Amol Naik started his legal career in a relatively traditional fashion — after graduating from Emory Law School he worked as a litigator at a large firm, eventually using his former political experience to start a political law practice at the firm. “In addition to representing a number of Democratic elected officials around the Southeast and working to protect voting rights, I counseled corporations, including tech companies, on how to comply with government ethics rules,” Naik says.
Though he worked with technology companies on the compliance side, it was still a surprise when he received a message one day from Google — he thought the email was a joke. It wasn’t, and Naik joined the company as Google’s first political lawyer.
Now, he serves as a director on MailChimp’s Legal team, helping the company develop a public affairs program and navigate issues like digital hate speech, a seriously hot button topic in today’s political climate. He’s remained involved politically, serving on new Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ transition team, as citizen commissioner of the Atlanta Regional Commission board, and Corporate Secretary of the Fulton County-Atlanta Land Bank Authority.
But navigating the policy landscape of emerging technology remains his preferred challenge. “Developing policy to address the technology of today is challenging because if policy overreaches towards more regulation, there is a very real possibility that innovation will be stifled,” shares Naik.
“On the other hand, as recent events in social media have demonstrated, there is some need to set appropriate guardrails. Striking that balance is a challenge, and it’s been a lot of fun to be in that arena on behalf of two great innovative companies.”
Naik details what issues he’s working on in the tech and policy area right now, what turn his career might take next, and what policies Atlanta ought to implement in order to maintain its growth while supporting equity.
What did your role at Google entail? How did you advocate for the company on behalf of its customers?
For the first half of my career at Google, I was a member of the legal team, building a program to comply with government ethics rules around the world. After about three years in that role, I moved over to Google’s policy team to lead public affairs in the Southeast. In this role I worked to expand access to high speed internet and promoted pro-technology policy allowing for innovation and investment on things like driverless cars and drones.
You’ve since moved over to email marketing company MailChimp. Describe your current role — what issues are you primarily working on?
I joined MailChimp’s Legal Team as a Director in October. Right now I’m working to establish a public affairs program to assist MailChimp in helping our 16 million users around the world grow their small businesses. I’m also working on processes to keep hate speech off our platform, which is something MailChimp takes very seriously. It’s been a lot of fun to join a company with such an amazing culture that is so authentically rooted in Atlanta. I feel very fortunate for the opportunity to work at a dynamic, global tech company based in my neighborhood!
What other outside activities are you involved in within the community?
Does traveling, daydreaming about travel, and watching Anthony Bourdain travel on TV count? Because the experiences that come from travel is what I really love to do! When I’m not out trying to see the world, I also stay pretty busy engaging in the Atlanta community. I was honored to be selected to Mayor Bottoms’ transition team where I am leading the committee tasked with presenting the Mayor with an ethics reform proposal. I’m also in my second term as the City of Atlanta’s citizen commissioner on the Atlanta Regional Commission board and was recently appointed Corporate Secretary of the Fulton County-Atlanta Land Bank Authority. These appointments afford me the opportunity to serve in a quasi-governmental capacity, advising two critical public agencies.
I’ve also recently joined the boards of WonderRoot, which is an amazing community arts organization in Reynoldstown, and the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, which has been fighting to expand affordable housing in Atlanta since the early ’90’s. My girlfriend and I are also currently participating in Leadership Georgia, which has been a really fun way to see Georgia and meet folks from all over the state.
What is it like to work for a tech company on the policy side? What lines do you have to be careful of crossing?
I find working on public policy in the tech industry to be fascinating because unlike more traditional industries, the regulatory systems for virtually all new innovations are in their infancies. Indeed, the technologies of the 21st century are far more advanced than the 21st century legal system. Developing policy to address the technology of today is challenging because if policy overreaches towards more regulation, there is a very real possibility that innovation will be stifled. On the other hand, as recent events in social media have demonstrated, there is some need to set appropriate guardrails. Striking that balance is a challenge, and it’s been a lot of fun to be in that arena on behalf of two great innovative companies.
What do you think are some of the biggest policy issues Atlantans need to pay attention to right now?
Atlanta is at an inflection point that will determine what kind of city we grow to become. If we truly want to become a world-class city, we need to address transit in a holistic, regional way. Fortunately, there are some very good signs of bipartisan, regional cooperation on transit that we haven’t seen before.
We also need to ensure that citizens who have lived in Atlanta for generations are not kicked out of their neighborhoods as property values skyrocket intown. It should bother all of us that Atlanta now has the worst income inequality in the entire country. The success that many of us have been fortunate to experience in the tech industry is not the experience too many of our fellow citizens have had. We all have a responsibility to bridge that divide.
What policies are important to Atlanta continuing to grow as a business and technology hub? How are these important for attracting young, bright talent?
There is a reason that Atlanta makes every list for potential relocations and expansions: we have a great city that people want to live in, combined with a unique city-state partnership that is aggressive in creating a favorable business climate. But all of that progress is put into peril by policies that demonstrate a lack of commitment to diversity and inclusion. So I’d personally argue that the most important thing policymakers can do is to NOT enact policies that are discriminatory to certain communities, some of which, like a policy discriminating against the LGBTQ community, are currently being considered at the state level.
Millennials don’t want to live in places that are not inclusive and companies don’t want to invest there either. Supporting an inclusive environment is absolutely critical for attracting the sort of talent and investment that will move our city and state forward.
What do you foresee as being your next step?
Right now, I’m still getting acclimated to my new job at MailChimp, and I hope to make a contribution here as long as they’ll have me! But long term, I could see entering public service in some fashion, whether it be in an elected capacity or otherwise. Service has always been important to me, and if the opportunity arises to make an impact down the road, that is certainly something that is of interest.
Now that you know Amol, tune in each month as he breaks down issues in tech and public policy in an exclusive column for Hype.