From Silicon Valley to the Federal Reserve: Exploring Tech Innovation in Public Service

During the summer at the Federal Reserve, Hamzah Daud (Master's in International Policy '24) furthered his understanding of the interplay between technology and central banking, contributing to cutting edge researches that evaluate the application of emerging technologies in the everyday financial system.
Hamzah Daud sitting next to Chairman Jerome Powell of the Federal Reserve

A day after the end of spring quarter, I hopped on a flight to leave behind beautiful Bay Area weather, destined for the hot, humid wetlands we call our nation’s capital. I was to spend 12 weeks working at the Technology Lab of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors (the Fed), the central bank of the United States. 

My first day was rather routine. I arrived a bit early and a bit overdressed. My supervisor, Bunmi, gave me my work laptop, a first-day tour, and my onboarding checklist. I was being paid to introduce myself repeatedly and fill out forms—quite an easy gig. But this is the nation’s central bank; they are going to get their money’s worth out of me. So, I was sitting in my office after lunch setting up my Federal Reserve gym membership when Bunmi walked in and asked me to come with her, Jill, the TechLab manager, and Jeff, a senior analyst, to a TechLab panel for the Federal Reserve System’s Innovation Office. Of course, let’s go. 

We got to the System Innovation Office’s onsite, and I was doing the introductions routine once again. I met Sunayna, a Stanford alum and, probably more importantly, the Chief System Innovation Officer, who introduced us to her team. After another round of introductions, I headed to the side to sit in the audience. Jill saw this and asked me to join the team on the panel. Why not? Well, I can think of a few reasons. Anyway, three hours into my first day, I was sitting on a panel in front of the entire Federal Reserve System Innovation Office explaining how I think machine learning can be applied to financial supervision and where I see the TechLab in five years. 

That first day set the pace for the next 11 weeks and four days.

I was to spend 12 weeks working at the Technology Lab of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors (the Fed), the central bank of the United States.

But first, a quick detour to some American history for context.

The Federal Reserve Board of Governors

The Federal Reserve System is the central bank of the United States. It was created by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 after a series of financial crises led to the desire for stable monetary policy. The System is similar to our broader federalist system of governance, with power distributed among multiple layers. The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System—where I worked—is a federal government agency led by seven president-nominated and Senate-confirmed governors. Under the Board, 12 Federal Reserve Banks serve as the operational arms of the System. Each Reserve Bank is an independent private corporation, but all work closely with the Board to execute their policies. To promote the effective operation of the U.S. economy, the Federal Reserve is afforded autonomy and independence from the more political branches of government. While the Fed certainly coordinates and receives guidance from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, it is generally empowered to make independent monetary and regulatory policies.

Fast forward 110 years. The Federal Reserve’s mission has expanded since its inception and now covers (1) setting monetary policy, (2) ensuring financial stability, (3) supervision and regulation of banks, (4) fostering a safe payments ecosystem, and (5) consumer protection. As part of this mission, the Federal Reserve has a large group of economists who produce research to inform policymakers as they steer the world’s largest economy. However, the economy and the financial system that supports it are being transformed by technological advancement. And while the Fed has a breadth and depth of economics expertise, it does not have the same technical expertise. So, to ensure that the governors receive informed, impartial technical research before making decisions, the Fed has set up multiple teams to focus on emerging technology. Three years ago, the Board created the Technology Lab to conduct research and experimentation with emerging technologies relevant to the financial system.

The Technology Lab changes its research agenda every year. It began by researching distributed ledger technology, central bank digital currencies, and has a new set of projects this year. The core team is five members strong, with over a dozen rotators from across the System who join the TechLab to lend their subject matter expertise on a specific project. 

I was assigned to work on two projects, and while I cannot discuss the specifics of my work, it comprised 60% writing and 40% software development and data analysis. Because the TechLab is relatively small and new, I effectively worked as a core team analyst leading sub-parts of the two projects. Hopefully, in the coming months, the Fed will publish the work, and I will be able to share more then. Beyond the core research and experimentation work, I also helped moderate the TechLab’s weekly series, where we invited subject matter experts from academia, the private sector, and the government.

Other highlights during my time at the Fed included representing the Board of Governors at a nationwide Federal Reserve System showcase in front of 250 people. I also got to sit next to Chairman Jerome Powell, ask him questions at an intern event, and meet now-Vice Chair Philip Jefferson at another event.

Working at the Fed this summer was an absolute pleasure and incredibly fulfilling—it made me genuinely excited about public service.
close up of a Bureau of Engraving and Printing, "escort required" badge

The summer also included several highlights outside the workplace. I celebrated the Fourth of July at the White House. I attended a piano and violin concert at the French Embassy. I went on an exclusive Fed-only tour of the dollar printing facility of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. I got to see the dollar printing machines up close, smudge a few in-production hundred-dollar bills, and hold 40 pounds of cash in one hand.

Working at the Fed this summer was an absolute pleasure and incredibly fulfilling—it made me genuinely excited about public service. I want to thank Amber, Bunmi, Cy, Jeff, Jill, Jochen, Laila, Lucas, Megan, and Monique from the TechLab team. I also want to thank Karley and Laura from the Talent Acquisition team, who guided me through the recruitment process and supported me throughout the internship. And lastly, I want to thank Sonja, Sunayna, and Susan at the officer level, who met with me to chat about the Fed, financial innovation, and career options. There are many more people who I cannot list here because of a word count limit, but I appreciate all of you. It was a genuinely wonderful summer.

The Ford Dorsey Master's in International Policy Class of 2024 at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Meet the MIP Class of 2024

The 2024 Class has arrived at Stanford eager to tackle policy challenges ranging from food security to cryptocurrency privacy.
Read Full Story