October 2013

Keeping the Conversation Going: Computer Science Education in MA Schools

To paraphrase a popular Van Morrison song, “My momma told me there’d be weeks like this.”

As Annmarie Levins mentioned in her blog post earlier this week, I just moved to Cambridge from Washington State, joining Annmarie’s Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center New England (MIPC-NE) team as Director of Technology Community Engagement.

In my first week here, I’ve learned a few things:

  1. Fall really is spectacular here in New England;
  2. Rents here in Cambridge are certainly a little pricier than Bellevue, WA, my former home;
  3. Being a Red Sox fan is WAY more fun than being a fan of the Seattle Mariners; and
  4. This community is passionate about a LOT of things, in addition to the Red Sox.
Cathy Wissink - @Microsoft 10/29

Cathy Wissink addresses the crowd at Microsoft New England

That last point was driven home yesterday when a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 participated in our MIPC-NE inaugural event here at the NERD. The topic: Why teaching computer science in Massachusetts high schools is essential to the future economic health of the Commonwealth and our nation as a whole.

Although our event started early the morning after the Sox’ Game 5 World Series victory over the Cardinals, the conversation among teachers, tech professionals, policy makers and others was spirited and as focused as David Ortiz at the plate.

I’d like to thank our panelists for helping frame the debate.  Allyson Knox, Microsoft’s director of Education Policy & Programs, opened the event with a great overview of the opportunities and challenges before us. Allyson was followed by Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education; Pat Yongpradit, director of education, Code.org; Steve Vinter, engineering director at Google and co-founder of MassCAN; and Jim Stanton, executive director of MassCAN and senior project manager at Education Development Center, Inc.

Rather than attempt to summarize their key points, here’s a link to the slides Allyson, Linda, Pat and Jim used to set context for the lively conversation that followed, and to some photos that capture the spirit of the event. It was especially great to hear directly from several high school and community college computer science teachers who certainly helped keep the discussion grounded in the reality for students and teachers today.


(Right to Left) Senator Karen Spilka, Annmarie Levins (Microsoft), Cathy Wissink (Microsoft), Tom Hopcroft (MassTLC), Heather Carey (MassTLC)
& Secretary Greg Bialecki

I also appreciated hearing from Gregory Bialecki, the state’s Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, who discussed how important it is to the state’s economy to continue to attract tech employers like Microsoft, Google and others by providing access to a highly skilled workforce, and from State Senator Karen Spilka, who implored the audience to get their state legislators involved in pushing for computer science standards in our schools.

Finally, it was gratifying for me to see how committed Microsoft is to this issue, as Annmarie presented Heather Johnson Carey of the MassTLC Education Foundation a check for $350,000 to help fund the expansion of computer science education in Massachusetts. We made this investment because we are confident that the Ed Foundation’s collaboration with MassCAN and others will lead to systemic change we need to ensure our students are prepared for 21st century jobs.

As Annmarie mentioned in her blog post, the goal of our new Innovation & Policy Center is to connect communities in tech, business, academia and government, to catalyze important discussions such as the one we had yesterday and most importantly, to contribute to solutions that directly impact the health and vitality of our regional economy.


Microsoft presents the MassTLC Education Foundation a $350,000 donation

We accomplished the first two objectives in this inaugural event for our team, but as the conversation made clear, there’s MUCH more work to be done in integrating and expanding computer science education in our state’s schools.

We’ll keep the conversation going. We are already discussing how we can bring greater attention and focus to this issue during Computer Science Education Week, December 9-15. If you’d like to get involved in this issue, please feel to contact me (cwissink@microsoft.com) or our other panelists to find out how you can help prepare our kids for 21st Century jobs. You can also join the conversation around this topic on twitter at #STEMinMA.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I encourage you to:

  • Read about the National Talent Strategy that Microsoft Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith proposed last year, and Microsoft’s TEALS computer science education program;
  • Check out the new, super helpful website http://code.org/ and sign up for “hour of code”;
  • Learn about online resources available to help kids learn to code;
  • Contact MassCAN to see how you can help.

Finally, my thanks to all of you for such a warm welcome to the community. Yesterday’s event confirmed for me that I’ve made the right decision in transferring coasts. While somewhat of a slow learner, after one week here I have learned how to end a conversation or a blog post:

Go Sox!

Cathy Wissink is the newly appointed Director of Technology Community Engagement for the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center New England. Cathy joined Microsoft in 2000 and most recently was director of Global Government Affairs within our Legal and Corporate Affairs organization.  In her new role, Cathy is responsible for connecting key stakeholders across the tech/business/academic/government communities, catalyzing the right kinds of conversations, and ensuring Microsoft is contributing positively to solutions that enhance our quality of life in Massachusetts. You can connect with Cathy directly at cwissink@microsoft.com.

Introducing the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center New England

Earlier this month, Microsoft Research New England celebrated its fifth anniversary here at our New England R&D (NERD) facility in Kendall Square.

Annmarie Levins

Annmarie Levins, Associate General Counsel, Microsoft Technology & Civic Engagement Group

Jennifer Chayes, the leader of our New England and New York research labs, organized a wonderful full-day symposium to mark the milestone and highlight Microsoft’s commitment to interdisciplinary research that she’s fostered here, with a mix of presentations by computer scientists, social scientists and economists.

Peter Lee, the head of Microsoft’s worldwide research organization, participated in the event, and I was especially inspired by some of his comments and overall optimism. He talked about this being a “Golden Age” of basic research, with the industry on the cusp of providing a new era of transformational technologies, delivering on the dream of computing devices that can see, hear, understand and act on our behalf, instead of just responding to our commands.

While Microsoft at its core is filled with technology optimists, we understand that at times, the pace at which technology is evolving  taxes both individuals’ and society’s ability to cope with the changes and take best advantage of the advancements.

That’s why today I’m pleased to announce the establishment of a Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center (MIPC) New England here at NERD in Kendall Square.  The vision for the Center embraces Microsoft’s interdisciplinary approach to research. We want to bring together the region’s key stakeholders from the technology, broader business, academic and government communities to respond to important issues that are byproducts or unintended consequences of technological advancements.  But perhaps more importantly, we hope to use the Center to anticipate the needs of New England citizens and governments as this next wave of innovation transitions from research to reality.

We already contribute to and partner with local organizations like Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MTLC), the New England Council, The Mass. Tech Hub Collaborative, The Mass. Broadband Institute and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, working on important regional technology and public policy issues that impact New England’s economy. But as part of Microsoft’s broader technology and civic engagement initiative, we feel it is important to go further, by establishing an Innovation & Policy Center here, just as we’ve done with similar locations in Washington, D.C., Silicon Valley and in international capitals such as Brussels.

Thanks to the work of many others here at NERD, Microsoft already has an important voice within the region’s tech community.  But through the MIPC New England, we want to extend our presence by:

  1. Connecting the region’s tech/business/academic/government stakeholders in ways that complement and extend the work of others such as MTLC;
  2. Catalyzing important technology and public policy discussions about issues that have a direct impact on this region’s economy; and
  3. Contributing more directly to the health and vitality of the local technology community and broader regional economic development opportunities.

Our inaugural event is tomorrow morning.  We will kick off our MIPC New England discussion series at NERD, 1 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, on a topic of critical importance: Why teaching computer science in Massachusetts high schools is essential to the future economic health of the Commonwealth and our nation as a whole.  

As Microsoft’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith proposed in our National Talent Strategy last year, as a country we need to focus on providing the next generation with the skills and opportunities they need to secure a brighter economic future. Through our YouthSpark initiative, we are working to provide opportunities to young people around the world, including right here in Cambridge through our TEALS computer science education program, among other efforts.

Tomorrow morning we will focus on the local angle to this important issue through a panel discussion and interactive conversation about how Massachusetts can take a leadership role in helping our students develop 21st century job skills.

Allyson Knox, Microsoft’s director of Education Policy & Programs, will moderate a panel discussion with Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education; Steve Vinter, an engineering director at Google and co-founder of MassCAN; Pat Yongpradit, director of education, Code.org; and Jim Stanton, executive director of MassCAN and senior project manager at Education Development Center, Inc.

Please join us for breakfast around 8 a.m. followed by what will definitely be a thought-provoking discussion on this important topic.  We’ll finish by 10 a.m. so you can get back to your day jobs.


(Right to Left) Allyson Knox, Linda Noonan, Jim Stanton, Steve Vinter & Pat Yongpradit

In addition to the panel discussion, I’ll have the honor of presenting The MassTLC Education Foundation with a check for $350,000 to support its important work in conjunction with MassCAN and others on expanding the availability of computer science education in Massachusetts.

Finally, I’d like to introduce you to Cathy Wissink, who recently relocated to Cambridge from Redmond, Washington, to be Director of Technology Community Engagement.  Cathy will play a key role in overseeing our MIPC New England.

Cathy Wissink

Cathy Wissink, Director of Technology Community Engagement

Cathy joined Microsoft in 2000 and most recently was director of Global Government Affairs within our Legal and Corporate Affairs organization.  Cathy will be responsible for the 3 C’s outlined above, connecting key stakeholders across the tech/business/academic/government communities, catalyzing the right kinds of conversations, and ensuring Microsoft is contributing positively to solutions that enhance our quality of life in Massachusetts. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Cathy previously, and know that all of you will enjoy getting to know and work with her.


You can connect with Cathy directly at cwissink@microsoft.com.

I hope you’ll join Cathy, and others at our event tomorrow morning, where we look forward to catalyzing and contributing to the conversation on this important issue, and continuing the conversation with you on this and other topics in the months ahead.


Annmarie Levins is Associate General Counsel in Microsoft’s newly created Technology & Civic Engagement group. She and her team are responsible for leading the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center New England, and for developing other Innovation & Policy Centers in the U.S. Annmarie, a Massachusetts native, has been based at NERD for the past five years, and is well known within the tech community here. She serves on the executive committees of the Mass. Tech Leadership Council and the New England Council, and chairs the New England Council’s Technology Committee.  She also is Microsoft’s liaison to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

$1.4 Million Up for Grabs at MassChallenge 2013 Awards Ceremony

128 showcasing startups. 26 live pitches. 1000+ attendees. 1 hilarious emcee. 1 winner of a $1.4 million prize.

This is what the 2013 MassChallenge Awards Ceremony on October 30 has in store for us! MassChallenge expert judges, faced with over 1,200 entrants from around the world, selected 26 finalists (full list here) who will have one last chance to pitch their high-impact startup at the awards ceremony and win over $1.4 million to invest in their business.

Actor, writer, and correspondent for the Daily Show, Aasif Mandvi, will be the master of ceremonies to a crowd of investors, entrepreneurs, executives, philanthropists, press, and startup enthusiasts. He will be joined by keynote speaker George Whitesides, CEO and President of Virgin Galactic. The duo will be there to congratulate not only the $1.4 winner but also three additional winners of the CASIS Prize for Technology in Space ($400,000), the John W. Henry Prize for Social Impact ($25-50,000), and the Perkins Assistive Technology Prize ($25,000).

The ceremony, to be held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center from 6-9 pm on Wednesday, October 30, promises to be an evening of inspiration and celebration, and there is still time to purchase tickets! Who’s going to take the prize? Stay tuned to find out!

Why Teaching Computer Science in Our High Schools Matters

There are 42,000 high schools in the United States, yet only 2,100 of them were certified to teach AP computer science in 2011.

There will be 120,000 new computing jobs each year, but only 40,000 students graduated last year with necessary degrees to fill those jobs.

Does something seem wrong with this picture? Not to state the obvious but yes! What’s less obvious, though, is how we alter the face of STEM education and how we meet the demands of an ever-expanding computing industry.

Now is your chance to join the conversation on education – literally! Join us for a panel discussion over breakfast on Tuesday, October 29 from 8:30 to 10:00 am at the NERD Center. A group of leading experts from Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, MassCAN, Education Development Center, Google, Code.org, and Microsoft will guide the discussion on preparing the next generation for 21st century computer science jobs.

Help us ensure that all students and schools have the tools they need to grow the field of computer science. RSVP today to reserve your spot!

Imagine Cup 2014 Is Here!

Spread the word – the Imagine Cup, Microsoft’s annual student technology challenge, is back with 4 competitions to motivate the next generation of innovation and creativity.

Imagine Cup Logo

Teams of students sixteen years and older are invited to design a technology solution in one of three categories: world citizenship, innovation, or games. These competitions are running now through July 2014, but contestants better get started early because competition will be tough.

A fourth online competition, running now through October 25, 2013, asks contestants to submit a 5-minute pitch video to share their vision, explain how they will bring it to life, and persuade judges why they are the right people to execute the project.

Imagine Cup 2013

Last year's winners!

Over 1.65 million students from over 190 countries have participated in past Cups. They have created technologies that will solve the problems of the world, transformed ideas into businesses, learned new tech skills, made new friends, and won some unbeatable prizes. This year winning teams of the 3 category competitions will receive $50k and the winning pitch video will receive $3k. Not too bad!

For more information on the competitions and for official rules, head to the official Imagine Cup website. Be inspired by what past winners have developed and motivated to design a technology solution even more groundbreaking than the last. Good luck!


There’s An App for That

Looking for a way to be more productive while on the go? Need a better way stay connected to the office and simplify your work while traveling? Reigning expert Barrie Mirman, Mobility Specialist at Microsoft, recently shared her mobile savviness as a panelist at a recent Boston Club event, There’s an App for That.

Barrie Mirman

The Boston Club, an expansive community of female professional leaders and executives, corralled a full house packed with energy and active dialogue. One of three panelists at last Tuesday’s event, Barrie ditched the typical PowerPoint presentation to give a live Windows Phone 8 demo during which she highlighted her favorite apps that keep her productive and on point professionally.

So what apps will you find on Barrie’s phone? For one, Lync is a must. This app helps you manage your contacts, displaying who is online and available to instant message. Have a pressing question or message? Create groups of contacts and easily send your message to everyone. With IM, video chat, and phone calls, you are unavoidable! Barrie also noted the conference call feature, which makes calls easier and safer, especially while driving. No need to enter long codes and pins. One touch and you’re in.

the boston club logo

Next up – Yammer, the enterprise social network. For those of you who haven’t joined the Yammer movement yet, this app is a social network for your business that allows private communication and information sharing between employees and businesses. Have a question or comment that you don’t want to post to your company’s LinkedIn page? That’s what Yammer is for!

Additionally, Barrie also showcased Microsoft OneNote and answered questions about security concerns. No need to worry, though, as security on the Window Phone 8 is top notch with encryptions upon encryptions upon encryptions!

Looking for more apps to simplify your life? Explore the Windows app store where you can even try apps before you buy them.