NERD Hackathon Uses Superpowers to Empower Others

 |   MSNE Staff

A sign welcoming hackers to Microsoft's Hackathon

Everyone has a superpower. What’s yours?

That’s the question that spurred members of the Microsoft NERD team at this year’s hackathon, Microsoft’s week-long challenge to members of the Microsoft community to create something new to carry on our mission: to empower every individual and organization on the planet to achieve more.

The hackathon, now in its sixth year, is part of One Week — a series celebrating Microsoft’s people, products and ideas — and we were excited to join in on the fun right here at NERD. NERD team members separated into 67 teams, focusing on hacking for culture and for our customers. Throughout the week, we saw Microsoft team members work together to innovate, create, and inspire each other to build something new that we all can be proud of.

We were also lucky to have hackers join us from outside the Microsoft community this year — led by Solutions Specialist Tisha Nguyen and Modern Classroom Experience Technical Sales Professional Joseph Cicero, we welcomed 80 students and teachers from Boston Public Schools, Hartford’s Academy of Science and Innovation, and Liberty Elementary School in Springfield to our campus to join the hack.

US Education General Manager Lydia Smyres also joined the fray to hack for education. Last year, she helped us and Boston Public Schools teachers who joined us in hacking new lesson plans to bring back to their students with our hacking STEM principles.

“This year the team is really taking good to great and we have 80 students and teachers coming together with awesome ideas on how to expand STEM learning in the classroom,” she told us. “The thing I like the most about this year is how we are getting right to the student, and with our mission to empower everyone on the planet to achieve more, the combination of the students and teachers in this year’s hackathon is really landing impact with all these awesome ideas.”

Alan November teaching our Hacking STEM team
Alan November teaching our Hacking STEM team

It was an honor to host Alan November, education technology innovator and leader, as he showed our students and teachers new ways to innovate in the classroom. November’s presentation to our students and teachers showed how to “hack” search engines to refine results and improve the search engine experience.

Denise Matuszczak, senior administrator for digital learning and assessment at Springfield Public Schools’ Central Office, attends many of our education technology programs and was thrilled to be part of this year’s hackathon.

“Today’s hackathon about the search engines is just phenomenal information that I think I’ll take back to our whole school community as much as I can disseminate that information,” she told us. “I can name probably three to five things that I’ve learned today that I can take back to groups of teachers that I meet with regularly when I’m in schools, working with principals.”

A group of people sitting around a desk working on computers
One of our NERD hackathon teams hard at work

Our teams created incredible projects focused entirely on people — from aids for physical therapy and therapy for Down’s Syndrome to gender representation in tech to education tools, it was clear that our team made a priority to use their superpowers to empower others.

Special acknowledgment is due for Backyard Webcam, our team who won NERD’s “best in show” award at our culminating science fair.

“’It was awesome being able to rely on all our team members to execute different aspects of the project then see it come together in the end,” said Scott Graham, member of the winning team. “Everyone was excited and working hard, so it really did feel like we had superpowers to crush obstacles as they popped up.”

Congratulations to all our award winners:

  • Most Creative: Mommy the Software Engineer
    • Honorable Mention: Hack the Room
  • We’ll All Be Working for You Someday: Smartfonts (a team of high school students!)
  • Hack for All: Down’s Syndrome — Physical Therapy — AI for Good
  • Best Professional Life Hack: Kusto Cookbook
    • Honorable Mention: Microsoft NERD Website
  • Most Prac-the-Hack: Azure Accelerator
  • People’s Choice: Down’s Syndrome — Physical Therapy — AI for Good

Learn more about Microsoft’s Hackathon:

YouTube Video