It’s raining. It’s pouring. We’re flooding.

Flooding. There is something about water coming into your house that is so…invasive.  And when it comes in as bacteria carrying storm water from a sewer system, it is that much more upsetting and expensive.  Now multiply that equation by 181,000 (the number claims of property damage from flooding in the Chicagoland area over the last 5 years), and you have yourself a $773 million situation.  This is the situation that the City Digital Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring project was designed to address.  Let me explain how we got here.

Sewer systems in major cities across the US and around the world often times are a century or more old.  Chicago built ours in 1856, as a combined system (carrying wastewater and stormwater together, away from people and homes and toward treatment plants).  And while the city spends approximately $50 million per year to clean and modernize the sewer lines and related structures, it is still a system built on notions of water events prior to our knowledge and understanding of climate change.  

Climate change has altered the behavior of water events.  As an example, storms are now more intense, shorter in duration, and more localized than they were 100 years ago.  This taxes the sewer systems in various locations around the city during times of intense rainfall.

In addition, there is far less green space in the city than there was 100 years ago.  Green spaces soak up stormwater.  The soil, and native plants living in it, utilizes that water and naturally cleanses some of the runoff.  When we build streets, roadways, parking lots, and buildings, we replace that green space with something impermeable.  Streets and rooftops, are like man-made rivers – they take stormwater and send it into the sewer system.  More hard surfaces + less green space = more water going into the sewers.

For years, we have known that adding “green elements” to the built environment diverts water from the sewers and puts it back into the natural system.  Rain gardens, rain barrels, cisterns, and permeable pavers are all natural elements that act to ultimately get more water back into the ground, less into the sewer system.  What we haven’t known is:

  • How much water is diverted from the sewer system?
  • Which green elements work best in which locations and under which conditions?
  • What is the quality of the water once it goes through the natural system?

Enter the world of sensors and data.  The Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring project was one of the first projects to use the City of Chicago as a test bed for experimentation at scale.  In this case, we used the city to test a water monitoring solution that could scale to multiple cities around the globe.  City Digital selected multiple locations around Chicago to place sensors in different “green elements” to understand how they reduce the impact of flooding.  As an example of one such green element, in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, we incorporated permeable pavers (instead of impermeable asphalt) into a street scape system, which itself was part of a broader City project to create a shared plaza.  We added sensors beneath the pavers to determine how much water was absorbed into the ground (utilizing expertise from engineering company AECOM, and University of Illinois based-startup, Senformatics), and thereby diverted from the sewer system.  

optiOn Goose Island (where UI LABS is located), we built a bioswale with native plants. Working like rain gardens, bioswales are areas at the bottom of a sloped landscape filled with native vegetation to drain runoff water and remove pollution.   Again, sensors were added to determine the amount of water absorbed into the ground, water that otherwise would have been diverted to a sewer.  And other locations in the city will have other types of elements, and sensors to gather data on their performance.

Once the sensors pick up this data, it is collected in the Azure cloud.  There, it is city-digital_dashcombined with other data sources (such as weather forecasts) and is prepared for visualization on a dashboard through our Azure partner Opti, who focuses on new technology approaches to managing stormwater.  Over time, the data collection and analysis will also include metrics on the quality of the water as it passes through a natural system, allowing us to understand how runoff is handled.  Bringing all of this distributed data together will enable insights that a city can use as it plans for capital improvements.  

Imagine if every time a city made plans for street surfaces, parks, streetscapes, or the water system itself, it had the data to understand how to best leverage the opportunity to add green infrastructure.  Further, it would have insights as to which types of green infrastructure would work best in various locations.  Of course, we plan on extending type of experimentation to other water issues, but that is a blog for another time.   For more information on Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring and other City Digital projects, go to

Uncovering Advanced Science, Technology, and Startups at the University of Illinois Research Park


Photo: By Jlfergu2 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

If you want to get to Champaign-Urbana from Chicago, here is my suggested route:

  • Depart the city heading south.
  • Drive through high corn fields and lush soy fields.
  • When you feel your mind being blown, you have arrived.

Specifically, you have arrived at the University of Illinois Research Park where both enterprise companies and startups bask in the glow of advanced science and research. I made the trek with Laura Freichs, the Director of Research Park, as my guide for the experience.

First, let me describe the physical space — 15 buildings over a sprawling 200 acres of space adjacent to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) campus. There are, at any given time, 100 corporate companies with corporate innovation centers housed there. There are an additional 50 startups sprouting out of the beautiful and collaborative EnterpriseWorks tech incubator housed at Research Park.

Let’s cover the corporate innovation centers first. Some of the largest companies in the US are doing research and development at Research Park, much of it focused on data, advanced computation, and advanced modeling. The companies doing research vary in industry, from Abbott and Abvie in life sciences, to Capital One and CME Group in financial services, to ABInBev and Dow in process manufacturing.

What kind of work do these corporate titans do at Research Park?

Caterpillar not only houses a simulation center and an advanced data innovation lab at Research Park, they have also employed over 500 student interns, more than 100 of whom have landed jobs as engineers at Cat. Yahoo has 165 employees doing advanced software development and research, and created a home base for their Hadoop Center of Excellence and Data team. These companies all see access to a top talent pipeline as a key benefit, not to mention the early look at trends in the innovation and data spaces they get by being located in close proximity to UIUC.

For me, the corporate partners were the icing on the cake. I was there to learn about the startups. Specifically, I was looking to meet with startups that had either a civic tech or smart cities focus. I wasn’t disappointed. Laura and her team brought me to EnterpriseWorks , a 43,000 sq ft incubator. EnterpriseWorks houses startups that are heavily invested in science-based commercialization opportunities…heavy, heavy science.   Given that UIUC is home to some of the world’s top engineering talent and computing resources (their Blue Waters supercomputer is the fastest in the academic world), this makes sense.

Some of the companies and researchers I met included:

  • Dr. Kaustubh Bhalerao, a researcher in biological nanotechnology, who has been working on ways to dramatically reduce the cost of testing nitrogen content in the soil. Nitrogen fertilization is essential for profitable crop production, and optimizing for nitrogen improves the food supply.
  • Dr. Yanfeng Ouyang and Rebekah Yang of TEST (Transportation Engineering Solutions & Technology), a spinoff from a U of I project for the Illinois Tollway. They look at the sustainability of roadways across the lifecycle, from building them to using them. They use advanced science and engineering research to build tools that will improve environmental and economic impacts of transportation infrastructure (both roads and rail).
  • AE Machines and their Chief Technology Officer, Amy LaViers, could have had me for the entire day if they would let me play with their product all day. Amy had Ardiuno littleBits sprawled across a table. Her company built a drag and drop design interface so that the young and non-technical can have fun learning about the internet of things. It will truly broaden the opportunity for IoT.
  • Tim Sinclair, the CEO of Ringr with a seasoned radio voice (he was actually a sports announcer in an earlier life). Ringr solves the problem of remote interviews on your podcast sounding, well, remote. With his technology, a remote conversation sounds like you are in the same room.
  • Quicket Solutions, whose CEO, Christiaan Burner, showed me how his Software as a Service solution for law enforcement can bring a notoriously antiquated field into the age of the cloud. Any law enforcement agency, with low risk and no up-front investment, can turn paper-based reporting evidence management, and compliance into a process served up from the cloud to any of a number of endpoints.
  • Granular, a Bay area creator of farm management software ERP software, has a regional HQ in Research Park. They were one of a number of businesses in the AgriTech space. Given that the region is heavily invested in agriculture, it makes sense to do your research where you have access to and input from your future customer base.

These are the people Laura with whom Laura gets to spend each day. Every group I met with pushed my adrenaline levels just a little bit higher. What truly capped it for me was my visit to the Cline Center for Democracy, a group that brings data, democracy, and the human condition together with research like I had never seen before. Story for another blog.

And if I sound like a fan…well…I was Class of 1988.

Microsoft Empowers the 2016 Republican & Democratic National Conventions


Regardless of your political stripes, Microsoft’s mission is to empower everyone to achieve more. This year, Microsoft is playing a significant role in the election process. We believe technology, and our teams, can create a more secure, accurate, and efficient elections process. After starting in Iowa, we continued onto Super Tuesday, and this past July, we were vital to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.



After all the balloons dropped, and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had been officially nominated at their respective parties’ conventions, the entire Microsoft community can proudly say they helped make these significant events in our democratic process a success. Teams across the company, from Washington state to Washington, DC, coordinated over the past year to engage with the political parties, the planning committees,
microsoft-surface-rnc-2016the host cities, and local organizations and businesses to provide access to Microsoft technology and services. From the earliest planning stages, we worked with the RNC Committee on Arrangements and the Democratic National Convention Committee to empower those people and organizations running the conventions to address challenges and provide solutions.

From Azure to Skype to O365 to Surface, Microsoft became integral to two weeks of conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia, viewed by millions of people around the world.

Just as important, we aimed to leave a lasting legacy in each host city. In Cleveland, we partnered with Cuyahoga County on an Azure-based, mobile app to help solve some of the areas on-going challenges. In Philadelphia, we partnered with local organizations to launch the Microsoft Reactor, where entrepreneurs and developers can have a home to innovate into the future.

We will continue supporting the next steps in the 2016 election (bookmark and check out throughout the election cycle), and are committed to being a vital part of the democratic process for years to come.

The Elections newsroom on Microsoft News Center provides an ongoing reflection of the company’s work as the election cycle continues.

Think like a Designer — Re-imagining the Museum of Science and Industry

The World’s Columbian Exposition, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s landing in America, was  held in 1893 in Chicago. The exposition occupied 630 acres in Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance. The main site was bounded by Stony Island Avenue on the west, 67th Street on the south, Lake Michigan on the east, and 56th Street on the north. Planners selected a classical architectural theme for the fair. The buildings housed 65 exhibits that followed the theme of the building. Some of the more popular exhibits were curiosities rather than serious displays of technology and progress. They included an eleven-ton cheese and a 1,500 pound chocolate Venus de Milo in the Hall of Agriculture and a seventy-foot-high tower of light bulbs in the Electricity Building. The world’s first Ferris Wheel, invented by George W. Ferris, was also on the Midway. The 250-foot high steel structure had 36 cars carrying 60 persons each.


More than 200 buildings occupied the exposition’s grounds; today, only one remains. Like most of the other buildings, the Palace of Fine Arts had exterior walls of staff, a temporary building material made from plaster of paris and hemp fiber. It housed the Field Columbian Museum after the fair’s closing until 1920. During the late 1920s, the building was reduced to its steel skeleton and brick interior walls and rebuilt in stone. The structure was opened again to the public as the Museum of Science and Industry in 1931.


Fast forward to 2016. You are part of a team who have been asked to re-imagine how to use this spectacular space at the Museum, now known as MSI. The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago — one of the largest science museums in the world — is home to more than 400,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits designed to spark scientific inquiry and creativity. This local and national treasure could bring countless STEM resources to Chicagoland with a 21st century facelift — in design, in content, in outreach to the tens of thousands that visit each year and to the neighborhoods and children of the city of Chicago. In an age of Pokémon GO and virtual reality, what would you do to help MSI? Microsoft Chicago is honored to be included in an ongoing redesign of MSI Chicago as part of a group of civic leaders. The following is a glimpse into the process and the challenge — and opportunity — for this iconic resource.

Think like a designer.

First, find a group of really interesting  people, who are passionate about MSI in all aspects: board supporters, scientists, designers, corporate supporters, world-class foundations and so forth. Second, bring in top talent from IDEO-a global design company. Their mission: “We create impact through design.” Third, engage these smart people in fun, creative and thought-provoking dialog. Take the time to really think it through.

Envision all aspects of MSI, now and in the future:

  • Have Empathy for people who will visit
  • Imagine the Stories you want MSI visitors to learn and to tell
  • Observe and reflect on what the values of MSI are…and should be
  • Consider what are the new,  future constraints for MSI as a building, as a center of innovation? (If any….)
  • Create an enduring vision for next decade…and the next. To inspire and motivate our children…and our children’s children.
  • Re-imagine almost everything. How the space can be used? How can we  extend the MSI experience outside of our walls, deeper into the community?
  • What are our values and how do we activate them? How do we make MSI a living demonstration of our mission?

Think about the outcomes for our Families, Teachers and Children who experience MSI. Let’s target  50% learning and 50% fun! Think about how MSI can help influence and inspire careers in STEM by exposing our visitors to the future and share different experiences that can’t find elsewhere.

  • A promising future
  • A Tech-enabled  future
  • A world of virtual and augmented reality, intertwining “real” life and potential enhancements
  • Enhance family togetherness — unplug, touch experiences, interact, inter-relate
  • Shared social experiences
  • Have fun! “Science is a blast”.
  • Learning experiences with Science Teachers, where:
    • Failure is ok
    • Students experience messy, hands on, open ended investigation
    • Students see themselves in science /STEM

In order to truly experience this redesign beyond team brainstorming and sticky notes, each of us last week was assigned to a group of individuals with different backgrounds and we had a “site visit” of several exhibits to think through the different “Personas” that MSI brings out in each of us. Are you a Tinkerer, Pathfinder, Provocateur, or  Futurist? Or do you change your role (as many of us do) depending on what you see and how you react? For example, the Fab Lab is tightly linked to Tinkerers. But what about the classic Coal Mine? Perhaps a Pathfinder in the 1940s and 1950s, but what does it mean today? Can the Coal Mine be re-imagined as the baseline of Energy and fueling mankind and can it be re-imagined as part of a natural resources ecosystem that now includes wind and solar.

FAB Lab photo from Bing

FAB Lab photo from Bing

Coal Mine Photo from Bing

Coal Mine Photo from Bing

All too soon, the site visit experience concluded. We brought our ideas back to the larger team and shared our ideas and the potential to be unlocked. No final conclusions just yet! Innovation, invention and re-imagining take time. Can’t wait to attend the next IDEO session to see what’s next.

Democratization of Data and the Rise of Data Literacy

The democratization of data is one of the most powerful forces shaping society today. Not so long ago, the gathering of data, its storage, and its analysis was, for the most part, the work of a fairly small circle of highly trained people.  Researchers used social science methods and data largely drawn from national surveys to produce accurate information that policy makers could use to make key decisions. But things are very different today.

The walls of training and barriers to access that used to make data the province of an educated elite—the people who could interact with a raw dataset, had access to the right software, could extract meaning from the data, and understood the limitations of the sources—have fallen.  Today anyone with a mobile device can access, create, analyze, and disseminate vast quantities of information.  This is the democratization of data.

And this transformation is producing a lot of valuable work that advances the public good. Here in Chicago, I am struck by the work of Smart Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago who cohosted an event that explored the relationship between information technology, urban space, and the public good in the age of big data.   Another example is the Chicago Tribune’s remarkable data journalism series revealing that the city’s red light cameras were looking more like cash registers than traffic monitors.    

While there are lots of positive aspects of data democratization, there are plenty of challenges to address, many of them having to do with making sure the vast new sources of data are used wisely and well. What’s important now is expanding data literacy: helping make the public informed consumers of what they are seeing, reading, and using.  When the data no longer flows through the hands of the experts, it must come with added education so that people can use it wisely and to their advantage.

This is where some of the lessons learned during the days when we were figuring out how to use data in the service of democracy can still be very important and useful.  It is important to remember that analysis of data is a science and whether we are compiling a dataset from traditional survey data or scraping it from social media, there are key questions we must keep in mind.  First, is it representative of the population or phenomenon we are trying to understand?  Second, is it big enough for us to draw meaningful conclusions?  Third, is it asking the right questions, in the right ways, to address what we need to know?  Fourth, is it open and transparent about its limitations and possible biases.  Without this information, it is hard to trust the results. The election season certainly provides plenty of examples of data being put to use to advance a preconceived point of view.

The democratization of data can be a powerful force for good and it will certainly transform the ways society makes informed decisions.  As that transformation takes place it is important to keep both the data sound and the science intact.

Dan Gaylin at the NORC in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, November 5, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Nelles)Dan Gaylin is President and CEO of NORC at the University of Chicago, one of the nation’s premier social science research institutes.  Gaylin’s career has spanned think tanks, commercial consulting, and government.  A nationally recognized expert on health policy and program evaluation, his work has focused on using complex data of many different types and sophisticated analysis to inform some of the most important issues facing society.  At NORC he leads a staff of 2000 people who conduct research across the spectrum of the human experience including economics, markets and the workforce; education training and learning; global development; health and well-being; and society and public affairs.

Microsoft announces teacher-inspired updates for Windows, Office, ‘Minecraft’

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At Microsoft, we’re all in on education!

Our company mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. In education, it’s to empower every student. Today, we’re proud to share the latest on what’s coming to Chicago for Back-to-School 2016/2017.

Introducing Microsoft Classroom and Microsoft Forms, OneNote Class Notebook now with Learning Management System (LMS) integration, new experiences for Windows 10 and the dawn of “Minecraft: Education Edition” – Get ready!

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First, we are announcing all new education features coming in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, features specifically inspired by teachers and focused on students.   

Faster, easier set-up:

Shared devices in the classroom are the norm – in the U.S., nearly 90 percent of schools report using shared devices. We also know that nearly 50 percent of teachers serve as their own tech support in their classroom. Until now, setting these devices up has been complex and getting students productive often takes too long.    

With the Windows 10 Anniversary Update we are introducing a ”Set Up School PCs” app that allows teachers to set up a device themselves in a simple three-step process in minutes. We’ve also made significant performance improvements for affordable devices. We expect the average first login to take 26 seconds, with subsequent logins of 6 seconds when the student uses that machine again.     

Secure assessments:

Testing is going digital — teachers consistently tell us they want a simple way to set up quizzes or standardized tests digitally. The Windows 10 Anniversary Update brings a new ‘Take a Test’ app – simple and more secure standardized testing for the whole classroom or the whole school, where teachers or IT can lock down the testing environment, or enable simple quizzing.

Education-ready Windows Store:

Nearly 60 percent of teachers purchase and load apps themselves. With the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the Windows Store will enable teachers to access thousands of apps, and schools can purchase and deploy them in bulk.  

Free upgrade and affordable devices:

More and more, educators are asking us about affordable devices. We have a great portfolio of affordable, durable and innovative Windows 10 devices starting at $199, designed for the demands of education.  

So you can see, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update brings a huge range of education-specific features that teachers and students are going to love. Learn even more about these new updates, and more, over on the Windows blog!

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Second, we are announcing some big improvements to Office 365 Education. 

Today we are announcing Microsoft Classroom a new experience in Office 365 Education. Microsoft Classroom is designed to be the one place students and teachers come to manage their day from Class Notebooks, assignments and grades to conversations, calendars and to announcements!

We’re piloting this with Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska. Let me just share with you what they had to say . . .

“It simplifies our digital classroom management and frees up our teachers so they can spend more time with students and less time managing administrative access to class materials.” Rob Dickson, Executive Director, Information Management Services of Omaha Public Schools.

A key piece of Microsoft Classroom is OneNote, a tool currently used in classrooms around the world to provide students with an immersive and inclusive learning experience. Visit here to learn how OneNote is transforming a special education classroom at Holly Springs Elementary School in Georgia.

Today we are also announcing Microsoft School Data Sync (SDS) – a powerful complement for Microsoft Classroom. SDS connects Microsoft Classroom to a School Information System (SIS), so teacher, student and classes information is automatically populated in Microsoft Classroom and OneNote Class Notebooks. School Data Sync will be included in Office 365 Education.  Think of it as a super simple process that quickly provisions a set of classes and rosters from many School Information Systems already used.

Also being announced: Microsoft Forms – a simple way to quickly assess student progress and get feedback with easy-to-create surveys and quizzes. It’s in public preview starting today for Office 365 Education here.

OneNote Class Notebooks are the heart of our education experience and they just keep getting better and better. We have seen incredible momentum – with millions of student notebooks created just this school year – and currently running over 10,000 a day!

To hear one educator describe it: “It’s your whole classroom (lesson plans, materials, assignments and student work) in a digital binder with tools for communication and collaboration!” 

We’re also announcing Class Notebook assignment and grading integration is now available with more than 25 Learning Management System partners – including leaders like Canvas, Edmodo, Schoology, Brightspace and Moodle. Learn more here.

We’re really excited about all of these improvements for Office 365 Education coming for the new school year! Learn more about all of the updates to Office happening for education – check out the Office blog here.

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Finally, we’ve got some great news about “Minecraft: Education Edition! June begins an early access program of “Minecraft: Education Edition.” It will be available for any educator to download and try for free on Windows 10 and OS X El Capitan.    

This program is a great way for educators and administrators who are interested in “Minecraft: Education Edition” to give it a test run in the summer months and give us more feedback and suggestions.  

If you are new to “Minecraft” in the classroom, check out for resources to help prepare, including lesson plans and a new “Minecraft” mentors program to connect with amazing teachers already using “Minecraft.”

What’s the next step? Upgrade your devices to Windows 10 or OS X El Capitan, and sign up for an Office 365 Education account.

To learn more about “Minecraft: Education Edition” and the upcoming early access program, check out our blog.

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The culture at Microsoft is customer-obsessed and we’ve been hard at work listening to teachers and students. We hope you love what’s coming this summer and we look forward to your continued feedback and hearing about the amazing things happening in your classroom. Let me know what you think on Twitter – @microsoft_edu @tony_prophet #MSFTEDU.

Department of Defense to move 4 million devices to Windows 10

Government agencies, like large enterprises everywhere, are constantly facing new and emerging challenges, which can range from a constantly shifting threat landscape to managing multiple platforms and devices across their IT environments. And the modern threat landscape has never been more challenging — driving tremendous costs and risk to the security of critical information. Federal, state and local governments around the world, including several agencies in Chicago, are betting big on Microsoft technologies to help them protect against these cyber threats.

Today, Microsoft announced the latest federal agency to take advantage of a Microsoft solution: the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The Secretary of Defense has directed all U.S. DoD agencies to begin the rapid deployment of the Microsoft Windows 10 Secure Host Baseline (SHB) throughout their respective organizations for information systems currently utilizing Microsoft operating systems. From laptops to desktops to mobile devices, the DoD has a goal of deploying Windows 10 within a year.

In our region, this means that DoD agencies in the Chicago, such as the Great Lakes Training Center Navy Base in North Chicago will likely be planning for adoption of the new Secure Host Base for their Windows environments.

“The Department of Defense is leading the way towards modernizing and strengthen its security infrastructure,” said Susie Adams, Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft Federal. “This is a great example of the strategic way in which all enterprises can adopt Windows 10 to optimize their response to cyber threats, while also reducing costs and streamlining the IT operating environment.”

For more on the DoD’s migration to Windows 10, check out the Windows for your Business blog.

Voices of Change — Black Community + Tech Ecosystem Development = Unleashed Potential

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. They can be determining factors in whether or not talented people come to work for us, and whether people buy our products. Through our investment in diverse partnerships on a broad range of opportunities, we continue to work to increase the pipeline of diverse talent, increase retention and match talent to job opportunities that are vital to our success in the future.This month, we are honored to feature the voices of local leaders who represent our commitment to diversity and use their drive to help the community in which they serve.

— Microsoft Chicago Staff



Tech sector diversity is a piping hot topic today especially when it comes to the workforce and venture capital stats for the black community. However, technology has a much bigger role to play for the black community than just jobs and new enterprises. Vast untapped potential lies dormant in the black community and technology is the most promising catalyst to unlock it. With the alarming rates of social and economic racial injustice today, unlocking this potential is a vital matter of survival. Please allow me to provide some background on how we got to this point, how technology can help, and what needs to happen to progress forward.

How we got here?

The underrepresentation of blacks in tech is not a coincidence or mystery, but rather the continuation of a dreadful trend. Our country’s tragic racial history has kept many black people out of certain occupations and behind on the major industrial shifts that have occurred. In the 19th century, black people were skilled in many trades, however access was largely limited to agriculture and menial professions such as house help. Even the famous abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, was brutally beaten and had his eye nearly knocked out of its socket due to racial employment tensions on the docks of Baltimore. Yet, once the demand for workers in those once barred areas reached new highs, black people were welcomed in with “open arms” leading to movements like the great migration that built the nucleus of the black population today in Chicago at the dawn of the 20th century. Unfortunately, as we settled into these new opportunities, it was not long before the digital revolution arrived and completely changed the landscape leaving us to play catch up, once again.

How can technology help?

Technology leveraged correctly can make an impact through community problem solving and wealth building. Right now, most problems that receive technical solutions are problems that only the people who have the know-how or resources care about, which leaves those that do not and their problems largely left unsolved. Imagine if wethe black communitywere properly equipped to solve tough challenges leveraging technology, challenges such as unemployment, mass incarceration, or gun violence. Many of these issues have economic roots, which is why wealth building is so important. Unfortunately, black people still lag far behind in median incomes and net worth figures including ⅓ of the black community in Chicago living in poverty, but technology could help make gradual improvements. There is growing job demand and higher salaries to be claimed due to the limited supply of talent. Chicago’s tech economy alone employs over 54,000 people, according to World Business Chicago. For entrepreneurs, there is now the ability to disrupt literally any sector by applying an innovative tech solution and creating incredible value.

What do we do now?

smart-goals1The current situation has very deep systemic roots and requires a systematic solution. To unlock the potential of the black community, we must focus on building tech ecosystems that enable community members to seamlessly navigate people, information, and resources needed to improve their lives with technology. Connections between resource providers must be strengthened. For instance, there is no reason why the 3rd grade coding organization should not be in collaboration with the group that serves 4th graders. A stronger black tech community must be built where we know and support each other. We must find a comprehensive way to measure these ecosystems to better understand what’s going right and what’s going wrong. This will put us in a better position to enhance existing programs and fill gaps to progress the ecosystem forward.

Understanding where we have been, the potential impact of technology, and where we need to go is the primary motivation for my work with Black Tech Mecca. We are a collaborative community initiative that is building a thriving black tech ecosystem in Chicago through strengthening connections, measuring impact, and directing growth for individuals, organizations, and companies. Visit us at to find out more information.

Fabian Elliott HeadshotFabian Elliott is a ‘Hybrid Entrepreneur’ as Founder & CEO of Black Tech Mecca Inc. His latest endeavor entails transferring what he was able to create within a company to the city he has come to love, by leading the charge to transform Chicago into the ‘Global Black Tech Mecca’. Outside of the tech world, Fabian is past Secretary for the 100 Black Men of Chicago Inc., Next Generation Board Member for American Civil Liberty Union of Illinois, and is a member of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Meet The Stern-Grach Family Cyber-Seniors!

This is the first in a series about internet safety for one of our most vulnerable populations—Seniors. In this ongoing series, we will explore why it’s important now to inform and educate Seniors about online safety, and provide suggestions, solutions and access to curriculum and resources for you and your family. Future blogs will focus on online safety policy, suggested tips for Seniors, and how to access curriculum.

Online safety

Critically important, but not sexy. Admit it, how often do you change your password? And I’ll bet you $100 you use the same password for more than one site. Most of us in the corporate world have confidence that our “IT shop” is taking care of online security for us, so we dutifully change our password every 90 days, deal with the annoying double (sometimes triple) sign-in procedures and fold these extra steps into our daily work routine. But what about at home?

This is the first in a series about online safety tips for those you love most and who are the least protected…our Seniors. Your mom, your dad, your Aunt Mary and Uncle Morris. Grandpa and Grammy. I thought I would share my family with you….to really “bring this home” and drive the point that online safety is really, really personal. Education and awareness needs to happen at every stage of the lifecycle—and the content, curriculum, delivery method (in person training, video’s, educational games, etc.) need to be adapted to the life cycle stage. I hope you enjoy this peek into the Stern-Grach family photo album, and take the time to reflect on how you are helping your own family stay safe online. In future blogs, we will provide you suggestions and curriculum. Today, we just want to create the awareness of the need for more vigilance with your family and friends.


Meet my mom Blanche (on the right) and Aunt Mildred. This is one of my most favorite pictures, taken about 3 years ago in the hospital after Mildred had a fall and hurt her wrist. My mom was 100 at the time, Mildred was 99. Best friends for life, sisters-in-law.

Never thought about online safety a day in their lives.

And frankly, these two didn’t really need to. The closest my mom got to technology was the TV clicker (she LOVED her Miami Dolphins) and this gigantic device with a TV screen size magnifying glass to read her newspaper line by line. Aunt Mildred (who is 102 now!) does use a computer a little but typically with my cousin next to her to send an email or two. If you have relatives who are a bit younger and still part of the Greatest Generation, they are a prime target for online scams, and I urge you to begin the discussion by talking to them about online predators (tough word, but accurate) and ask them to contact you if they suspect a problem.

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Let’s make this really personal! Here’s my husband Mark and me at one of our favorite places on Earth. Baby Boomers. Can you see our AARP cards in our pockets? I’m 65 and Mark is 64. Here is a definition of Seniors in the US:

Senior Citizens

Elderly persons, usually more than sixty or sixty-five years of age.

People in the United States who are more than sixty years of age are commonly referred to as senior citizens or seniors. These terms refer to people whose stage in life is generally called old age, though there is no precise way to identify the final stage of a normal life span. People are said to be senior citizens when they reach the age of sixty or sixty-five because those are the ages at which most people retire from the workforce.

YIKES!!! Old age-NO Way! However, if you are like Mark and me, or have parents/family in our age range, you are probably right in the sweet spot of Seniors who wish technology was a bit easier and more simplified. Remembering to change log-in’s for both personal and work online sites is a pain and hard to remember. Amazon? Burpee’s Seeds? Best Buy? Nordstrom’s? Macy’s? Starbucks? Try asking them (yourself) the following:

  • Do you really use your birthday as a password?
  • So do you really store all your passwords in your contacts so anyone can find them if you lose your phone?
  • How many times do you change your password during the year?
  • WHO called you saying they were from Microsoft and wanted your credit card information? (NOTE: Microsoft NEVER calls and asks for personal information).
  • How much personal information are you putting on Facebook (like “we’ll be in Europe for 3 weeks so anyone can come and rob our house)?

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Now let’s focus on the upcoming generations. Here’s our daughter Stephanie and her friend Eugene. Smart kids, the best education, in Medical School (ask me about that—got an hour? 🙂 🙂 🙂 ). I’ve never seen anyone type so fast—fingers flying on phones, tablets, keyboards. They’ll be using these skills in the health care field for telemedicine, 3D surgery, etc. Generation Y growing up pretty much online but still with a sense of awareness of online predators. Engage your Generation X and Y kids and encourage them to remember not everyone started with the technology baseline they have….encourage them to help their family members navigate through online safety resources. They have the mentality of adults combined with the familiarity of technology. Great combination!

WP_20130526_002Finally, in our family album, my nephew Jonathan and the amazing Lily and on the beach in New Buffalo, Michigan. Lily is Generation Z, the latest generation to be born. Born into a society where information, education, entertainment, and everything else, is just a click away, they are certainly living in the information age with technology that just a few years ago was unthinkable. Generation Z is knowledgeable, competitive, and embraces technology. Lily is growing up with the benefits of time-saving technology like Windows “Hello”. Windows Hello is a more personal way to sign in to your Windows 10 devices with just a look or a touch. You’ll get enterprise-grade security without having to type in a password. Lily won’t have to struggle to remember passwords—the technology will recognize her as a unique person (which she is indeed). We cannot wait to see what this generation will bring. We just hope that as Lily grows up, she’ll remember her time on the beach with Uncle Mark and Aunt Shelley and help us navigate our way through online safety as Cyber-Seniors.

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