an excellent [opportunity] for companies to begin [the] engagement-recruitment process. Creating that pipeline and maintaining that pipeline are critical to developing a diverse talent pool at your company,” she said.

In addition to Howard Law, Betz also attended an HBCU for her undergraduate degree: Spelman College.

Betz, who grew up swimming competitively, says she enjoys following other sports, joking that she uses the Oath-owned website Rivals to research top college football recruits to impress her husband, who played collegiate football.

Betz says a number of people helped contribute to her success and that much of what she does is for them.

“I want to make the people who invested in me proud, whether it’s my parents, my teachers, my friends, my family — my ancestors who I’ve never known, but I know I stand on their shoulders in getting to this spot,” she said.