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Key CDT Strategist Cohan-Shapiro Moves to Private Sector

“Delivering for all Californians has guided my work, from standing up the Office of Digital Innovation and developing a more user-centered vision for technology in the state of California, to driving vaccine equity, to building more inclusive financial products,” writes Justin Cohan-Shapiro.

A familiar face in state IT leadership has left the California Department of Technology (CDT) and taken a role in the private sector.

Justin Cohan-Shapiro was, until September, the chief strategist for CDT, a role he had held for just over a year after serving as senior adviser for performance management in the Office of Gov. Gavin Newsom. After leaving CDT, Cohan-Shapiro spent four months as a special consultant for venture capital with the state’s IBank before beginning his new role this month as vice president of special projects for Guild Education.

Justin Cohan-Shapiro
Justin Cohan-Shapiro

Guild Education describes itself as “an education platform that upskills your workers and prepares your organization for the future,” and it’s a B corporation, meaning it is a for-profit company that has earned certification for “social and environmental performance.” The company website says, “The Guild Platform transforms education and learning programs into your strategic advantage by empowering all employees, driving meaningful business outcomes, and creating efficiencies for your administrative team.”

In a LinkedIn announcement posted late Tuesday night, Cohan-Shapiro wrote: “My current stint in public service has come to an end. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the people of California for the last three years. From Day 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom made sure we were focused on making California work for all Californians. I took this call to heart. Delivering for all Californians has guided my work, from standing up the Office of Digital Innovation (ODI) and developing a more user-centered vision for technology in the state of California, to driving vaccine equity, to building more inclusive financial products.”

Cohan-Shapiro offers public thanks to several associates, including ODI Director Amy Tong, who was state CIO and CDT director during Cohan-Shapiro’s tenure at CDT; and Michael Wilkening, former California Health and Human Services Agency secretary who’s now a senior adviser for technology and delivery in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“I’m glad to have gotten the chance to work with you,” Wilkening wrote in response to Cohan-Shapiro’s announcement. “The new gig sounds like a great fit and an opportunity to continue engaging in meaningful and impactful work. Congrats!”

Steve Gordon, another alumnus of the private sector who joined state government as director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, wrote: “Sounds like a cool gig Justin. I wish you the best.”

David S. Kim, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency, wrote: “You did a phenomenal job, Justin. So great to work with you over the past few years. Your new position sounds terrific, wishing you all the very best!”

And Blaine Wasylkiw, the state’s chief web officer, wrote: “Congrats and heartfelt thanks -- you have been, and continue to be, an inspiring force of positivity and possibility. Onward!”

Looking forward to his new role at Guild Education, Cohan-Shapiro told Techwire on Wednesday: “Guild’s mission is broad — it is to unlock opportunity for America’s workforce through education and upskilling, with a double-bottom line business model that does well by doing good. My job, generally speaking, is to help scale that vision. Four years ago, Guild had 50 employees; today more than 1,300. And there is more employer and employee interest in the work that we will be doing than ever before. That will mean a lot of opportunity to build scalable foundations to meet a critical moment. This will include projects around people, process, platform, and more. I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and get started!”

Cohan-Shapiro said he’ll miss “getting to work on the most important public policy and delivery challenges facing California today with colleagues I’ve spent what feels like decades in a foxhole with through COVID.”

He added: “Our collective work as a state team supporting the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in California was an incredible (and challenging) experience. California turned around its vaccine rollout from one of the worst to one of the best in the world over the course of a set of frenetic weeks and months in early 2021. It was an all-hands on deck experience, and a defining moment in my life.”

Reflecting on his role during a pivotal period for state government, Cohan-Shapiro said: “While I accomplished what I set out to do when I joined CDT, the work is just beginning. There is an incredible team in place, including tech executives new to the state (state Chief Technology Innovation Officer Rick Klau, state Transformation and Stabilization Chief Jeff Barrett, and others) and tenured state tech leaders (acting state CIO Russ Nichols, state Chief Technology Officer Liana Bailey-Crimmins) leading the implementation of these initiatives.”

He continued: “When I joined CDT in the late summer of 2020, I was focused on three things: the state’s technology strategy, broadband, and the next horizon at the Department of Technology. We now have a new technology strategy, Vision 2023, with the guiding principles for technology to deliver solutions that put people first; make continuous, timely improvements; and work together to achieve our goals. We published a Broadband Action Plan, began building a team under Scott Adams, and are investing $6 billion in open-access middle mile. The Legislature approved several new programs and additional investment in cybersecurity, critical services stabilization, digital identification, and that the team is now staffing up and beginning to implement.

“I’m under no illusions that the work is done, just my small piece of it. The state of California has enormous work ahead to make its services accessible and useful to all Californians, making the Internet reliable, affordable and accessible, and driving step change improvements in the reliability, security, and utility of our services. There is a great team leading the charge from here, and I will be rooting for them from the outside.”

He also addressed his role with IBank: “Scott Wu, the executive director of the IBank, had been a collaborator from my time in the Governor’s Office, and he asked if I could help scope out and design a new venture capital program using Recovery Act funding. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work together on such a fun and impactful problem on my way out of state service. More to come on what we put together in the coming weeks!”

Cohan-Shapiro’s resume includes roles in both the public and private sectors, including as a business analyst and engagement manager with McKinsey & Co., as an adviser with the Tony Blair African Governance Initiative, and as a special assistant to Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sierra Leone.

Cohan-Shapiro graduated with honors and distinction from Stanford University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science, and the Wharton School, where he earned his master’s in business administration. He and his family are Sacramento residents.
Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies including USA Today in Washington, D.C.