February 2015

CodeAcross Boston: Boston as a “Living Lab for Civic Technology”

This past weekend at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, roughly 100 participants came together for the annual CodeAcross event. The event, which took place in nearly 60 cities across the US and in far-reaching places like Pakistan, Brazil, and Australia, brought together technologists, community members, and government and municipal workers for a weekend of collaboration, discussion, and coding.


Locally, Code for Boston collaborated with MassIT, the Commonwealth’s IT agency, on the two-day event. In his opening remarks, Bill Oates, Commonwealth CIO, reflected on his years at the City of Boston— where they approached the urban landscape as a living lab for civic technology. In his current role at the state, Oates is working to apply that same approach to scale civic technology projects at a broader level.

Teams formed and spent the remainder of the weekend working towards solutions to civic and community problems using special weekend access to MassIT’s open data pilot, MassData. During final presentations on Sunday, groups pitched their projects and solicited feedback from the crowd.

Unsurprisingly, weather and transit were topics at the forefront of the discussion and a variety of projects focused on solving these problems.

Three developers – David Lago, Geoffrey Litt, and Radhika Malik formed a team that built and launched mbta.ninja, described as “Waze for the T,” a means of crowd-sourcing transit delay data and providing alternate routes from actual riders.

Addressing snow concerns, participants Rob Lundberg and Ari Roshko conducted a brainstorming and research session into the community culture surrounding parking space savers following snowstorms. “This is a community issue we’re trying to solve,” Lundberg said. “It’s more a sociological problem than a technical one.”

Dan Moore, Web Master for the City of Somerville presented his group’s project, an open 311 tracker for the city. “We want to be the Domino’s pizza tracker for 311 in Somerville,” Moore said. The project, called t311.us aims to more transparency to 311 data.

Smaller municipalities also contributed to the event as a team headed by Kendra Amaral, Assistant Town Manager and Director of Human Resources for the Town of Wilmington, MA created a cross-silo data integration application called the Property Dashboard. “We’re not all Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville,” Amaral said during her team’s presentation. “We don’t all have big IT departments but we still need access to this information.”

Additionally projects addressed a rating system for foster homes to empower the government to improve the foster system, firsttodisclose.info, a community-powered repository that allows inventors to disclose inventions while addressing IP concerns.

In total, CodeAcross was a huge success thanks to the collaborative work of Code for Boston and MassIT and with the support of Microsoft New England and the MIT Media Lab. Mariko Davidson, open data lead and innovation fellow for MassIT summed it up, “From my perspective, CodeAcross provided an ideal opportunity for us to engage with Boston’s local civic innovation and technology community and foster open and proactive state government.”

CodeAcross Boston 2015 — Told In Tweets!

More than 100 participants gathered at Media Lab this past weekend to code for a better Boston at #CodeAcross Boston 2015. Organized by our local brigade, Code for Boston, as well as the MassIT, the event was filled with all kinds of great ideas for how civic tech can improve our city.

We gathered some tweets from the weekend, ICYMI:

Microsoft New England Picks: 4 Not-To-Miss Events This Week


Winter is definitely here. Time to get inside for some awesome events! Here are three not to miss this week Microsoft New England:

Playcrafting-boston1) Playcrafting Boston Winter Expo
Tuesday, February 24, 5:00pm – 9:00pm
Twitter: @PlaycraftingBOS

Fifty game developers will be showing off their latest games one-on-one to a crowd of 300 people. For developers, this is a great opportunity for their games (finished or unfinished) to get direct feedback from players. For everyone else, it’s a unique opportunity to try out the biggest collection of games made in and around Boston all in one place. Each game gets its own booth as players meet the developers and try out their games. Throw pizza into the mix and you get Playcrafting’s biggest event!

For Developers:
Please fill out the online form for your game to be considered for entry. We’ll reach out to confirm inclusion.

For Attendees:
You must register on Eventbrite. $8 Early Bird / $15 Full Price. Please include your first and last name when you RSVP. Your name must be on the list to get past building security. Also, all guests must RSVP on their own. See you all there!

startupinstboston2) Startup Institute Boston: Startup Rock Climbing Series: What Does It Mean To Embrace Failure
Tuesday, February 24, 6:30pm – 8:30pm at Brooklyn Boulders, Somerville
Twitter: @StartupInstBOS @BKBSomerville

Embracing failure – it’s something that people love to say, but people rarely know how to do. Liz Gottbrecht will lead a discussion about how to define failure, how it relates to creating an environment of learning, and how to create a work culture that embraces it. She’ll also discuss how sometimes things that are perceived as a great success outwardly may actually be a failure. Liz is the Director of Marketing at Streetwise Media, the digital media and events company that operates city news properties BostInno, Chicago Inno, and DC Inno, and the recently launched Streetwise Studio. Failure is the single consistent element to any success she’s experienced.

PDMA3) Creativity: It’s Not Just About the Front End of Innovation
Thursday, February 26, 5:00pm – 9:00pm
Twitter: @PDMA_Boston

Creativity, the production of novel ideas that serve a purpose, is the starting point for innovation and an essential input for growth in our companies and in our economy at large. But creativity also has application well beyond the front end of innovation and can be deliberately invoked to assist with challenges and opportunities presented at all stages of new product development.

Learn how creativity operates, how to apply it to challenges, how to elicit it within your team and what’s required from your organization to support it. Join the Greater Boston PDMA on Thursday, February 26th to hear a presentation by Courtney Zwart, who will address these questions and more and will provide you with tangible actions that you can take to both apply and harness creativity in your organization. Register now for this event and network with other product development, product management and innovation professionals in the Boston area.

Courtney Zwart, Consultant – Innovation & Creative Problem Solving

boston techcrunch4) TechCrunch Boston Meetup + Pitch-Off
Thursday, February 26, 6:00pm – 8:30pm @ The Estate, Boston
Twitter: @TechCrunch

TechCrunch’s legendary meetup + pitch-off event is coming to Boston this Thursday, February 26th! It all takes place at The Estate at 1 Boylston Street.

TechCrunch wants to see Boston’s tech community come out in droves to enjoy beer, good conversation, and a battle to the death to see which entrepreneurs can dazzle and excite the judges in under sixty seconds.

The stage is set for 10 Startups to pitch their products to a panel of judges which will include TechCrunch writers and local VCs.

First Place in the Pitch-Off will receive a table in Startup Alley at an upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt. Second Place will receive (2) tickets to an upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt. Third Place will receive (1) ticket to the upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt.

Microsoft celebrates diversity in computing at the 2015 Tapia Conference

More and more we’re seeing evidence mount that diversity is, in and of itself, a beneficial quality to have in any workplace, including tech companies. Just within the Microsoft Research team, we’ve seen this evidence borne out: bringing together people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including women, minorities and people with disabilities, broadens perspectives and leads to new and fascinating technology applications and discoveries.

Recently we had the chance to celebrate and honor diversity in the workplace with other groups across the company at the 2015 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, right here in Boston. This annual event brings together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, researchers, and computing professionals of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

This year’s theme was “Diversity at Scale”, highlighting efforts that go beyond just talking about diversity and actually implementing a number of great ideas around increasing diversity in all aspects of computing. Our own Jennifer Chayes, director of Microsoft’s New England and New York research labs, participated, as did a number of other Microsoft employees.

For more details on the event, you can read the Microsoft Research Connections’ team blog post.

Announcing the General Availability of Azure Machine Learning

In the spirit of Microsoft’s commitment to expanding open source innovation, Azure Machine Learning was created as a platform to easily build, deploy and share advanced analytics solutions. The Azure Machine Learning team, part of which is based here in Cambridge at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center, has been working to support community-driven development, allowing developers to create cloud-hosted web services in an easy, efficient manner. Microsoft’s main goal was to bridge learning gaps and allow access to big data strategizing to all. And now, that goal of easy access to data science has been made a reality.

Announcing the General Availability of Azure Machine Learning

This week, we were pleased to announce cloud-based availability of Azure Machine learning. With no software to download, all you need is just a browser and internet connectivity to launch into a fully-managed, fully-supported innovative hub for data science. Users can create web services and APIs, use available web service applications, and build not only with Strata and Hadoop but R and Python.

To learn more about Azure Machine Learning, including features currently available on the cloud, read Microsoft’s Machine Learning blog here.

If you’re interested in a potential job with the Azure Machine Learning team, check out the job postings on our site, looking for those tagged “Cloud and Enterprise Engineering.”

CodeAcross Boston 2015 — Civic Hacking for a Better Boston


This weekend, February 21-22 at the MIT Media Lab, Code for Boston is teaming up with MassIT, the Commonwealth’s IT department, and other local municipal partners to bring you CodeAcross Boston 2015. The local chapter of the national civic technology non-profit Code for America, Code for Boston is a group of volunteer designers, developers, researchers, community organizers, and engaged citizens who work to make their communities better places to live, work, and play.

Photos from #CodeAcross 2014 at MSNE

Photos from #CodeAcross Boston 2014 at MSNE

With generous support from Microsoft New England, this year’s CodeAcross is set to be the largest yet. The nearly sold-out event will involve 130+ people from across the Greater Boston area including technologists, government and municipal workers, and community members.

The goal for this year’s two-day event is to inspire collaboration, discussion, and civic hacking to find solutions to the greatest problems faced by our communities. This year, CodeAcross coincides with International Open Data Day so participants will also be utilizing open data sets from across the state to support their work.

“We’re really looking to use CodeAcross as an opportunity to start thinking about ways to address civic issues in our communities,” Harlan Weber, Code for Boston’s Brigade Captain said. “Emphasis on startWe’re looking at this event as the kickoff of a new slate of community-driven civic innovation projects in 2015, and we hope that all of the projects continue after CodeAcross through Code for Boston and in collaboration with our municipal partners.”

As organizers, Code for Boston hopes that the informal atmosphere of collaboration at this year’s CodeAcross event will allow all participating groups – government and municipal employees, community members, and technologists – to work together in an environment that fosters discussion, partnership, and problem-solving. The event will incorporate thematic tracks addressing public safety and justice, health and human services, economic development, and citizen engagement. Participant projects may take several forms: teams may make policy recommendations, develop a data-visualization, create a business plan for a civic startup, or any number of other project ideas. All good ideas are welcome. We are looking forward to a lively event resulting in a number of exciting projects for the year to come.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 7.57.22 AMKristen Weber is the Communications Lead for Code for Boston. She has been involved with Code for Boston since its inception in 2012. Kristen is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in business, technology, and the non-profit sector.

Microsoft New England Picks: 5 Not-To-Miss Events This Week


Winter is definitely here. Time to get inside for some awesome events! Here are three not to miss this week Microsoft New England:

tech-breakfast1) Boston TechBreakfast with HoppinIn, Rejjee, Inc., iClinical Inc, HireAction
Tuesday, February 17, 8:00am – 10:00am
Twitter: @TechBreakfast @HoppinIn @RejjeeApp @iClinicalData @HireAction

Based on the popular TechBreakfast format, the Boston TechBreakfast is a “show and tell” format event where up to five different technologists will demo their technologies from a wide range of industries ranging from software to hardware, IT to Biotech, robotics to space tech. The event is “triple agnostic”. We don’t care if the technology is from a start up, a large company, a university, a government agency, or someone’s hobby. We are also agnostic as to the industry of the tech – it could be IT, biotech, robotics, aerospace, materials sciences, anything tech and innovative is cool. And we’re also region agnostic – even if you’re not from where we’re hosting, we want to see you and your technology!

boston-new-tech2) Boston New Technology February 2015 Product Showcase
Tuesday, February 17, 6:00pm
Twitter: @BostonNewTech #BNT50

Celebrate our 50th Boston New Technology Product Showcase!

Free event! Come learn about 7 innovative and exciting technology products and network with the Boston/Cambridge startup community! Each presenter gets 5 minutes for product demonstration and 5 minutes for Q&A. Please follow @BostonNewTech and use the #BNT50 hashtag in social media posts: details here.

challenge-cup17763) 1776 Challenge Cup: Regionals
Thursday, February 19, 5:30pm – 9:00pm
Twitter: @1776 #1776Challenge

Challenge Cup is a global competition to identify the most promising startups focused on solving the world’s biggest challenges in education, energy & sustainability, health, and transportation & cities.

4) Global Urban Datafest: Smart Cities Challenge 
Saturday, February 21, 8:30am – 7:00pm @ Harvard Innovation Lab
Twitter: @DataFestNet #SmartCityHack

global-urban-datafestThe Challenge: Join us and work with Massachusetts cities to solve real challenges they face. Help Holyoke develop solutions to improve its pedestrian experience & support Somerville measure the impact of its city services.

Who Should Participate: Everyone! You don’t need to be a technology expert to participate… We’re looking for business thinkers, policy analysts, journalists, designers, community organizers, urban planners, or anyone else who is interested in solving real urban challenges.

Find more information + register here.

Code-for-boston5) CodeAcross Boston
Saturday, February 21, 9:00am – Sunday, February 22, 2:00pm
Twitter: @CodeForBoston #CodeAcross

Please join Code for Boston for a weekend of discussion, civic hacking, and data-driven exploration at our second annual CodeAcross event on February 21-22, 2015.

This year, Code for Boston is collaborating with MassIT, the IT department for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; our municipal partners; and local community groups to use state and local data in exploring the civic and social issues that face our local communities. The issues that we are focusing on this year are around public safety and justice, health and human services, economic development, and citizen engagement, and celebrating open data in MA as part of International Open Data Day.

At CodeAcross, we’ll bring together government employees, technologists, and regular citizens to start working together on creative solutions to some of these issues. We’re aiming for CodeAcross to have something for everyone – this is definitely not a just-for-coders type of event – by combining the best elements of unconferences and hackathons.

We can’t wait to see you all for a couple days of collaboration, problem solving, and civic hacking!

Global Urban Datafest: Smart Cities Challenge – Feb 21st


Around the world, cities and citizens are finding new solutions to old problems using emerging technologies. Through cheap sensors, new apps, mobile devices and “smart” streetscapes, technology is opening up new possibilities to transform how we live, work, and play. As students of business and public policy, the challenge we face is how to apply these technical solutions in a way that improves services for citizens but is also cost-effective for governments.

On Saturday, February 21st, technologists, business strategists, policy analysts and designers will converge at Harvard Business School to take on this problem. Teams of students and community members will invent and pitch ideas for challenges faced by two Massachusetts cities. The event, the Global Urban Datafest: Smart Cities Challenge, is one of 20 simultaneous competitions in cities around the world.

The Boston theme is Smart Cities for Small Cities—applying civic tech and Internet of Things concepts to real challenges faced by the City of Holyoke and City of Somerville. Cities have crafted challenges that address critical issues faced by local government:

  • Somerville: What tools can the City of Somerville deploy to empower community stakeholders to participate in data generation to solve difficult policy problems?
  • Holyoke: Using Internet of Things (IoT), civic tech, and other smart cities concepts, how can the City of Holyoke improve the pedestrian experience for residents and visitors?

snowquotesUnlike a traditional hackathon, where students rapidly code new apps and websites, this event aims to leverage the diversity in expertise across graduate schools in Boston. Participants will be asked to combine tools like design thinking and rapid prototyping to create concepts with strong value propositions for both cities and citizens. It’s not just about creating a new app, but rather finding new ways that cities and citizens can apply technology to improve people’s lives.

At the end of the day, teams will present their solutions to a panel of city representatives and other experts. The winners will receive ongoing support and mentorship to implement their ideas, as well as move on to become finalists in the global competition.

Locally, the Tech4 Change student group at Harvard Kennedy School and the Tech Club at Harvard Business School are organizing the event. This year, Alison Flint, a HKS student, and Needham Hurst, a HKS-HBS joint degree student, are spearheading the Smart Cities Challenge at Harvard.

Dates and Details: The hackathon will take place on February 21st at Harvard Business School – Batten Hall. For lead-up events including skills training, expert talks, and networking events, visit our website at http://global.datafest.net/cities/Boston.

Register now: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/global-urban-datafest-smart-cities-challenge-boston-registration-15048728151

Time: 8:30am-6:30pm
Date: Saturday February 21st, 2015
Harvard Business School
Batten Hall – 2nd Floor
125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134

Partners and Sponsors:
Microsoft New England
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation – Harvard University
Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy – Harvard University
Booz Allen Hamilton

About the Authors:

Needham Hurst is a joint MPP/MBA candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School. You can follow him on Twitter at @the_needhamist.

Alison Flint is a Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) student and co-chair of the HKS Tech4Change student group. You can follow her @alison_flint.

2015 MassChallenge Global Launch

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 6.01.59 PM

This week marked the official launch of MassChallenge’s 2015 startup accelerators—across the globe! At three simultaneous events, MassChallenge opened applications for each of its programs: in Boston, Israel, and for the first time, in the UK.

An estimated 200 startups will participate in the four-month accelerators here in Boston as well as in London, getting free resources like mentorships, office space and access to a global network. Masschallenge finalists will compete for millions in cash awards.

In case you missed it, head to MassChallenge’s blog for a Storify recap—the events told in tweets!

Applications for all three programs are open from February 11 through April 1. Entrepreneurs can apply here: http://masschallenge.org/apply.

Educating Students for Success – A New MBAE Study

Education Students MBAE

In Massachusetts, there is one graduate with a bachelors degree in IT/CS to every 17 open jobs in IT/CS. Promoting computer science is a priority — and one that is easy to accomplish if we all work together. Which is why Microsoft New England is  pleased to welcome Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance of Education (MBAE), Linda M. Noonan, to guest blog about the MBAE’s latest findings.
~Aimee Sprung, Civic Engagement Manager – Microsoft New England.

STEM education got a boost when K-12 education standards for English Language Arts started being incorporated into science and technical subjects to ensure that students are able to independently build knowledge in these disciplines through reading and writing. This shift to ensuring students grasp information, arguments, ideas, and details based on evidence in the text has been underway in Massachusetts since 2011, and has received positive feedback from educators.

Now, it’s time to introduce assessments aligned to these standards and another opportunity exists to integrate STEM education into these updates. As part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) multi-state consortium, Massachusetts is field-testing new tests that would replace the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exams.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE), an organization that has worked for over two decades to influence state policy with the goal of better preparing students for success in a global economy and society, just released an analysis of how the PARCC and MCAS tests compare as indicators of college- and career- readiness. The results might surprise you.

Our research found a large proportion of the items on the tenth grade MCAS test measure middle school learning. On the 2014 test, a student earning all of the points possible on the middle school items needed only 4 additional points (out of 60) on items aligned to the high school standards for his or her performance to be classified at the Proficient level.  It is clear that we need to bring our 20th century assessment into the 21st!

PARCC shows great promise for achieving this goal. PARCC establishes a “college and career readiness bar” that may be considered high enough to allow students to bypass public college entrance exams. PARCC’s content is also considered to be of higher order—prompting students to problem-solve and draw conclusions. It has the potential to give educators, families and students a more realistic and honest indication of whether they are on course to meet college and career demands.

Although there are more questions to be answered by this spring’s PARCC field tests, the public discussion about new assessments is already underway. It is one that everyone concerned about STEM skills and education should be part of.