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Riding Through Divvy Data

As the weather gets warmer, spring brings a blog post combining two great things in the City of Chicago: bike-sharing and open data!

Since June 2013, Divvy has been Chicago’s official bike-sharing system. You can’t miss the brightly blue-colored bikes and numerous docking stations scattered across the city. With over 6,000 bikes available at 580+ stations, both residents and visitors have a fun, accessible, and efficient option for traveling around Chicago.

In addition to having one of the largest bike-sharing networks in the country, Chicago was also one of the first cities to have an open data policy as well as the appointment of a chief data officer. By publishing the massive amounts of data that the city collects through the publicly available city data portal, Chicago committed itself to becoming a data-driven city that would use technology to identify and promote strategies for social progress and economic growth.

The City of Chicago releases city data across different categories including the Divvy bike share program. Every single Divvy trip is recorded and made available to the public. Whether you’re a bike-enthusiast or policy maker, you can easily digest, use, and gain insights from this free data set. With over 9 million rows of data, that’s a lot of interesting information to explore!

As a civic tech fellow, I thought this was a great opportunity to learn more about my city through data. After downloading the dataset from the open data portal, I opened it with Microsoft PowerBI, an analytics tool that makes it extremely easy to manipulate, visualize, and learn from the Divvy data.

I teamed up with Narrative Science, a Chicago-based startup and a leader in Advanced Natural Language Generation (Advanced NLG) for the enterprise to leverage the company’s Advanced NLG extension for Microsoft Power BI. Narratives for Power BI automatically communicates insights from your data, in natural language.  These smart narratives act as a companion during the data discovery process, highlighting relevant insights in natural language, so you can make faster, more accurate decisions.

We put together a Power BI report that includes narratives to look at some of the insights that open data can bring to improving our city. The report showcases bike usage across different stations throughout the city.

Scroll through the pages above or view the full Power BI report here.

Here are some of our key takeaways:

  • Not too surprisingly, the stop at Lake Shore Drive and Monroe is extremely popular. Nearly 100,000 rides started there in between 2015 and 2016. Then again, what could be better than riding along the lakefront in 85-degree weather along the beach?
  • About one third of stations are very popular, representing over 80% of starting and ending destinations for all trips taken since the Divvy bike share program started. As for the remaining two thirds of the stations that are not as popular, it would be interesting to dig deeper into this sample set and understand how Divvy could promote greater usage across diverse neighborhoods.
  • Nearly 40% of all trips taken, which comes out to 4 million trips, started or ended in two locations: The Loop – Chicago’s central business district and home to a number of tourist attractions, or Chicago’s near north center – the region right above the loop. The Divvy bike program has continued to expand beyond the center of Chicago, adding new stations in new neighborhoods and launching new programs to make Divvy more accessible to people of all income levels. As a result, they hope to see increased Divvy bike usage beyond these two highly concentrated areas.

We love how Narratives for Power BI helps everyone immediately identify the most important insights from data by communicating them in a language that everyone understands – plain English. There’s no way we could have immediately spotted the above insights by looking at visualizations alone. It’s incredible how narratives automatically surface this information in seconds. Even better, they are dynamic and will update as you filter the charts and graphs by clicking on different neighborhoods and changing the time scale.

With the combination of Power BI and Narratives for Power BI, we envision a world where open city data is no longer a mysterious trove of data. Instead people, even the least technical user, can leverage technology to uncover interesting trends in data, understand them, and make decisions that make our cities an even more delightful, better place to live in.

About Microsoft Civic Technology and Engagement

Microsoft’s Civic Technology and Engagement team brings the company’s best assets to help civic leaders — and the communities they serve – use technology and cutting edge ideas to solve their biggest challenges. Microsoft Chicago is committed to building long-term partnerships in local communities to move our city forward and leveraging technology to bring innovative and transformative solutions for critical civic issues.  

About Narrative Science

Narrative Science is the leader in advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) for the enterprise. Quill™, its Advanced NLG platform, learns and writes like a person, automatically transforming data into Intelligent Narratives—insightful, conversational communications full of audience-relevant information that provide complete transparency into how analytic decisions are made. Customers, including Credit Suisse, Deloitte, MasterCard, USAA and members of the U.S. intelligence community, use Intelligent Narratives to make better business decisions, focus talent on higher value opportunities, and improve communications with their customers. Try Narratives for Power BI today here; if you’re interested in an on-premises version, contact narratives4powerbi@narrativescience.com for more information.

Civic Tech Cities: researching US government inhouse technologies

Today, mySociety, in partnership with Microsoft, launch Civic Tech Cities, a new piece of research looking at the technologies local governments implement to serve and communicate with their citizens. You can download it here.

Civic Tech: whose job is it?

Debating and making decisions on behalf of the people; managing services, disseminating information — all of these have been the agreed tasks of local government for a very long time. But has citizen-facing technology now also become a core function of government? And if so, how are they doing?

We often say that mySociety was originally set up to show governments how they could be using digital better, and that one day we hope to have done ourselves out of a job.

But perhaps it’s wrong to foresee a time when we’ll be able to pack up and go home. Perhaps those within government will never be able to escape internal bureaucracies and budget constraints to provide the software that their citizens will really benefit from; perhaps the provocative NGO, one step ahead with citizen-to-government technologies, will always be a necessary agent.

We won’t know for sure until we start researching beyond our own sphere.

A vital new area for research

When we set up the mySociety research programme, as you’d expect, our first priority was to look at the impact of the services we, and other organisations like us, were providing.

Around the same time, the term ‘Civic Tech’ was gaining traction, and it carried with it an implicit reference to applications made outside government, by organisations like us, cheekily providing the tools the citizens wanted rather than those the government decided they needed.

If our aim was to wake governments up to the possibilities of digital, to some extent it has been successful. Governments around the world, at all levels, have seen the financial and societal benefits, and are producing, buying in, and commissioning civic software for their own online offerings.

It is, then, high time that the sphere of government-implemented civic technologies were more closely examined: how effective are they? Who is using them? What changes are they wreaking on the relationship between citizen and government? How, indeed, are governments themselves changing as a result of this new direction?

Civic Tech Cities

Thanks to generous funding from Microsoft, we were able to conduct research that seeks to answer these questions, in the context of municipal-level council digital offerings in five US cities.

Emily Shaw, in collaboration with mySociety’s Head of Research Rebecca Rumbul, examined standalone projects in Austin, Chicago, Oakland, Washington DC and Seattle, to produce case studies that cast a light on the state of institutional civic tech in the current age.

The technologies chosen for scrutiny were diverse in some ways, but the challenges they faced were often alike: and we can all, whether inside or outside government, recognise common pitfalls such as failing to budget for ongoing maintenance of a service that was expected to roll happily along, untended, for the foreseeable future; or building a world-changing digital service that fails to gain traction because its potential users never get to hear about it.

It’s our hope that local governments everywhere will benefit from this in-depth look at the tools US municipal governments have put in place, from LargeLots in Chicago which sold disused land in disadvantaged neighbourhoods for a nominal $1 fee, to RecordTrac in Oakland, a request and response tool for those seeking information under California’s Public Record Act.

Better tools make better policy

Interestingly, one of the key findings of this report is that developing digital tools alongside policy, rather than bolting these tools on afterwards, results not only in better tools, but better policy too.

The user-centred design principles that have been central to the Civic Tech movement had a knock-on effect beyond the software development departments of municipal government. They began to shape the ways in which policy itself was developed, resulting in services that were more accessible and appropriate to the communities they serve.

Two-way learning

Finally, it’s not just governments who will learn from this examination of best practices, potential problems and unexpected bonuses; we, and other NGOs like us, can gain crucial insights from the sector which, after all, is pursuing the same aim that we are.

You can read the research paper here. Many thanks to Microsoft for making it possible, and to Emily Shaw for putting in the time and effort to make it a reality.

Join the 2017 Clean Energy Trust Challenge

How can we use technology to make an impact?

As our global concerns grow, it becomes more and more obvious that sustainability and climate care are an immediate priority. And our technologies are growing alongside this concern, providing more opportunity for us to manage energy and natural resources in more sustainable ways.

That’s where organizations like Clean Energy Trust come in. Clean Energy Trust (CET) partners with innovators to bring scientific and technological advancements to market that change how the world generates, consumes and reuses energy and natural resources. And each year, CET hosts the Clean Energy Trust Challenge, where early-stage cleantech startups come together to propose new energy ideas. CET provides $1 million in seed funding, accelerating these startups and guiding them through the startup process. Each Challenge culminates in a series of finalist pitches, which are evaluated by an investment committee which comprises a handful of financial and energy industry experts.

This year’s 8 selected finalists are:

  • Aker
  • Applied Particle Technology
  • Idle Smart
  • Lotic Labs
  • PowerTech Water
  • Sun Buckets
  • SurClean, Inc
  • Switched Source, LLC

Finalists — and previous CET Challenge winners — focus on energy missions like limiting global temperatures, developing new low-carbon technologies, and deploying existing sustainable technologies on a greater scale. To date, CET has awarded over $3.7M in funding to 33 clean energy startups. Startups benefitting from our programs have gone on to raise an additional $112M in follow-on-funding – and have created over 300 jobs.

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating these cleantech startups Today, May 9 at Venue SIX10. RSVP here.

Civic Tech in Chicago — May’s Top Events

How do you spend your May in Chicago? Weekend architecture tours? Picnics by the river? Trips to the Lakes?

For us, May is all about civic tech. Here are our top picks for events this month:

May 3

Spring 2017 Graduate Student & Postdoc Innovation Mixer
5:00pm-7:00pm
Polsky Exchange – Promontory Point Meeting Room 1452 E 53rd St, 2nd Floor, Chicago

The UChicago Graduate Student and Postdoc Innovation Mixer is an opportunity for graduate students and postdocs cross the University of Chicago to experience the Polsky Exchange, meet one-another, and spark interdisciplinary collaborations. This will be a great opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals and even find new teammates for any research project or business idea you’re working on.

Chicago AquaHacking Kick-off Event
8:30am-11:30am
Illinois Institute of Technology Downtown Campus Institute of Design, 7th Floor 565 West Adams Street, Chicago

AquaHacking is an annual multi-disciplinary hackathon for generating ideas to conserve the Great Lakes. Hosted by the Canada-based de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation, AquaHacking 2017 will focus on ideas to solve challenges facing Lake Erie. Join us for a kick-off meeting for Chicago’s AquaHacking team! Teams to develop solutions to pitch in late May to compete in semi-finals in June (teams will meet as-needed through May to develop solutions).

May 4

Blue Sky Social at WeWork
6:00pm
WeWork 20 W. Kinzie St., Chicago

Join us as Blue Sky Innovation hosts the latest event in its networking series, Blue Sky Social, presented by Gentleman Jack. This event will take place at WeWork Kinzie ⇒, a coworking space in River North.

May 9

2017 Clean Energy Trust Challenge
8:30am-7:00pm
Venue SIX10 610 S Michigan Ave, Chicago

Clean Energy Trust invests in the entrepreneurs leading the clean technology revolution from the Midwest. Our vision is to develop a thriving, frictionless innovation ecosystem in the Midwest for energy and resource technology startups.

The Clean Energy Trust (CET) Challenge is our flagship program in which we invest $1 million in promising early-stage cleantech startups. The final event combines live pitches with presentations by leading clean energy thinkers and doers.

What began in 2010 as a simple business plan competition to jumpstart the local ecosystem with cash prizes totaling $140,000 has now grown into the most competitive and high-profile investment opportunity for cleantech startups in the Midwest.

Since the first CET Challenge, startups have received $4M in funding, raised over $100 million in follow-on funding, and created over 300 new jobs.

May 16

ADA 25 Advancing Leadership lunch
12:00pm-1:30pm
Microsoft 200 E. Randolph Street, Chicago

Please join Steve Solomon of Exelon and Shelley Stern Grach of Microsoft for lunch to explore how Chicago’s civic landscape can become more inclusive.

We will introduce you to ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, a growing Chicago network of leaders with disabilities, and brainstorm how we can help infuse this missing dimension of diversity in Chicago’s civic life.

May 18

Bunker Labs 3rd Annual Muster Across America
12:00pm-7:30pm
1871 Chicago 222 West Merchandise Mart Plaza, 12th Floor, Chicago

Bunker Labs, a 501(c)(3) organization committed to veteran entrepreneurship is excited to announce the 3rd annual “Muster” conference. This year we invite veterans, corporate partners and innovators to come, bring their best ideas and develop new connections and insights. Last year’s event drew over 350 participants and won praise as “the most exciting innovative veterans’ event I have ever been to.” This year’s program will bring together over 400 participants and partners for a full day of veteran entrepreneurs networking, keynote speakers, and will feature our Launch Lab where we’ll build an entire business in ONE day.

May 23

“Cybersecurity: Its Impact on Our Daily Lives”
12:00pm-1:30pm
Holland & Knight 131 S Dearborn St., Chicago

Experts discuss the reality of cyber attacks and the need for security in business, government, banking, and our private lives.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Gabrielle Lyon, Chicago Architecture Foundation and Heather Van Benthuysen, Chicago Public Schools

Civic education has always been a priority in Chicago, as a city that prides itself in its political involvement and civic engagement. Yet it has only recently become a requirement for Chicago’s students. Heather Van Benthuysen, Civic Education Manager at Chicago Public Schools, has changed this, and is working to inspire Chicago students to become active participants in their communities through experiential civic education.

Remember the Wacker’s Manual of the Plan of Chicago? Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has partnered with the Chicago Architecture Foundation for No Small Plans, a graphic novel inspired by and built for CPS teens based on the Wacker’s Manual. The 144-page novel follows the adventures of teens in Chicago’s past (1928), present (2017), and future (2211) in Chicago’s individual neighborhoods.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she sits down with Heather Van Benthuysen and Gabrielle Lyon, Vice President of Education and Experience at Chicago Architecture Foundation, to explore No Small Plans and civic education in Chicago.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Heather and Gabrielle live on Advisor.tv.

Support No Small Plans — purchase or donate a copy in advance here.

Chicago City Data User Group — The Impact Genome: Predicting Social Impact

The government and the social sector in philanthropy are the only places in the economy that measure impact only after a program has been funded.  Every other business uses data to predict the impact. The Impact Genome is a universal evidence base to research, evaluate and predict what works in social change. The Genome spans 132 common outcomes across 11 areas of social impact.

The idea is to apply the same concept used in the music genome (think of how Pandora figures out what you like) to a decision-support platform for civic funders and policymakers. It will allow practitioners to build programs using evidence “decoded” by pulling in unstructured data from academic research studies together with existing social policy.  They then use that data to estimate the impact of the programs (and standardize the reporting).  Among other benefits , this project will also allow  for benchmarking and rationalize how resources are allocated.

This short video explains it. And on April 5th, as part of our Chicago City Data User Group, we got to hear Mission Measurement founder Jason Saul talk about the genesis of this project, the data it uses, and the data it will create.

Miss our meetup? Have no fear — we meet on the first Wednesday of each month. You can catch up on what you missed in the Twitter moment below:

Civic Tech in Chicago — April’s Top Events

Spring has sprung! We’re ready to shed our extra layers, head out of the underground, and enjoy the (almost) warm weather. Plus, this month is officially Information Technology Month in Illinois — there’s so much to celebrate!

Embrace the season with us with these top events this month:

All Month

Innovate Lake Erie
Cleveland Water Alliance

The Erie Hack is a data and engineering competition that unites coders, developers, engineers, and water experts to generate enduring solutions to Lake Erie’s biggest challenges. The competition includes $100,000 in prizes for the most creative and effective hacks. Working from challenge statements derived from ideation sessions with NASA representatives and regional stakeholders, teams are charged with creating innovative digital tools, hardware innovations, and engineering solutions that build “the Blue Economy”: the emergent economic sector dedicated to the sustainable stewardship of bodies of freshwater around the globe. The Erie Hack provides regional high school students, college students, and professionals the opportunity to combine their own expertise with solid mentoring to create technologies with the potential to invigorate Lake Erie’s environment and economy.

ITA Tech Challenge Teaser

​In conjunction with the Illinois Governor’s new proclamation that April is Information Technology month, and to provide an additional opportunity to practice your coding and programming skills before the fall Tech Challenge, ITA has launched the Tech Challenge Teaser. This challenge is similar to the Tech Challenge in the fall, but on a smaller scale and is administered 100% virtually between April 3rd and April 14th.

April 4

Chi Hack Night — Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring
6:00pm
Braintree office 222 W Merchandise Mart Plz 8th Floor, Chicago

Flooding in the Chicagoland area due to excess stormwater has resulted in over 182,000 claims of property damage with a total estimated cost of $735 million over the last five years. This damage is the result of combined sewer system backups into homes and waterbodies.

To alleviate this, the City of Chicago has allocated $50M to augment the combined sewer system with green infrastructure. The program has focused on implementing a combination of traditional and green stormwater infrastructure.

Last year City Digital, part of UI Labs, kicked-off their Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring pilot that brought together a team including Microsoft, Opti, Senformatics, West Monroe Partners, and AECOM to develop a new collection of technologies to remotely monitor the performance of green infrastructure.

With the City of Chicago, the monitoring technology has been deployed at four green infrastructure sites across the City to monitor the performance of a variety of green infrastructure types, including a bioswale, permeable pavers, infiltration planters, and tree grates.

Adam Hecktman, Microsoft’s Director of Technology & Civic Innovation Chicago, Dana Al-Qadi, Engineer at AECOM and Tom Schenk, Chief Data Officer at the City of Chicago will present details on the pilot formation, solution deployed, and initial findings from this effort.

April 5

The Impact Genome: Predicting Social Impact
6:00pm – 7:00pm
Microsoft Technology Center, Chicago | Aon Center 200 E. Randolph Ste 200, Chicago

Join us on April 5th to hear Mission Measurement founder Jason Saul talk about the genesis of this project, the data it uses, and the data it will create. 6:00pm at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago.

April 7

ADA Diabetes Innovation Summit
​12:00pm – 5:30pm
MATTER 222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza #1230, Chicago

The American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Innovation Summit promises a unique, interactive and immersive experience focused on building a network of those committed to exploring investable opportunities that will accelerate and catalyze the Association’s mission.  Feedback from the diabetes community will fuel conversations about daily challenges facing individuals living with diabetes.
April 10
Roosevelt @ UIC & ICPR: Who Writes the Rules Matters
11:00am – 12:30pm
UIC Student Services Building 1200 W Harrison, Chicago

Roosevelters know that Who Writes the Rules Matters, so we’re bringing together students and legislators in partnership with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform to figure out how everyone can have a seat at the table. Join us for a panel discussion followed by a collaborative workshop as we seek to understand structural and practical barriers to democratic access for young people.

April 12

April 2017 Chicago International Student Career Fair – Employer RSVP
10:30 AM – 3:30 PM
DeVry University 3300 North Campbell Avenue, Chicago

The Chicago International Student Career Fair will provide a platform for your company to meet hundreds of talented, skilled professionals, students and alumni.

Connect with international professionals and talent from universities. We are confident that this event will provide you with unique access to our talented international students in greater Chicago specializing in business, technology, health sciences, fine arts, architecture, engineering and more.

April 19

Celebrating Hon. Adlai and Nancy Stevenson
The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform 500 N Dearborn St, Suite 518, Chicago

On Wednesday, April 19th, ICPR will honor Hon. Adlai and Nancy Stevenson with the Mikva Legacy Award for Truth and Justice at Noon at Petterino’s in Chicago

Judge Mary Mikva will join ICPR to present the Stevensons with this honor for their extensive work in Illinois through advocacy, public service, and the Stevenson Center on Democracy

April 27

Microsoft – Adapting Experiences for Virtual and Mixed Reality
5:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Tech Nexus (Conference Room C/D) 20 N. Wacker Drive, Suite 1200, Chicago

The principles used for building a standard 3D experience fundamentally change when considering virtual and mixed reality. New devices such as the Microsoft HoloLens lets users interact with digital content in relation to the real world, disrupting the way we build experiences. This session will explain how to consider these concepts during development as well as introduce the new medium of building 3D Mixed Reality applications and games using C#, Visual Studio, and Unity. Whether itching to build your own applications or enthusiastic about designing for these ever-changing virtual mediums, you’ll walk away with the tools to build your own.

A Letter to Lorena Mesa (From Lorena Mesa)

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

Greetings Lorena!

Or should I say “What up Sailor Scout?” I know you are dying to find out what happens next in the Sailor Moon / Tuxedo Mask love saga and waiting for the English dub is so difficult. Don’t worry. What happens is even better than anything you could ever imagine.

How’s the development of the Sailor Moon fan page going? Did you find out how to make a gradient background fill? What about aligning your images properly? HTML is difficult, especially when there isn’t much documentation. I promise you – it’s worth the effort. Difficult problems are the most fun to solve. Remember that.

By the time you are thirty, everyone is going to want to know how to code. Your effort learning the basics of HTML and CSS will inspire you to teach other women to code, specifically young women.

Want to know something else? When you’re thirty, you’ll be able to watch all the anime you want with the click of a finger thanks to online streaming services. No more waiting for those not-so-good fan dubs at your all too infrequent trips to Mitsuwa, the Japanese marketplace!

Lorena, I know sometimes you feel alone because your interests may be different than those around you. That’s okay. It’s your interests that make you, well, you. Okay, so maybe anime isn’t the most popular thing. Perhaps learning HTML and building fan pages on Angelcities isn’t “normal” for a teenaged girl. But who wants to be “normal”? Lorena, you have an appetite for exploring the unknown, learning something new, trying the wild and wacky!

Your willingness to try new things out will reward you with a rich life and satisfying career (ultimately as a software engineer!). You’ll be able to travel internationally to speak at conferences, to organize communities that align with your core values, and to teach others the things that you love the most. Many will tell you that your passion for learning has been an inspiration for them in their own lives.

Continue to be bold, Lorena. Do as Sailor Moon does and “never back down from a real fight”. If you want to code – code. If you want to watch anime – watch anime. Whatever you put your mind to, you can do it.

This, I promise you, is the secret to “live long and prosper”. (Oh yes, there will be more Star Treks. And yes, they are so good!)

In geeky solidarity,
Future Thirty-Year-Old Lorena

Political analyst turned coder, Lorena Mesa is a Sprout Social platform software engineer, Director on the Python Software Foundation, PyLadies Chicago co-organizer, and Write/Speak/Code conference organizer. Lorena loves to make meaning out of data, asking big questions and using her code to build models to derive that meaning. Part Star Wars fanatic but mostly a Trekkie, Lorena abides by the motto to “live long and prosper”.

Contact Info: lorenamesa.com @loooorenanicole

A Letter to Sarah Sexton (From Sarah Sexton)

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

Dear Sarah,

Being a wallflower blending into crowds is fine, for a while. The teenage years were a shy and innocent time. But well-behaved women never make history. When life throws you some nasty curveballs, you will be forced to do a lot of growing up. (Start reading Game of Thrones right now to learn how to adapt.)

You don’t like being in the spotlight right now, and that’s fine. There will be days when there is no ceremony to congratulate you for your accomplishments. There will be days when the world is dark. During your adolescence, you will see your world get so dark that you will think there is no end in sight to your grief. But the good news is: You are powerful. You are unconquerable. I say this because at age 26, I’m still alive, living independently in a lake-view high rise apartment on the north side of a huge, bustling city. You don’t just survive – you THRIVE. Teaching my brain how to think with logic and reason and going into the Computer Science major in college was the best decision I ever made!

I changed majors FOUR times. I loved art, animation, writing, AND computers. I could save you a year’s tuition and tell you to skip straight to the Computer Science department and minor in Communications, but I am afraid that any advice that does not put me right here at this moment in time would be a mistake. It’s okay to fail, if you do it fast and early, because the more you fail, the more you learn. Your attention to detail, technological skills, critical thinking, and high capacity for quick learning will serve you well.

The best course of action for trying to succeed, in a world where not everyone has the same advantages, and not everyone is treated equally, is to be the most confident and capable at what you do. Always understand that everyone else is also living a life as vivid and complex as yours. I work in the tech industry, populated by the brightest minds and the hardest workers. It is a constant challenge, but I live for that challenge, and it is the most rewarding struggle. It is perfectly acceptable to stand on the shoulders of giants. Let everyone see that you can do the job you were hired to do. If you can do that, respect and responsibilities will follow.

If you quit anything because of nay-sayers, you’d be letting the haters win. You’d be doing exactly what they want you to do. You’d be giving up and letting them get away with it. So instead of dropping out of a club because you’re being bullied, I challenge you to become President of it. Instead of fleeing a college major because you’re being harassed in it, I challenge you to make the Dean’s list every quarter, fight for straight As, report the harasser, make friends with everyone else in that department, and graduate with honors.

To paraphrase a quote from my favorite 14-year-old character in Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen, “It is true that I am only a young girl, and do not know the ways of war. Explain to me how you propose to defeat ten thousand applicants with your one job application. Innocent as I am, these odds seem poor to me.” The answer is simple: Take hold of your power. What will you do? “I will do what queens do. I will rule.”

Love,

Sarah at 26 years old!
P.S. Here’s some words of wisdom down the pathway of years: The only resource you can never get back is Time, and nothing is more important in the long run than your Soul. So never waste too much time, and never allow anything to crush your soul. The old “gingers have no souls” joke is good for a laugh, but you DO have a soul, and it is with you every time you look in a mirror and every time you go to bed. Mom and Dad love you, and all your friends love you, but only YOU can keep your soul well-fed and happy. You don’t have to “sell out” to make money. You’ve passed your most difficult test in life if the mirror’s reflection is your friend.

A Letter to Karin Norington-Reaves (From Karin Norington-Reaves)

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

It was likely my proudest moment in 3rd grade. I’d written a paper on this new invention called CAD (Computer Assisted Design). I was so excited by this new technology and the ability to draw using a computer. I drew a picture of the computer, keyboard and the special “pen” that could be used to “draw” designs. I prepared my first essay outline (the longest the teacher had ever seen!) and a cover page. The future was at my fingertips. I couldn’t wait to share my new found knowledge with anyone who’d listen.

With the advent of smartphones, robots that vacuum your floor and driverless cars, my CAD discovery seems so insignificant now. But in 1977, it was a big deal. Personal computers didn’t exist. Indeed mainframes, dinosaurs that filled entire rooms, sometimes floors, were the norm. This was a far cry from today’s compact, lightweight portable devices everyone now carries in their pockets.

My curious 8-year-old self did not foresee the technology that we now take for granted. Nor could I have known how much I’d rely on it, be beholden to it, or sometimes even crave a break from it. (I’ve given up Facebook for Lent for the past two years!). I’m now a 47 year-old Chief Executive Officer of the nation’s second largest workforce development system. I manage a large non-profit organization with a budget of $60 million and a staff of 65 people. On any given day I receive as many as 100 emails across my work and personal accounts. I carry two phones, a Surface Pro, USB cords, a projector adapter, an external battery charger, a WiFi hotspot and an oversized purse every single day.

None of this entered my mind when I opted to bypass lunch period during junior year of high school in favor of typing class. I attended the performing arts program of a school with multiple educational tracts—typing was not offered in my program. But I thought it was important to learn to type in preparation for college, so there went lunch. It was the right move. That typing class was the launching pad for my word processing skills and the ability to type up to 90 words per minute. While I perfected college application essays on my mom’s IBM Selectric, Apple and IBM computers would be the tools for completing college papers, law school application and appellate court briefs. Later, I’d move from merely typing to designing presentations, to analyzing and demonstrating data through attention-grabbing graphics.

So much of my life would be significantly more difficult without the technology I use daily: the Outlook calendar that coordinates my and my children’s schedules across my work and personal devices; the address book that holds phone numbers I once committed to memory but now would be hard-pressed to recall in a pinch; the apps through which I manage my retirement, checking, savings and credit card accounts. And, text messaging! Oh how many times has a quick text helped me keep an appointment, find out where my children are, or get updates on an event I couldn’t attend?

My children undoubtedly think I’m corny when I wax nostalgic about how “there were no ______ when I was your age.”  But it’s true, there were no cellphones when I was growing up, no computers, no apps, no flatscreen TV’s, Bluetooth or You Tube. I’m not really that old—it’s just that technology has evolved with an incredible speed. So much so that I’m certain in another 20 years when my children are parents, they’ll hear themselves saying to my grandchildren, “we didn’t have that when I was your age!” and they’ll smile. And they’ll realize that just like me, they too were able to master all of the new technology as it became the norm and changed their lives forever.

Karin Norington-Reaves serves as CEO of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. In this capacity she oversees the administration of federal, state and philanthropic funds and the creation of effective programs that assure symmetry between the skills demanded by a changing economy and those offered by the region’s workforce. Karin serves on the Cook County Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) as well as on the Board of Advisors for LISC Chicago.

Karin brings more than 10 years of experience in education, community/economic development, and workforce development to the position. Prior to her appointment Karin served as Director of Cook County Works; Deputy Director of the Office of Urban Assistance for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and Chief of Staff for the City of Chicago’s 20th Ward. Karin holds a J.D. from Southern Methodist University School of Law in Dallas, Texas and a B.A. in Spanish Language and Literature from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.