Obama ramps up tech cred ahead of SXSW visit

President Barack Obama is pushing a bevy of tech initiatives ahead of his appearance at the famed culture and tech conference.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read

President Barack Obama is spending his last months in office trying to make sure you have the opportunity to get a job in tech.

President Barack Obama announces a series of initiatives to push for more diversity in the tech sector at the first ever White House Demo Day in 2015.

Screenshot by CNET

On Wednesday, the White House announced an expansion of the TechHire initiative, which is aimed at making sure more Americans are trained to fill technology jobs. The administration is also talking up new Department of Homeland Security rules that give international students studying in the technical fields a chance to stay in the country longer, and it issued a challenge to schools to create spaces dedicated to the "maker culture."

The announcements come ahead of Obama's visit to Austin, Texas, where he'll speak at the South by Southwest Interactive conference on Friday. The Obama administration has always been friendly to technology, but the president has been focusing even more on tech initiatives in recent months. In February, he announced $19 billion in funding for cybersecurity initiatives. And earlier this week, the administration announced the Opportunity Project, which is designed to help local communities better access data to connect citizens to resources such as job listings, housing, transportation and schools.

The TechHire initiative was announced a year ago today with 21 communities across the country. Today's expansion brings the program to a total of 50 cities. The purpose of the program is to help local communities work with private industry to provide a pipeline of technically trained workers. The initiative encourages public-private partnerships and novel ways of training workers, such as coding camps.

The Department of Labor is offering up to $100 million in grants to various programs to help make the TechHire project a success. Local and state leaders say having the White House's support behind the effort is important. Gina Raimondo, governor of Rhode Island, said TechHire has helped communities in her state better organize programs it had already begun.

The administration also announced that starting May 10, international students who studied in a science, technology, engineering or mathematical field will be able to stay longer in the US after they graduate, to gain more work experience. The new rules are an extension of a program that already exists with the US Department of Homeland Security, which allows all international students regardless of major to stay in the US for an additional 12 months after graduation. The new rules extend that period another 24 months for students with STEM degrees, giving these graduates the option to gain job experience for three years after graduation.

The White House is also showing its support for the maker movement with a new challenge sponsored by the Department of Education to encourage schools to create more makerspaces in American schools. In 2014, Obama launched the National Makers Initiative to give more people access to new technologies to design and build just about anything. The administration announced the dates for the 2016 National Week of Making as June 17-23.