December 2015

Microsoft New England’s Top Blogs of 2015

New England - 2015

2015 was a year of growth and change for all of us. As we brought new civic ventures and education policy to Greater Boston, we were reminded every day why civic technology is so important. Thanks to our great partnerships, dedicated staff, and driven city, 2015 was one of our most successful years yet. We’d like to thank everyone who was there every step of the way!

Here are some of our favorite blogs of the year, highlighting special moments, special people, and the hard work that goes into civic tech every day:



May 15, 2015
Welcoming Young Inventors to Microsoft


June 16, 2015
Celebrating Pride in Boston with GLEAM
image001-1 June 18, 2015
Project Square Lets Cambridge Students Take Charge in Community Development
Picture3-1 June 23, 2015
Citizen Schools Honors Microsoft Employees for Their Service
Screen-Shot-2015-07-08-at-12.40.36-PM-1 July 8, 2015
Smart Cities Need Smart Addresses
Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.24.06 AM July 15, 2015
Fellow Profile: Jackie Lender
Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.24.51 AM Aug 27, 2015
Boston’s The Record Company — it’s not about ownership, it’s about access
003 Sept 17, 2015
Boston Startup Rejjee Uses Cloud Services to Recover Stolen Bikes
Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.30.48 AM Dec 7, 2015
#CSEdWeek: Students Talk CS — Amanda Westort, Advanced Math And Science Academy Charter School
Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.31.35 AM Dec 8, 2015
#CSEdWeek: Students Talk CS — Evan Przyborowski, Advanced Math And Science Academy Charter School

Get Creative with The Center for Out of Office Excellence

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that work isn’t your whole life, but it’s true. Life happens, and whether you’re away for an appointment, vacation, or a holiday, you can’t always be at your inbox. The Out of Office (OOO, or OOF) message has become a staple in the workplace, letting coworkers and clientele know that you’re unavailable without being dismissive. And this year, Microsoft is having fun with it.

We’re taking a creative approach to the OOO message by helping you tell the world that work can wait in a meme-like fashion. The Center for Out of Office Excellence is a do-it-yourself service that allows you to upload your own photo and add a creative filter onto it for a visual away message. Break away from the humdrum and add some fun to your outbox!

What’s the best OOF message you’ve seen? Our Director of Technology and Civic Engagement, Cathy Wissink, says, “I’d basically say the best OOF I ever saw was the one I got to write when I went on sabbatical for nine weeks :).”


Visit the Center for Out of Office Excellence to create your own Out Of Office Meme.

Meet the Haute House University: Fashion Business EdTech

HHU-flyer-front for jpeg

Teaching Business to aspiring fashion designers and start-ups

There is a growing debate happening in the global fashion industry. You might think the debate is around topics like green manufacturing, sustainability, diversity and the portrayal of beauty and the ideal body image…you will be surprised. The subject that is starting to make the rounds is whether or not fashion-related university students need to know the fundamentals of business. You know, things like the marketing mix, cash flow planning, industry research, creating a business strategy, integrated marketing and professional conduct.

Enter The Haute House Design Studio

Taneshia Camillo-Sheffey, the owner & founder of the premier eRetail company The Haute House Design Studio, has been signing and mentoring some of the best global private designer brands, and fashion design graduates to her studio. It quickly became apparent that her new designers didn’t have business knowledge and lacked an understanding of how the business side of the fashion industry actually worked. During the course of her mentoring, these designers quickly came to understand that this knowledge was crucial to the development of their designer brands. 9 out of 10 start-ups failing within the first 18 months. Taneshia was committed to ensuring that her designers would be among the success stories and not the failures in this statistic.

Taneshia realized there was a gap in the fashion education marketplace and quickly set about addressing it.

Enter The Haute House University

Taneshia wanted to re-format her mentoring program from a one-to-one “in-house” approach to a more formalized educational setting. She teamed up with the British-American Integrated Marketing professional and academic, Alex di Savoia. As program Leader, Alex developed a bespoke, robust and engaging online learning platform using Joomla. The site supports a variety of learning styles and has been built with ‘on the go’ learning in mind. Students can learn anywhere, any time on any device.  Technology also allows module leaders to provide summative (on-the-go) and formative (final) feedback to students.

The site’s technology allows module tutors to interact with students either in real time via online teleconferencing or via forums and system emails. Students can communicate and collaborate with each cohort can also interact online via various site and online tools. Whether it’s mind mapping, interactive canvases, scenario activities, SWOT analysis or event planning – the practical learning activities are reflective-learning intensive and crafted using online tools. Students not only learn the business side of fashion through this process. They also pick up digital and online skills that make them even more competitive in the marketplace.

Working In Synergy

The two sides of the company work in synergy. The Haute House is in the business of developing fashion businesses. The Haute House Design Studio focuses on the creative side of the industry, building tomorrows brands today via its online boutique. The Haute House University is the Edtech / “software as service” arm teaching the business side of the fashion industry to aspiring designers.  Together, both strive to reduce the number of fashion-related start-ups.

The use of technology in educating designers about the business side of fashion is core to the company achieving its objectives.

Recap: Generation Citizen Civics Day at the Massachusetts State House


Photo: MA Attorney General Maura Healey

How do you help build an active democracy? Engage local youth. Generation Citizen knows this, and leverages this knowledge at every opportunity. That’s why last week’s Generation Citizen Civics Day, held in Boston at the Massachusetts State House, was so important to us. Civics Day brought together students from around the Boston Metro area to discuss civic action and present civic solutions to local influencers, leaders and other representatives who can help make these projects a reality.

A brief look inside Civics Day, via Generation Citizen:

Civics Day is the culminating event in a semester-long action civics experience for students who participate in Generation Citizen. Student teams descend on a central location in their city to present their action civic projects to local decision-makers and influencers who can support these projects. It looks like a science fair for civic action. We’ve hosted city mayors, state governors, state representatives, state bureaucrats, and leaders in business and education as judges to support our student projects.

Civics Day is one of the most unique facets of the Generation Citizen program. Students have reported that Civics Day was the most motivating factor in their participation— for many, the support, encouragement, and validation they receive from adults in the community reinforces their civic efforts and action in a way a traditional civics class could not. For other students, Civics Day is an opportunity to learn from and celebrate their peers’ success.

Miss out on this year’s Civics Day? No worries! See below for a Twitter recap of the best moments of the event:

#HackWinter makes me excited for snow (almost)


S’nope & the #HackWinter judges.

I am loving the unseasonably warm and non-snowy weather we are experiencing in Boston this December. But we all know what is coming and Code for Boston is helping us gear up for the winter. Earlier this week, I served as a judge to CFB’s #HackWinter Demo Night, along with Chris Osgood – City of Boston’s Chief of Streets, Holly St. Clair – The Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s Director of Data Services and Meghann Ackerman – Community Engagement Specialist from the City of Somerville.  After 3.5 weeks of work, three teams shared some terrific solutions that I am hoping will be available for our use once the snow starts falling.

Harlan Weber, Code for Boston Brigade Captain, said, “Lately, we are developing more complex apps and it was great to see what the teams could come up with during a 3.5 week hackathon – the teams tacked more complex challenges and built richer solutions that they could have in a weekend.  I hope to see apps like Snopes being used in Boston this winter.”

Last night’s demos included:

  • Snow Ranger – An app to help pedestrians, especially those with mobility difficulties, navigate the winter streetscape after a major snowfall
  • S’nope – “The Uber of Snow Shoveling” developed by Resilient Coders and CFB to combine the need for shoveling and snow removal with youth employment in an app to connect people who can shovel to people with snow.
  • Enersave – An app to monitor energy use, encourage action, and incentivize energy saving.  If Cambridge can reduce its city-wide energy use the most by the end of 2016, it could win the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize (!

Congrats to S’nope on winning the coveted golden snow shovel award!

Our Space, Our Place, Inc. — Introducing Blind Youth to Coding


Our Space Our Place, Inc. (OSOP) is a nonprofit organization housed at the Tobin Community Center in Roxbury which provides an after school and career exploration program for middle and high school youth who are blind.  OSOP emerged out of the desire of professionals who are blind and parents with children who are blind to improve the employment outcomes for the next generation of blind youth.

Using the Expanded Core Curriculum, a generally accepted framework of nine areas of instructions for youth who are blind, OSOP focused on developing skills in the areas of social interaction, recreation and fitness and age-appropriate career exploration. As a result, OSOP created a program which offers theater, dance, and visits to museums, running and other sports, tours of local companies, work experiences and exploration of careers.

For the last few years, the OSOP students have participated in the Boston Athletic Association 5K race. It is a point of pride that all of the students finish the race. Students have also had opportunities to work at the Museum of Fine Arts and at the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library. The parents of the student who worked at the MFA expressed their appreciation for the experience, which gave their son a chance to learn about work. For the student who worked at the library, her teacher shared that because of the work experience, she could see a greater confidence in the student.

The most current data indicates only 42.6% of all working age individuals with significant vision loss are employed (

Recognizing the growing field of technology, we wanted to provide our students with an introduction to the skills needed to pursue employment.  We applied to Smarter in the City, because we wanted to expand our program to offer a coding workshop. Our goals are to introduce forty students who are blind to coding and to build connections with tech companies in the Boston area so as to introduce students to professionals in the tech field and to identify work experiences for students.

Our exploration of a tool which can be used to introduce blind youth to coding has so far shown that some of the tools are not accessible to students using assistive technology. We are nonetheless excited and are pursuing some ideas such as whether there are ways to make tactile the concepts of coding and whether creating games and/or music will allow students to learn code and to explore other aspects of the technology field.

We are seeking collaborators and sponsors. We are looking for people to join our Advisory Group who are curious and are excited to take an idea from exploration to reality.

Learn more about Our Space, Our Place, Inc. via their website and their Facebook page.

Microsoft Philanthropies: Empowerment Begins with Inclusion

Today we’re announcing an expanded commitment to our corporate philanthropy around the world with a broader ambition and a new organization within the company, Microsoft Philanthropies, to make this ambition a reality.

Our CEO, Satya Nadella, has defined a clear mission for Microsoft: Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. In his letter to shareholders this year, he said, “In the year ahead we will continue to ask ourselves what are the challenges mankind faces, how can technology help, and what is the contribution of Microsoft?”

This new organization within Microsoft will bring together a range of assets to address digital inclusion and help ensure the benefits of technology reach every person and every organization on the planet.

Read more about Microsoft Philanthropies on the Official Microsoft Blog from Brad Smith and check out the Fire Hose post on the leaders for Microsoft Philanthropies, Mary Snapp and Lori Harnick.

Recap — Looking Back at Computer Science Education Week 2015 and the Hour of Code


This year, we joined millions of educators and students worldwide in the annual Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), a week-long celebration of awareness and education worldwide. Throughout the week, while students took part in the Hour of Code, educators, legislators, and constituents worked together to help make Computer Science for All a standard.

While CSEdWeek took place internationally, we’ve gathered some of the best local moments to celebrate computer science in Massachusetts:


Make way! ChickTech is coming to Boston

Chicktech Boston

Growing up as the daughter of two engineers, engineering was always a career option at the back of my mind. Despite this, I didn’t really understand exactly what engineers did on a day-to-day basis until I participated in a summer engineering program while in high school. It was the first time I got actual hands-on experience with all of the different aspects of engineering. I was hooked!

The program was specifically for high school girls, designed to get more women into the field. At the time, I wasn’t really aware that there was a large gender imbalance in engineering fields. In college, I was selected to be a teaching assistant for a similar program – a competitive position – and never really experienced first hand the impact of disproportionate representation. However, the full reality of the lack of women in engineering finally hit me as I was leaving school to enter the professional world for the first time. Out of my graduating class of about 50, there were only 6 women.

Being told, “you don’t look like an engineer” on a daily basis bothered me. But being one of just a handful of women bothered me even more. Why is it that – despite pursuing undergraduate education in equal numbers – so few women ultimately choose to pursue a life in engineering? More personally, why did I?

Then I remembered: the summer engineering program I took in high school. I was not only lucky enough to have hands-on experience in engineering workshops with other ambitious young women, but I was also mentored through this experience by strong young women already pursuing engineering in college. That’s when it dawned on me that I could provide the same mentorship and guidance to other young women, and by doing so teach them that engineering is a viable option for their futures. ChickTech Boston was born.

ChickTech is a national nonprofit, the mission of which is to build confidence in young women to pursue careers in STEM by providing them with early and consistent mentorship. By starting the Boston chapter of ChickTech, I now have the chance to mentor girls and young women, and by doing so, build a community that empowers them to find a home in STEM. Fortunately, I’ve found large community of like-minded people here in Boston who are volunteering their time and expertise to help make this chapter a reality. ChickTech has two distinct programs that have already been widely successful in other chapters around the country. These are:

ChickTech: High School

We start by asking teachers and counselors to nominate female students who show an aptitude in technology but may not have the opportunity to learn. We request that at least one-third of the nominees be eligible for the free lunch program. This recruitment strategy gives potential participants an immediate boost of confidence and a sense of recognition. It also yields a very diverse group of girls.

ChickTech: High School kicks-off with two days of hands-on activities and workshops. It concludes with a technology showcase in which 100 girls share what they’ve created with the community.

ChickTech: High School keeps girls engaged throughout the year with a series of follow-up workshops, extending the learning process to include:

  • One-on-one mentoring for a year with a technology professional
  • Internship opportunities at local tech companies
  • Tech-focused scholarship, career and resume workshops

ChickTech: Career

ChickTech: Career is a series of woman-focused continued education events held throughout the year. These events build attendees’ technology and professional expertise and create a supportive community among adult women.

I couldn’t be more excited about starting the Boston chapter of ChickTech. I think the combination of hands-on workshops and dedicated mentors has a lot of potential to empower inner city high school girls. As well meaning as our goals might seem, it’s not without its difficulty. Providing ongoing workshops is expensive, and part of our mission is to provide them at no cost to our girls. As such, we are currently looking to raise $15,000 to build a strong and sustainable high school program and provide continuing workshops throughout the year. Our most pressing need is to raise enough money to kick off ChickTech: High School by next fall. If you can donate any amount, please do so by visiting our web site. You can also sign up for our mailing list so you can stay up-to-date on future events and fundraisers.

Pattaya Hongsmatip

Pattaya Hongsmatip is a network design engineer at AT&T, program manager for Chicktech Boston, and InstaGrandma for CreativeMornings Boston. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Boston University. With donuts in her belly and coffee running through her veins, she’s ready to tackle her next project.

Microsoft New England Picks: 3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

Events 12-14

2015 flew by, and with our last full (non-holiday) week of the year, we want to leave you with events you just can’t miss. End the year with our top picks for events this week:

Gencit1) Generation Citizen Greater Boston Civics Day
Tuesday, December 15, 9:30am — 1:30pm
Massachusetts State House | 24 Beacon Street | Boston
Twitter: @gencitizen | #civicsday

This December, Generation Citizen students, Democracy Coaches and community leaders from across Boston, New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Providence will gather in their cities to celebrate a semester of young people engaging in local political action and to brainstorm strategies for leading change on important community issues.

BGN.io2) December Board Game Night
Tuesday, December 15, 6pm — 10pm
WeWork (South Station) | 745 Atlantic Ave | Boston
Twitter: @bgnio | #BGNio8

Half-networking, half-gaming — it’s the only event in Boston that brings together innovation enthusiasts for an evening of friendly competition and great conversation. All proceeds benefit the ever awesome Resilient Coders, an organization dedicated to making web tech education more accessible to urban youth.

The Virtualization User Group December Meeting3) The Virtualization User Group December Meeting
Thursday, December 17, 6pm — 9pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge

The Virtualization User group meetings provide the user community an opportunity to learn about new technologies and other virtualization topics of interest.

Presentations provide details and background on different areas e.g. Storage with virtualization, Hyper-V, Cloud Computing etc. and are requested to be technical in nature not sales oriented