May 2013

Do It Your Damn Self!! Film Festival Comes to NERD

The NERD center was transformed into a theater on May 18th as the 16th annual Do It Your Damn Self!! (DIYDS!!) National Youth Video and Film Festival held its Premier Festival Screening.

DIYDS Panel

Winning filmmakers gather for a panel discussion

The Teen Media Program at the Community Art Center in Cambridge produces the festival, the longest running youth-oriented film festival in the country. The festival began locally as a way for teens to present their work to a large audience and connect with others over a shared interest. This year’s festival drew over 1,000 presenters and supporters to a variety of events throughout the city over four days. Microsoft New England served not only as a screening venue but also as a Producer’s Circle sponsor.

DIYDS Premier Festival Screening

Winning films are screened at the NERD center

From more than 200 film entries, DIYDS!! selected 15 winning reels that were presented at the Premier Festival Screening. Winners, from as close as Boston and as far away as Turkey and Portugal, showed a range of films from PSAs to documentaries and comedy sketches. After the screening the winners joined together for a panel discussion where they shared their experiences and commented on their goals as filmmakers. The night wrapped up with an after party featuring food, music, and dancing.

 

Day of Caring at Cradles to Crayons

On May 15 a group of six Microsoft New England employees donated their time and energy at Cradles to Crayons (C2C) in Brighton as part of NERD’s Day of Caring series. Dubbed by the employees as one of their favorite volunteer sites, Cradles to Crayons provides essential items, such as clothes, shoes, toys, books, arts and craft supplies, and toiletries, to babies and young children.

NERD volunteers at C2C

NERD volunteers at the C2C Giving Factory

C2C relies on volunteers to inspect, sort, and package thousands of donated items into C2C KidPacks. Because C2C believes that quality begets dignity, all items are thoroughly inspected before being placed in the KidPacks. C2C’s high standard of quality is also reflected in their warehouse (known as the Giving Factory), which is bright, well organized, and filled with friendly staff and volunteers.

NERD volunteers at C2C

NERD volunteers choosing art and crafts for C2C kidpacks

While at C2C, the Microsoft volunteers created 93 KidPacks that will be delivered to low income and homeless children. Each pack was created with a specific child’s needs in mind. If a child requested a birthday present, volunteers hand decorated a gift bag and chose two age-appropriate presents.

Microsoft is proud to work with C2C at several volunteer events throughout the year and to host a giving tree at NERD during the holiday season. Check out the C2C “Everyday Essentials” video to learn more about the organization and sign up online today to volunteer at the Giving Factory. If you have already volunteered, tweet us about your C2C experience.

NERD volunteers at C2C

NERD volunteers assembling KidPacks at the Giving Factory

beyond_the_code/>

BTC

Hacking is often its own reward. You fixed a problem. You made life easier. You found a way to save time. Or money. Or both. You outsmarted everyone else. You found a solution when no one else could.

Good job, you. Pat yourself on the back.

But even if it is its own reward, more rewards would be nice, right? Like a membership to Xbox Live with some games to get you started. A Kinect/Xbox Bundle. Or a Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet. That’d be cool, right? Well, you got it. You send us your hack. And if it’s good enough, you could be entered to get a prize.

The catch? There’s one. We don’t want your code. We want to know how you build a set of speakers for your phone with only a paper towel role and some pushpins. Or a cool way to organize our music library. Life hacks. Solutions to everyday dilemmas. Because that’s what great hacking is. And who better to ask than you–a hacker. You know how to do it. Now you just need to go beyond the code. Visit www.microsoftcambridge.com/beyondthecode to see what others are doing and to submit your idea.

 

Meet Debi Mishra – Expert at Shipping V1 Products and Big Time Foodie

Debi Mishra, Engineering Manager & Site Leader – SQL IS Boston

Debi Mishra

Debi Mishra

What do you like best about working at Microsoft?

I’ve worked at Microsoft for 16+ years and have left and returned in between for a start-up that I had founded. Microsoft gives you a really big canvas to get your act onto the world stage. I have had the incredible opportunity to work on and ship seven new products or technologies in these years. The excitement of building new products, the technical challenges they offer, and their potential impact, get your creative juices flowing.

 

What does your group at NERD do, and why does it matter?

Today we are in a new world of data. We have seen rapid growth of computing devices and exponential increase in digital signals. Data-driven decision-making is getting pervasive and increasing data velocity means the time window to act is getting smaller. My group at NERD is working on advanced analytics – the intersection of Big Data, Machine Learning and High-Performance Numerical Computing. We build programming frameworks and experiment environment that allows for a natural expression of machine learning concepts and an elegant, yet powerful, means of scaling machine learning models from small, local, shared memory execution environments to large, remote, distributed memory systems.

What it is like working at Microsoft NERD?

NERD is like a mini Redmond campus – teams at NERD are from across various Microsoft product divisions. Being remote from the mother ship, teams here have a lot in common. Our group is a very close-knit team, works hard and finds time to enjoy team events together. Our team stands around the kitchen area for our Tuesday morning sync where we all share what we have been up to lately. And if it is a Monday, you are likely to find Anna’s home-baked cookies. Our team is rich in talent in parallel and distributed computing – which is an excellent foundation for the machine learning work we’re doing. Our team works closely with our broader AIP team in Redmond as well as with various Microsoft Research teams. The collaboration we have between research and product development is unique and super valuable.

What are your impressions of Boston?

I moved from Seattle to Boston in January 2013. Like Seattle, Boston is a great city culturally. Boston has an amazing history. Boston’s response to the marathon tragedy has been very special. But the roads here go in all kinds of directions and I am never sure in which magnetic direction I am headed. As a foodie, I find the lump crab cakes here are lot lumpier than Seattle.

When not working on machine learning, what do you do for fun?

I read a lot, love movies, follow my sports teams (Sounders FC, Seahawks, and the Indian national cricket team). I am a big-time foodie, and outside of picking interesting eateries, I often cook, especially goat meat. I’ve found the best Indian food stores in the city.

Root Cause honors “Best of Boston” innovators at 2013 Social Innovators Showcase

Innovation was the theme at the Root Cause 2013 Social Innovators Showcase held at the NERD Center last Thursday night, May 9th. Microsoft is a yearlong, in-kind supporter of Root Cause, a local nonprofit passionate about solving social problems through innovation. At this year’s annual showcase, a select group of local organizations shared their forward-thinking ideas to a community of funders who will help them continue shaping Boston’s social landscape.

Root Cause 2013 Social Innovators

This year's Social Innovators pause for a group picture, photo credit: Root Cause Facebook page

Five Social InnovatorsAgeWell West Roxbury, GRLZradio, Groundwork Lawrence, Safe City Academy, and Shelter Music Boston — and one of this year’s Impact Entrepreneurs, Global Research Innovation and Technology (GRIT), gathered with over 300 local leaders to discuss how to use their combined talent, resources, and networks to support the Social Innovators. Shelter Music Boston opened and closed their presentation with a live violin solo, GRIT captivated onlookers with their groundbreaking all-terrain wheelchair design, and GRLZradio and Safe City Academy amazed listeners with how they are able to positively impact young girls and high school dropouts with their programs.

Shelter Music Boston Violinists

Shelter Music Boston Violinists Perform, photo credit: Nick Bliss

Root Cause also used the occasion to present the 2013 Business Innovator Award to Bill Haney and Maura McCarthy, cofounders of Blu Homes, which uses cutting edge technology to design and build green homes that are healthier for families to live in and less detrimental to the environment.

Feeling inspired to be more innovative in your own business practices or to support more of these deserving nonprofits? Head to rootcause.org for more information and join the movement at next year’s showcase!

GiveCamp 2013 at Microsoft NERD Raises Funds for 23 New England Charities

On April 26-28, the NERD Center was home to New England GiveCamp, a weekend non-profit hack-a-thon. With 130 volunteers from across the New England technical community – including 40 who set up tents to camp out all night – the event donated technical and design expertise to 23 charities across New England. The volunteers worked on projects such as new and revamped websites, branding, collateral, and more.

GiveCamp 2013 breaks for a quick photo

GiveCamp 2013 breaks for a quick photo

One such non-profit was Catching Joy, an organization that promotes volunteerism among children as young as in 1st and 2nd grades. Past GiveCamp events have created their website, brochures, and business cards. This year, Catching Joy partnered with GiveCamp on a special service project for One Fund Boston and the MIT Officer Sean Collier Fund.  Along with the $1,000 collected from a raffle, Catching Joy led a card-making activity to thank the heroes from the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Celebrating its 4th year, GiveCamp 2013 was made possible through the efforts of co-organizers Jim O’Neil, Technical Evangelist at Microsoft, and Kelley Muir, product manager at ektron and founder of Float Left Labs. More photos of the event can be seen here, along with an awesome time-lapse video.

Next year’s GiveCamp will be held on April 4-6 at the NERD Center.

Volunteers hard at work

Volunteers hard at work

Some volunteers camped out!

Some volunteers camped out!

Team America Rocketry Challenge Blasts off!

Congratulations are in order for the Science Club for Girls’ Rocket Team, the Teckorettes, one of three New England teams to qualify for the Team America Rocketry Challenge Grand Finals (TARC) on May 11th in Virginia!

Team Members with their Rocket

Team Members with their Rocket

The 7-member team includes young women in grades 8 to 12 from four Boston-area towns, five high schools, and a range of cultural backgrounds. Mentored by aerospace engineers from the Cambridge Research and Development Center of Aurora Flight Sciences, a leader in the development and manufacturing of advanced unmanned systems and aerospace vehicles, the team was organized by Science Club for Girls. Microsoft is a proud supporter of  Science Club for Girls as they host their weekly sessions at NERD.  SCFG also benefits from the proceeds of our Women’s Leadership Forum in the fall.

The girls and their mentors have met after school on Tuesdays since last October to work on the rocket. Starting with a rocket-building kit purchased online, the girls developed basic rocketry and physics knowledge. After mastering these skills, the girls created their own rocket designs usingRockSim, a computer simulation software.

Team Members with their Rocket

Preparing to Launch the Rocket

After the design phase, the girls built their rocket – 2.5 feet tall, made out of balsa wood, cardboard, and plastic. Starting in January they began to test it almost every Saturday, perfecting their design through adjusting the weight and sanding certain parts to reduce friction. In the field-testing phase, the girls developed their problem-solving skills, not the least of which was trudging through the cold and snow to retrieve their rocket!

The team was notified on March 29th that they had qualified for the national finals, a feat achieved by only the top 100 of the 725 national teams. In addition, the Teckorettes were one of only 9 all-girls teams to make it to the finals.

Assembling the Rocket

Testing the Rocket

Lisa Johnson, one of the mentors from Aurora Flight Sciences was thrilled: “It’s fantastic that our team made it to Nationals this year.  All the girls have been working really hard to hit the goals set by TARC, which are a lot more challenging than last year’s!  It’s been a delight mentoring them . . . they’re going to go far in their chosen STEM fields.”

Alyssa Wang, a 9th grade student at Prospect Hill Academy in Somerville noted, “we are a group of seven young women from different schools, grades, and cultural backgrounds. As a team, we stand out in that we are all females, competing in a field that has largely been reserved for males, due to long-standing social norms. This Rocket Team means a lot to all of us; it is the reason we know each other and have come so far.”

The girls are absolutely thrilled to be travelling to the May 11 competition in Virginia! At the competition, they will have the opportunity to earn scholarships or the grand prize: a chance to compete in Paris at the international rocket competition. But don’t take our word for it; check out this video that the girls made to ask for support.