December 2013

Top 6 Events of 2013

Another year has come and gone, and with it we reflect on the hundreds of inspiring, entertaining, and celebratory events that took place at Microsoft New England in 2013. Though the NERD Center played host to hundreds of diverse events throughout the past year, we’ve chosen the top six most notable, groundbreaking and downright cool events of 2013. Here we go!

  1. HACKFit Boston: Back in September we were introduced to the concept of HACKFit, a weekend long competition where early stage fitness-tech concepts become startups. The catch? Participants don’t rely on endless cups of coffee, fast food, and complete isolation. Rather, they are continually rejuvenated with fitness classes, healthful food, adequate sleep, and camaraderie among participants.
  2.  Product Camp: This “unconference,” organized by and for participants, was a hit! The full-day conference returned to Boston for the sixth time in May to a packed audience. Over 300 members of the product marketing and management community turned out and tuned in to over 30 sessions on product development, marketing and design, startups, and career development.
  3. Music Hack Day Boston: In a 24-hour period over 60 music hacks were conceptualized and created during the world’s largest music hackathon. Over 200 hackers teamed up in November to change the face of the music industry. They explored technologies, envisioned ideas, pitched their projects, and then brought them to life!
  4. Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center: In October Microsoft New England celebrated its 5th anniversary with the opening of the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center (MIPC). Annmarie Levins, Associate General Counsel, explained the goal of the Center is “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…. 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.” As 2014 approaches, our excitement and dedication to the Center only increases!
  5. DigiGirlz 2013: More than 100 high school girls from the Greater Boston area were invited to the NERD Center in March to experience first-hand what a career in technology is all about. The day was rich with hands-on and interactive programming and also provided the girls with career planning assistance, information about technology and business roles, thought-provoking exercises, and interesting Microsoft product demonstrations.
  6. Root Cause 10th Anniversary: One of our favorite non-profit partners, Root Cause, is no stranger to our blog! Having featured them several times throughout the year, it is only fitting to add them to our list of the year’s top events. In December we welcomed Root Cause back to the NERD Center to celebrate their 10th anniversary at their Winter Reception. Throughout their ten-year history, Root Cause has mentored and transformed over 60 social purpose organizations throughout the Greater Boston area. At their Winter Reception they announced the upcoming 2014 Social Innovators. Here’s to another year of success!

So there you have it – the year’s most exciting and memorable events! As we move into 2014, there will be plenty more events to share. Stay tuned and happy New Year!


Teach an Apprenticeship and Change a Student’s Future with Citizen Schools

This week our spotlight is on Citizen Schools, one of our favorite nonprofits that started locally (right in Charlestown) before expanding their programs nationally. Their mission is simple: expand the learning day at middle schools in low-income communities by connecting a team of adults with students. They mobilize a second shift of afternoon educators to provide academic support, leadership development, and “apprenticeships” – hands-on projects taught by volunteers from local businesses and organizations. Volunteers help children connect what they learn in school to the real world and get excited about opportunities for their futures.

And Citizen Schools has a proven track record. Evaluations show better attendance, better grades, new skills, and transformed aspirations of students who participate in their programs. Evaluations also reveal that high school graduation rates increase by 20% and odds of earning a college degree triple. We should also mention that interest in pursuing STEM careers also more than doubles in schools utilizing Citizen Schools programs. That’s what we like to hear!

Citizen Schools is closing the opportunity gap – ensuring that low-income students benefit from the same enrichment opportunities as children in upper-income families. However, their work requires the mobilization of an army of volunteer teachers – everyday professionals just like you! Volunteers receive up-front training, weekly lesson-plan assistance, and are paired with a trained Citizen Schools educator for on-going in-class support. Citizen Schools is currently recruiting in Massachusetts for their spring apprenticeships. Serving over 1,400 students in 6 middle schools in Boston and Chelsea, they need your help! Want to help change a child’s life in just 10 afternoons? Click here to learn more about these apprenticeships and help spread the word!

citizen schools logo

Root Cause: Celebrating 10 Years of Innovation

Our nonprofit partners at Root Cause are making headlines again after hosting their Winter Reception to celebrate their 10th anniversary and recognize past and upcoming social innovators.

Root Cause, known for their Social Innovation Forum (which we’ve highlighted in the past here and here), drew upwards of 200 people to the NERD Center last week for an evening of music, food, congratulations, and thanks. Boston Children’s Chorus kicked off the party with an angelic yet inspiring performance while Tavalo, who partners with Future Chefs (a 2011 Social Innovator) to educate and employ urban teens in the restaurant industry, created delightful hors d’oeuvre for all to enjoy.

After ten years of mentoring and transforming over 60 social purpose organizations throughout the Greater Boston area, Root Cause is more active than ever. At the reception they announced the 2014 Social Innovators we have to look forward to (Adoption and Foster Care Mentoring, Coaching for Change, Doc Wayne Youth Services, Inc., Mill City Grows, Veterans Legal Services) and applauded the 2013 Social Innovators (AgeWell West RoxburyGRLZradio, Groundwork Lawrence, Safe City Academy, and Shelter Music Boston) who are thriving in the program and changing the social landscapes in our communities. Guests also heard from Root Cause Founder and CEO Andrew Wolk, who shared his passion for identifying innovators and connecting them with the resources they need to improve their performance and impact on society.

As 2014 approaches, we are looking forward to seeing the work of the next round of innovators but continue to marvel at the work already done. Don’t miss the organization’s 10th anniversary video (below). It’s a must see!

Get Verbally in Gear

Guest Writer: Diane Ripstein, Chief Communicator at Diane Ripstein Consulting & Speaker at The Successful You: 2013 Women’s Leadership Forum.

A software developer recently shared a personal dilemma.  “I’ve gotten so attuned to thinking through what I want to say as I’m typing it, being able to go back, revise and delete, that I’m afraid I can’t think on my feet anymore.  I’ve become really hesitant about speaking up…what if I sound stupid?”

Diane Ripstein

Diane Ripstein

Have you ever wished you could be better prepared for those “communication moments”, when you want to sound as smart as you know you are?  Without worrying about not being able to press delete?

In the spirit of the New Year, amid resolutions to try something new, here are three techniques to help you get verbally in gear.

Easy to say; harder to remember.  When we’re anxious we get tense.  When we tense up we breathe shallowly.  And shallow breathing is not good for corralling those fabulous thoughts that are flitting around your brain.  Slow it down.  Breathe deeply.  Enjoy a second or two of extra oxygen while you develop your lead sentence.

The Point
Your lead sentence, the first thing you say, should be The Point.  This takes practice.  Most of us wander around the desert of extraneous verbiage , hoping if we keep talking long enough, we’ll get to the (or any) point.  You will immediately sound more compelling and smart if you lead with a fully-formed thought.  It doesn’t need to be long.  In fact, the shorter the better.  Keep it simple.

Try to dive right in and say The Point, without introducing it with a lot of preamble.  This is what preamble sounds like: “What I’d like to say is that based on the work we’ve been doing, and the most recent results we’ve seen, and looking at the big picture, and putting it into context, perhaps we might consider that …”).  Not good.

Know Your CBA’s
Another technique to keep preamble at bay is to turn your ABC’s upside down into CBA’s.  This will work in most situations when you’ve got nowhere to hide and you want to sound smart.
Here’s a structure to answer questions and deliver clarity in just three sentences:

C stands for Current Climate: a 1-sentence snapshot describing what is happening now
B stands for Brief Background: a 1-sentence summary on how we got here
A stands for Action Agenda: a 1-sentence outline of your next steps

Please note: you cannot say everything you know, so don’t even try.  The best communicators are succinct.  You can always add more if you are asked for it; that’s the easy part.

Looking to hear more from Diane? Check out Diane Ripstein Consulting, where she helps very smart people sound as smart as they are.  Say hello to Diane: (Email), (Twitter) @DianeRipstein or (LinkedIn)

It’s time to create technology, not just consume it!

In celebration of Computer Science Education Week, I was honored when Microsoft reached out and asked me to write a guest blog post.  It’s a terrific opportunity to bring the spotlight on the importance of CS education in our schools, and I’d like to say a huge thank you to Microsoft for their support in Massachusetts and beyond.

Learning computer science is fun, engaging, and much easier than many people think. It encompasses the study of computers and algorithmic processes including their principles, design, applications, and impact on society.

OK, that’s a mouthful.  Here’s an easier way to think about it: Computer Science empowers students to create, not just consume technology.  It also teaches them to collaborate, think critically, and problem-solve, all necessary skills no matter what path you choose.  As President Obama says, “don’t just play on your phone – program it.

But we have a problem in this country. The National Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that in 2020 more than ½ of all STEM jobs will require computing, but less than 52,000 degrees in CS were awarded in 2013.  And the reality is, no matter what career or academic path you pursue in the future, students who understand how to build technology will have advantage over those who only know how to consume it.

Some fast facts

  • Computing is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States with more than 150,000 job openings annually
  • Computing jobs pay 75 percent more than the national median annual salary
  • Two-thirds of computing jobs are in sectors other than information technology including: manufacturing, defense, health care, life sciences, financial services, and retail

As Executive Director of the MassTLC Education Foundation we are committed to working with partners including MassCAN, the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and others to help expand computing education in the state and ensure ALL students have access to the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century.

This week over 80,000 students in Massachusetts are participating in “Hour of Code” activities that will provide students with a brief introduction to computer science.  The activities are designed to “demystify coding” and show students that anyone can become a contributor, leader, and creator when it comes to technology. predicts that Hour of Code events will take place in over 160 countries and 25,000 classrooms with over 4 million students participating across the globe. You can learn more about the Hour of Code and see if your district is participating here.

The Museum of Science is also celebrating CS Ed Week with a variety of events at the museum throughout the week and upcoming weekend.  From creating your own robot and building your own computer program, to taking part in basic coding tutorials, the Museum is a great place to explore computer science.

I encourage everyone to take part in CS Ed Week, whether you decide to attend an organized event or simply spend an hour exploring the free tutorials offered here. Happy computing!


Heather Carey
Executive Director
MassTLC Education Foundation

The Foundry: Driving Innovation, Design & Opportunity


The Foundry invites college development and design students to Microsoft New England for an internship based on four key principles.

  • Learn: Work with the latest tools and tactics needed to design and develop apps for Windows and Windows Phone.
  • Collaborate: Team up with other engineers and designers to bring an app to life.
  • Build: Sync student ideas and concepts with state-of-the-art development techniques to create an app from the ground up.
  • Launch: Ship an app to the Store by the end of your internship.


In its second year, the Foundry at Microsoft New England hosted 40 college students on its campus this past summer. The students worked in teams of five to build a range of apps for Microsoft’s newest platforms. Each team worked closely with their coaches, two Microsoft engineers paired with each team to help solve programs and connect with others at Microsoft.  Using agile and other current development practices, interns get tons of experience designing the user experience, writing code, costing features, presenting their work, and (occasionally) debugging problems.  By the end of the internship, interns have experienced a complete ship cycle from start to ship.   These Foundry 2013 apps are now available for download to your Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone devices.



Meet Codey! WeeCoder’s main character

In light of the Computer Science Education week, we want to introduce WeeCoder, built at Foundry 2013. Computer science provides a foundation for so many career paths and WeeCoder is a fun way to introduce basic coding concepts to children. WeeCoder is an engaging educational game built to introduce children, ages 3-11, to sequential thought, looping, and conditions in a comfortable environment. Explore the planets of the Solar System with Codey as he travels from planet to planet.  Program his movements through 80+ unique levels to unlock mini puzzle games, a photo op with Codey, and more. WeeCoder is available to download to your Windows 8.1 device now.


Learn to code with WeeCoder!

Learn to code with WeeCoder!

Loved visiting the planets with Codey? Share your picture with Codey on your favorite social networks!


 Start coding with Codey today!



Sign Up Today to Participate in Hour of Code!

Over 27,000 organizers representing over 3 million students from 165 countries have committed to hosting Hour of Code. Is your school, company, or organization among them?

Anyone and everyone is encouraged to participate in the Hour of Code, a part of Computer Science Education Week  (December 9-15). It’s simple. Dedicate one hour of your week to learning the basics of computer science. Yes, just one hour is all it takes to learn the basics. Just go online and choose a free, self-guided tutorial that demonstrates how anyone can learn and anyone can use these new skills to innovate and create. Considering computer science is a foundation to virtually any career, I would say that one hour is a sound investment!

Already a CS whiz? Spread your wisdom by signing up to host Hour of Code. Whether it’s at work, in a classroom, or in the community, your knowledge and passion for CS needs to be shared!

Need further convincing to take part? Check out these CS stats and watch the video (below). You’ll want to get involved for sure!

Science Club for Girls Presents 2013 Catalyst Awards

Catalyst: An agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action.

A full house stepped out to celebrate Photo Credit: Dana J. Quigley

A full house stepped out to celebrate
Photo Credit: Dana J. Quigley

So read the program for the Science Club for Girls (SCFG) 2013 Catalyst Awards, held recently at the NERD Center, where two individuals and one institution were honored for being “strategic, innovative and effective in promoting diversity in science, technology and engineering; who are skilled and dedicated to effecting change from a system down to a personal level to help individuals and groups realize their dreams.”


2013 Catalyst Award Winners
Photo Credit: Dana J. Quigley

This year’s catalysts were Jennifer Chayes, Distinguished Scientist and Managing Director at Microsoft New England; Shirley Malcolm, Head of Education and Human Resources at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); and Cubist Pharmaceuticals, pioneers in creating an inclusive work environment. One-hundred and seventy-five other executives, professionals, academics, and SCFG participants and their family members joined these honorees for a unique evening of recognition and, of course, science!

That’s right. A SCFG event wouldn’t have been complete without a bit of experimentation, so the audience was challenged to build a homopolar motor with just a nail, an AA battery, a piece of aluminum foil and a magnet. SCFG’s Rocket Team, which qualified for national finals this past spring, was also there to showcase just how much these girls are able to accomplish.

Shirley Malcolm

Catalyst Award winner Shirley Malcolm
Photo credit: Dana J. Quigley

As SCFG works to solve the mystery of the missing women in science, the awards ceremony was a great way to both exemplify successful women in STEM and encourage another generation of young girls to enter STEM fields.

“It’s essential that girls realize science and engineering are creative and collaborative fields that allow us to help envision the future. We need to amplify this message to everyone who doesn’t fit the standard technologist stereotype and embrace people who can work collaboratively and design the future,” advised Chayes, who obviously embodies the definition of a catalyst.

To learn more about SCFG or this year’s catalysts, head to their website. If you would like to make a donation to support SCFG’s free programs and help inspire another generation of female STEM leaders, consider participating in the organization’s Holiday Challenge here.