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Tech insiders weigh in on how Peter Thiel could shape Donald Trump's tech policy

JP Mangalindan
·Chief Tech Correspondent
Tech insiders are cautiously optimistic billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel can help steer President-elect trump in the right direction. Source: Kim Kulish | Corbis | Getty Images
Tech insiders are cautiously optimistic billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel can help steer President-elect trump in the right direction. Source: Kim Kulish | Corbis | Getty Images

Many questions linger in the wake of President-elect Donald Trump’s stunning win, including how his still-hazy tech policies will affect Silicon Valley.

Perhaps it’s a positive sign that Trump, who reportedly does not use a computer, appointed billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel to his transition team. Thiel, who was Trump’s most vocal supporter from the tech industry, certainly knows the ins and outs of tech, with over two decades of tech experience, as co-founder and former CEO of PayPal (PYPL) and early investments in Facebook (FB) and LinkedIn (LNKD).

Several members of the tech community Yahoo Finance reached out to expressed cautious optimism that Thiel would help steer Trump towards forming an administration and tech policy that’s fair to the tech industry and enables the kind of innovation Silicon Valley is known for.

Thiel, an immigrant from Germany with vast connections, may be able to help Trump understand the importance of trade and immigration on tech — two areas Trump was extremely hostile about during his presidential campaign. Thiel, who is no stranger to controversy himself given his endorsement of Trump earlier this year, is currently the only member with significant tech experience on Trump’s transition team, and he may also be able to connect the president-elect with tech insiders who could help him shape his policy.

“The transition team’s number one priority is to fill all of the other positions in Trump’s administration,” explains Charlene Li, CEO and founder of the San Francisco-based Altimeter Group. “What Thiel has is access to an amazing Rolodex. The question becomes who out in Silicon Valley, the tech circles, would be interested in filling those positions and potentially be guiding the policy that will be set.”

Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz Source: AP Photo/The Montana Standard, Walter Hinick
Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz Source: AP Photo/The Montana Standard, Walter Hinick

One interested member of the tech elite may be Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz. On Thursday, the Trump transition team offered a detailed update on individuals Trump was scheduled to meet with. Among them was the 54-year-old Catz, an Israeli-born, Wharton School-educated longtime tech executive who was instrumental in the $10.3 billion acquisition of PeopleSoft in 2005. Given her experience also as an investment banker at Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, and a stint as CFO for several years at Oracle (ORCL), Catz could be a solid treasury secretary candidate.

“Peter Thiel is the only person on Trump’s transition team with strong ties to the Valley,” says Kyle Lui, a principal at DCM Ventures, who knows Thiel personally. “The two key areas where Washington can truly impact Silicon Valley are both cross-border related: the ability to attract the best talent in the world and the ability to attract capital from the global markets. Having open policies around talent and capital benefits Silicon Valley and private growth companies. Peter, as a VC and immigrant — he was born in Germany — understands the importance of these two areas intimately.”

Aaron Levie, CEO of Box (BOX), echoed the theme of diversity being vital to continued innovation in tech.

“What I would hope is that Peter brings that perspective, which is that this community and innovation, in general, thrives on diversity, and it thrives on bringing together people with lots of different backgrounds, religions, races, sexual preferences, and you need to be able to create an environment that can bring people together to be able to do amazing work,” Levie tells Yahoo Finance. “There needs to be clarity and communication from Trump, in terms of what are going to be the important issues that the new administration is going to care about. That’s something that is very top-of-mind to many in the technology industry.”

Levie also cautions that Trump’s eventual tech policy won’t strictly apply to Silicon Valley, but eventually, the broader economy.

“We have a whole bunch of categories that are labeled as ‘tech issues,’ but over time, are actually going to become national, broad economic issues,” Levie adds. “Because in 10 or 20 years, it’s hard to imagine a transportation company, a life sciences company, health care provider or a bank that isn’t fully reliant on technology to run their organizations, and to deliver their business models.”

In other words, the very issues the tech industry faces today will become issues every industry will one day face, and Donald Trump’s administration will play a big role in shaping that future.

JP Mangalindan is a senior correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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