What’s Next — Civic Tech Fellow Andrew Hernandez


Where are you studying?

My official graduation is next year (2017) and I’m graduating as a computer engineer at San Jose State University.

What were your main duties as a Microsoft fellow?

As a Microsoft fellow, a large portion of my work was outreach and engagement. This mainly consisted of talks with city officials, students (of all ages) and hackers on topics such as Internet of Things Technology, Civic Technology and Microsoft in general.

The next bulk of my work was as an events coordinator, mastermind, and emcee for a Microsoft and City of San Jose sponsored Civic Tech Hackathon at San Jose State University called Spartan-Hacks. The purpose of the hackathon was to gather students of differing fields – specifically engineers, artists and business majors – and have them collaborate and ideate on new technology that would benefit San Jose State University, San Jose or both!

The competition was a huge success – with a turnout of 100+ participants and also judges and mentors from entities such as Microsoft (of course) and the City Government of San Jose. The event itself could not have been possible without the support of three student-run organizations at San Jose State which were the Artechnology Club, Innovation Club and Society of Women Engineers and also Microsoft – I would also like to namedrop Jessica Weare especially for all of her guidance and support during the event build-up!

What has been your favorite project with the Technology and Civic Engagement Team?

My favorite project while on the Technology and Civic Engagement Team was the Spartan-Hacks competition of course! Seeing all of my fellow students come together to solve issues to civic problems was especially awe-inspiring.

Where is civic tech taking you next?

Civic tech is taking me to an unknown realm to many of us engineers: politics!

Like I said earlier, my time on the civic tech team at Microsoft has exposed me to some of the politics of San Jose – something that I have always wondered about during my studies at San Jose State. Through an event that Microsoft hosted, I was serendipitously introduced to the Mayor of San Jose’s Chief Innovation Officer, Shireen Santosham, who let slip that the Mayor’s office would be having its own fellowship program – I jumped at the offer and am currently working with them as I type this sentence!

What advice do you have for future fellows?

Jumping into the civic tech fellowship, I had one, end-all-be-all assumption in my head: I have a technical background so therefore, I must do something technical (a very programmer-esqueway of thinking, I know haha) – however, that did not turn out to be the case. I slowly found out that the civic tech field is a very unique and special hodgepodge of politics, civil service, technology, and most importantly – community. Using this knowledge, I decided that my time at Microsoft would, I thought, be best used as more of a voice – sure, I could have attempted an app or some sort of hardware device and slap the term civic tech on it, but personally, I knew that whatever I was going to make would probably not go beyond the prototyping phase, and so I thought to myself that spreading the word about Civic Tech would be the most ideal use of my time – and I did just that.

Furthermore, I wanted to really help propel San Jose and especially San Jose State into this new civic tech spotlight – to introduce to the students and the community the idea of technology for the good of the people and not just for the good of the consumer. That was how the Spartan-Hacks competition was born – to combine community, students, non-profits, the local city government and of course Microsoft, and have them all work together on problems and solutions for the community, together.

So finally, going back to the question at hand – my number one advice for future civic tech fellows is this: think about the community you are serving and think about what you can do to help that community. For me it was being a voice – for you, it may be different.