For the past three years, Joseph Williams has been advising Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on tech policy. In that time he saw the number of spots for computer science students at state universities double and promoted the growth of new technologies, like blockchain and AI, in the Washington tech ecosystem.
Now Williams is ready for something new.
On Monday he takes over as director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Seattle office. A big part of his role will be helping the Seattle office form its own identity and mission, rather than just functioning as an extension of the national lab facility in Richland, Wash.
“Given its location, it’ll be an urban lab and it’ll be the first of the national labs to actually embrace its urban setting and celebrate it, use it as a recruiting point, and an engagement point,” Williams said.
His goal is to build out a facility that rivals Seattle’s more high-profile research institutions like the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
“I would like PNNL to have the same gravitas,” he said.
PNNL is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s broad network of government-funded research institutions across the country. The northwest lab focuses mainly on national security and energy.
“In the future, as we’re looking at cyber warfare or nuclear detection, the kinds of scientists that we’ll be looking to hire, they tend to fit a younger profile,” Williams said. “There is a millennial, Gen Z affinity for an urban lifestyle.”
As the state’s sector lead for information and communications technology, Williams played a critical role in Inslee’s efforts to expand internet access to rural areas and create a new statewide broadband office.
In addition to expanding internet access, he hoped to spread some of the tech industry prosperity concentrated in the Seattle region to other parts of the state.
“We were not as effective at doing that as we had set out to be,” he said.
His hope is that his successor and the Commerce Department will continue his work to bridge the rural-urban divide.
“I believe that’s still a top priority of the state,” he said.