Events

TUGG Tech Night at the Museum Spotlights Local Nonprofits

How do you bring together tech workers, leaders, investors, the art community, and local nonprofits all in one night?

Ask TUGG (Technology Underwriting Greater Good) — their annual Tech Night at the Museum brought this diverse web of individuals together to celebrate nonprofits using technology for the greater good. Held at the ICA Boston on July 13, the event was a celebration of the convergence of art and tech — amplified by the event’s sponsors, Invaluable and Cuseum.

Tech Night at the Museum wasn’t just an everyday networking event. While the night gave plenty of time to socialize (and snack!), TUGG took the time to spotlight four of its portfolio nonprofits —MbadikaMedia GirlsResilient Coders, and Transformative Culture Project (TCP). At the beginning of the night, each nonprofit was given a minute to pitch their organization’s mission:

  • Mbadika spotlighted using tech to overcome challenges. At Mbadika — which means “idea”, everyone unleashes their inner innovator and entrepreneur. This organization focuses on letting our younger selves realize their ideas.
  • Media Girls empowers girls from grades 6-8 to realize their self-worth using social media. The girls create positive projects using social media at both afterschool programs and workshops during the school day. Their goal is to empower young girls to be part of the solution by creating positive content.
  • Resilient Coders presented on working with youth from underserved communities and teaching them the basics of web development. Resilient Coders operates a digital agency working with real clients, and employs their own graduates to build that work. “It allows us to incubate those individuals further,” explained founder David Delmar. “They get not only technical experience, but also professional experience… and that makes all the difference.”
  • Transformative Culture Project (TCP) explored the intersection of technology and art as a cultural apex. TCP is teaching young people digital media as a workforce development model.

After the pitches, the event split off into breakout sessions: TCP leading a tour of the ICA’s exhibit Nari Ward: Sun Splashed, Mbadika and Media Girls hosting hands-on activities, and a talk with Resilient Coders students.

Microsoft New England Picks: Not-To-Miss Events, July 2017

From fireworks over the Charles River to civic tech events happening in Kendall Square, Boston is ready for non-stop events this July. Here are some of our top picks in the civic sector (and beyond):

July 6

Robots, Self-Driving Cars, AI, OH MY!

Talk Data to Me is a monthly event series where GA hosts thought-leaders from the Boston data community to discuss the possibilities that data brings to life. 

July invites Boston-based leaders in the data community to discuss the exciting applications they are forecasting for the future. How is AI improving our lives? How long until self-driving cars become the standard? What will the future of work look like as data improves automation?

July 7

How High-Impact Leaders Communicate

BostonSpeaks invites you to join our monthly panel breakfast series for entrepreneurs! Learn, network and get inspired every month as we invite some of the most exciting entrepreneurs and top thought leaders in Boston to discuss tricks-of-the-trade in their fields and the success principles they gained along the way!

July 10

Boston New Technology July 2017 Startup Showcase #BNT79

Learn about 7 innovative and exciting technology products and network with the Boston/Cambridge startup community.

July 11

Tech, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll

Tech, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll is all about connections. Fueled by possibility and rock n’ roll, TDRR weaves together Boston University’s broad expertise in life sciences, physical sciences, and medical technology and Boston’s thriving entrepreneurial industry for an afternoon where free flowing conversations and wild collaborations become possible.

July 12

Young Leaders in Tech

ReferralMob and General Assembly are joining forces for an epic night with some of Boston’s most interesting and inspiring young leaders that are making a name for themselves in the tech scene.

Mass Innovation Nights #100

There is more to celebrate this July than just Independence Day – Mass Innovation Nights is having its 100th event, yes 100 (meaning over 1,000 products have showcased). This is an event that will be “out of this world”! Draper’s Sembler office  is sponsoring MIN #100, hosted by the Museum of Science and the Museum of Science Innovators! MIN #100 will have a SPACE TECHNOLOGY theme with many space technology related companies showcasing.

In addition to the showcasing, many special surprises are planned (think Theater of Electricity and so much more). Since it is MIN’s 100th event there will also be a MINi-retrospective of the last 100 events — bringing back some Mass Innovation Nights’ alumni.

Tech Night at the Museum

TUGG is back with Tech Night at the Museum!

Join TUGG, Invaluable and others from Boston’s tech community for the second annual Tech Night at the Museum as we take over The Institute of Contemporary Art.

BOSTech and TUGG’s nonprofits will come together for a fun night of collaboration, open bar, food, and networking!

July 13

How AR and IoT are Making Cities Smarter

Don’t miss the Super Meetup of the summer happening on July 13th at PTC in Needham. At this meetup, we’ll explore how two of the most powerful enabling technologies of our generation, IoT and AR, can be combined to create the most powerful changes of our lifetimes. Hear from smart city experts and startups, on how AR and IoT are making cities smarter. Plus, enjoy interactive demos, networking, food, and drinks (read: summer beer & wine).

July 19

2017 Leadership Awards Summer Reception

Join MassTLC as we celebrate the Leadership Awards nominees and announce the 2017 finalists. Learn more about the Leadership Awards program here.

July 24

2017 MassChallenge Golf Tournament

Join MassChallenge for our 3rd Annual Startup Golf Tournament at world renowned TPC Boston, host of an annual PGA Tour event. The tournament has sold out each year, so reserve your slot while you can.

MassChallenge friends and startups are invited for an afternoon on the links, with all proceeds benefiting the $1M in annual prize money awarded to MassChallenge startups. If you’d like MassChallenge startup alumni in your foursome, let us know.

Dr. Angela Duckworth Brings Grit to Women@NERD

Dr. Angela Duckworth, MacArthur Fellow and New York Times bestselling author of the book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, recently visited NERD to explain why this simple, yet powerful concept is the most significant contributor to high achievement. Hosted by Microsoft’s New England R&D leaders and the Women@NERD, Dr. Duckworth spoke to a room packed with more than 160 Microsoft employees and women in the Kendall Square High Tech Women’s Forum.

Grit is a measure of one’s perseverance through challenging work toward a singular passion. Dr. Duckworth emphasized that “however gritty you are today is not how gritty you may be tomorrow. Grit is something you develop and grow.”

One key to grit is understanding your interests and, ultimately, your purpose. Purpose links one’s efforts to the benefit of others.  It helps to provide that drive to continue despite the obstacles, failures and challenges along the way.

Grit also requires a growth mindset, where intelligence, talent and abilities are gained through an open, learn-it-all approach. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, fully embraces and encourages a mindset and workplace where employees continuously seek to improve. Dr. Duckworth says that she likes to follow Nadella’s  journey and talks “because he seems to enjoy sharing an element of his personal success: that anyone can learn and grow.”

Richard Barnwell, a Microsoft Partner Engineering Manager, said that his main takeaway from the day was, “how grit and growth mindset complement each other and reinforce the empowering message that our ability to be better is something we have significant control over.”

After the talk, Dr. Duckworth met with about 25 women and male allies from the Kendall Sq. High Tech Women’s Forum.  The women discussed how they needed grit to survive and then thrive in an industry where men often comprise 80 percent  or more of the workplace ,and where they are often the only woman on a project team. One female engineer commented, “I loved hearing confirmation and proof that hard work counts twice as much as talent or skill. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am today and pride myself on that ethic, but I often feel like an impostor because I still don’t always feel like I have the ‘talent’ which is what people too often give praise about.” Dr. Duckworth discussed that we love to call people “naturals” because we are attracted to that concept; however, we rarely see the hours of mistakes, failures and learnings it took for that person to get to where they are.  

One of the male attendees said, “I appreciated the fact that she put pictures in the presentation of women whose names I know but whose faces I didn’t recognize: Dr. Curie was perhaps the best example. While I know her work, I couldn’t have picked her out of a lineup. Something which I could do for many male scientists. It was a good reminder of some of my blind spots.”

At the end of the session, every attendee received a signed copy of Grit to continue their path of honing their passion and perseverance, and encouraging their colleagues to do the same.

Microsoft Store and B~STEM Host One-Day Only Events

Girls learn STEM atAccording to BestColleges.com, only 6.7 percent of women are graduating with STEM degrees. With this we have a responsibility today to educate and inspire females of all ages to advance our world by pursuing careers in traditionally male dominated industries.

B~STEM Project and Microsoft Store understand this responsibility. B~STEM Project is an organization focused on helping young girls and women to engage, learn and grow within business and STEM-related disciplines across industries. From June 23 – 30, B~STEM will host We Hack Too, an eight-day virtual hackathon. Select Microsoft Store locations are excited to host kick-off events on Friday, June 23, and set everyone up for a week of fun with a Business Development and Design Incubator.

The events will give high school and college women opportunities to collaborate with professional mentors to design products and develop business strategies, while 8 to 12-year-olds will be invited to attend coding and gaming workshops.

These free events will take place in the following store near you:

Each store event will have its own unique theme spanning STEM-related topics including clean energy, gaming, entertainment and digital media, biotechnology and tech startups. To learn more about the topic of the event at your local Microsoft Store and to register for the event, please visit bstemproject.org.

Not located in a city with an event? Microsoft Store offers a range of free programs, year-round that empower youth by providing direct access to technology and hands-on learning. If you haven’t been to a Microsoft Store program yet, take a look at the video below that captures Microsoft Store YouthSpark camp energy and testimonials from real student and parent participants.

To see a full list of available in-store events and programs at your local Microsoft Store visit, Microsoft.com.

RECAP: New England Machine Learning Day 2017

Seventy researchers, students and professionals recently participated in the New England Machine Learning Hackathon: Hacking Bias in ML. Students traveled predominantly from nearby universities — Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, Boston University, Boston College — but also from as far as the University of Virginia, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford.  

Team leaders defined five areas of bias and discrimination in machine learning to address during the Hackathon.

  • Accent Discrimination led by Jay Liu, Microsoft
  • Pre-Trial Fairness, led Sam Corbett-Davies, Stanford
  • Word Biases led by Max Leiserson and Elena Jakubiak, Microsoft Research
  • Visual Biases in Border Patrol Stops led by Genevieve Patterson, Microsoft Research
  • Equity in Higher Education and the Future of Work, led by Sergio Marrero, Caila

In six hours, the teams formed, defined a user, aligned on a solution, built storyboards, and in some cases, developed websites. There was buzz, laughter, and hard work, which may have benefitted from the nearby espresso bar. The winning team, Pre-Trial Fairness, took home Xbox FIFA bundles. The team built a “Challenge the Bias” website to “decipher the biases in current algorithms that help decide bail, sentences and parole of a defendant.” The judges appreciated the clear explanation of the types of data used and ways to increase fairness across gender and race in analyzing the data. Congratulations Sam Corbett-Davies (Stanford), Yaovi Ayeh (Dell EMC), Danielle Dean (Microsoft), Frances Ding (Harvard), Yunxin Fan (Harvard), Anshuman Pandey (CMU), Aditthya Ramakrishnan (Next Tech Lab), Harini Suresh (MIT), Marina S. (community) and Lorenzo Vitale (BU)!

The Word Bias team created a Hacking Bias in Word Choice website. The Accent Team pitched and is building an open repository for under-represented accents which limits the capabilities of voice recognition everywhere. The Visual Bias team highlighted ways to help border patrol agents decrease unconscious biases against those wearing non-normative, less frequently seen outfits. The Equity in Education team brainstormed ways to advance individuals with less traditional educational degrees and training and connecting to jobs they can do today, tomorrow with a bit of work, and in the future with more serious preparation and study.

One grad student after returning to campus wrote, “Thank you for … such an amazing hackathon on a really interesting topic in ML. It was totally worth coming all the way from Pittsburgh to Boston and attend this hackathon.” (It took him and his colleague 18 hours by bus!)

See our Hacking Bias in Machine Learning recap video (2m)  above with comments from our event mentors and judges. Our team mentors were Dr. Adam Kalai (Microsoft Research); Dr. Lester Mackey (Microsoft Research); and one of the judges, Elaine Harris (Hacking Discrimination MIT Alumni organizer and President, Breakthrough Marketing Technology).  In addition to Elaine Harris, our esteemed judging panel included: Dr. Sasha Constanza-Chock, Associate Professor of Civic Media at MIT; Dr. Stefanie Jegelka, X-Consortium Career Development Assistant Professor at MIT EECS; Jamie MacLennan, Microsoft, Partner Director, Azure Machine Learning; Dr. D. Sculley, Google, Engineering Manager, Machine Learning Team.

The sixth annual New England Machine Learning Day took place on the following day, May 12, 2017.  The event brought together more than 300 local machine learning researchers from over a dozen universities and research institutes. Eight talks were given by notable local academics on a variety of machine learning problems ranging from neural networks to computer vision to social networks.  Thirty-six students presented posters during a lively poster session at lunch.  

The organizing committee comprised:  David Cox (Harvard); Adam Tauman Kalai (Microsoft Research); Ankur Moitra (MIT); and Kate Saenko (Boston University).  The Poster Chairs were Mike Hughes, Harvard University and Genevieve Patterson, Microsoft Research.

One Northeastern graduate student who attended both said, “The hackathon was a great experience for me and I enjoyed every second of it. The New England ML day was also very inspiring. If for any similar event you need a volunteer, please let me know. I’d be more than happy to help and be a part of these great events.”

Stay tuned for next year; planning has begun for our seventh New England Machine Learning Day and second ML Hackathon!

Developers, Designers & Artists — Attend HoloHack Boston 6/21!

Bring holograms to life in your world! Attend HoloHack Boston from June 21 to June 22. Microsoft has partnered with BostonAR to bring you a two-day experience, where you’ll form teams with other experienced AR/VR/MR developers, designers and artists to collaboratively create your next mixed reality experience. Technical resources from the community and engineers from Microsoft and Unity will be on-site along with HoloLens and developer devices.

Attendees should have previous experience developing for AR/VR/MR and/or with Unity. Space and devices are limited. Apply today!

FAQ

Who can attend?
We are looking for developers, designers, sound engineers, directors, story tellers and artists with experience creating on AR/VR/MR platforms.

What skills should I have?
Artists familiar with UX design in VR/AR/MR, 2D and 3D design skills are always an asset. Developers who know any of the following should consider joining: C#, Unity, Universal Windows Platform development.

What if I don’t have a team or an idea?
We highly encourage you to build with a team (max team size of four). Participants are not expected to have a fully formed team or concept prior to the event. We will include time for team forming and networking prior to official hacking start if you need to find a team to join.

Do I need a HoloLens or computer?
No need to bring a HoloLens — in fact if you have one, we recommend leaving it at home to avoid confusion on-site. We will have a HoloLens available for each team. We do, however, recommend if you are going to deploy to the HoloLens that you have a Windows 10 PC. We will have a handful on site, but it helps to have your own setup. We will send out a requirements & setup list ahead of time.

Is there a prize?

One team will be selected to receive a prize. Projects will be reviewed on originality, use of HoloLens features, technical difficulty, use of Microsoft services and APIs and how polished the hack is.

Schedule for Wednesday, June 21
9 a.m. – 10 a.m. — Arrival and breakfast
10 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. — Opening Keynote
10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Group into teams & let the Hacking begin!
12 p.m. –  1 p.m. — Lunch
1 p.m. – 2 p.m. — Workshop 1: Gavin Bauman
2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. — Workshop 2: Adina Shanholtz
3:30 p.m. – Midnight —Hacking Continues!

Schedule for Thursday, June 22
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. — Hacking!
5 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. — Project Presentations & Dinner
6 p.m. — Winners Announced!

Microsoft New England Picks: Not-To-Miss Events, June 2017

We can’t believe it, but it seems summer is finally here in Boston!

Join us through the warm weather at our top picks for events this June:

June 1

Talk Data to Me: Startup Edition

Talk Data to Me is a monthly event series where General Assembly hosts thought-leaders from the Boston data community to discuss the possibilities that data brings to life.

In June we are inviting Boston-based startups that are using data science in new and interesting ways to share what they are working on. From predicting buying patterns and making user recommendations, to optimizing hospital scheduling and space utilization- data is touching every industry.

Hear how these young companies are thinking about data and what they predict the future of data and technology will look like.

June 3

Civic Imagination: Designing and Building a Better Future

Join Boston Civic Media’s third annual conference for a day of inspiring keynotes, presentations and networking with peers and community leaders around igniting civic creativity. Dive into topics including media literacy, youth-led advocacy, DIY activist technologies, and creative storytelling. We’ll also be announcing the first ever inter-campus curriculum addressing climate change.

Code in One Day: HTML & CSS Crash Course

HTML and CSS are the fundamental building blocks of the web. Whether you’re a beginner who wants to get started in web development, a designer looking to hand-code their concepts, or a marketer who wants a little more control over their CMS, you’ll need to know HTML and CSS to get the job done.

This one day workshop is the quickest way to get started building websites. You will dive head first into HTML and CSS, skill up with live coding exercises, and by the end of the day you’ll have a working web page to call your own.

Cambridge Arts River Festival

True to its beginning in 1974, the Cambridge Arts River Festival is an exuberant celebration of the arts in Cambridge! In those early days, a group of artists charged themselves with the development of an annual event that would showcase and celebrate the rich artistic traditions and activity that make Cambridge such a unique and exciting place.

June 6-8

5th Annual Citywide Arts Festival

Take a break and join us for the BPS Citywide Arts Festival! Our 5th anniversary event at features 1100+ students from 30 schools across the district, and is hosted by outstanding performing artists from the Class of 2017. Full schedule coming soon. Presented in collaboration with the Boston Parks Department, the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, ArtsBoston. Come celebrate the arts with us!

June 14

Mass Innovation Nights #99 – African-American & African Tech Founders

Mass Innovation Nights are monthly startup product launch and networking events.

June is an exciting month for Mass Innovation Nights! Our theme for the June event is African & African American Founders of Tech Businesses sponsored by Greater Grove Hall Main Streets. We will have 14 super cool products showcasing.

June 30

City Dance Party

On Friday, June 30, join thousands of Cambridge residents and visitors who will gather on Massachusetts Avenue in front of Cambridge City Hall (795 Massachusetts Ave.) for the City’s annual Dance Party. Mass. Ave., between Prospect and Bigelow streets, will be closed to traffic during the event. The City Dance Party is free and open to the public.

Join Boston Civic Media’s 3rd Annual Conference on June 3

Want to gain insights and approaches for collectively re-imagining public life in Boston?

Join Boston Civic Media’s third annual conference, Civic Imagination: Designing and Building a Better Future, taking place on June 3 from 9 a.m.  to  4 p.m. at District Hall.

Spearheaded by the Engagement Lab at Emerson College, Boston Civic Media is a faculty-led network that aims to advance the transdisciplinary domain of civic media research and pedagogy in the Greater Boston Area. Each year, Boston Civic Media convenes its growing network of faculty, students, activists, journalists, policymakers and nonprofits all invested in “civic media,” or media that creates social change through art, design and technology.

This year’s conference aims to explore the intersection of art, research and activism and is an opportunity to celebrate community-driven public work. From workshops on learning to engage across cultures, borders and divides to DIY biotechnology, expect an exciting lineup of presenters to share strategies, insights and approaches for collectively re-imagining public life in Boston.

The conference includes keynote presentations by Nettrice Gaskins, whose work examines how cultural art and technology made by under-represented groups for creative expression and STEAM learning can ignite our civic imagination, and Mariama White-Hammond, an ecological justice minister who will draw upon her former experiences of social-justice media making with youth to inspire new narratives.

This year, the conference will also tackle the wicked problem of climate adaptation and preparedness throughout the City of Boston with the release of the first ever inter-campus curriculum addressing climate change.

All are welcome to attend! This event is free, but registration is required.

Learn more about Civic Imagination: Designing and Building a Better Future and register here. Can’t attend? Follow along on Twitter using #BostonCivicMedia. 

Microsoft New England Picks: Not-To-Miss Events, May 2017

We’ve gotten through our April showers — now it’s time for May flowers… and events!

Here are our top picks for events in the Boston area this month:

May 3

Design in Boston: Creating a More Connected City

In celebration of ArtWeek, General Assembly and the City of Boston are pairing up to bring together designers and policy makers who are helping to define and redesign what makes for a better urban lifestyle in Boston.

May 4

Catalyst Conversations: Charmed Science

Join us for an evening exploring magic and celebrating the community of innovators, artists and scientists that have come together to make Catalyst Conversations a vibrant demonstration of the possibility of ideas. Enjoy drinks, small bites, music, magic and good conversation! Your ticket purchase and donation will help us bring direct, free public access to cutting-edge innovations in art and science in 2017 and beyond. Hosted by MIT List Visual Arts Center.

May 6

City of Boston Analytics Team: Analyze Boston Open Data Challenge Final Showcase

The Analyze Boston Open Data Challenge will culminate in our Showcase Event on May 6th at District Hall (75 Northern Ave, in the Seaport). This is a free event where attendees will learn more about Analyze Boston and then see what challenge participants came up with. There will also be instructional sessions where attendees can learn more about tools and techniques they can use to do even more with open data.

The event will finish with the announcement of awards for Open Data Challenge winners. There will be three sets of awards given out:

  • Challenge Track Awards: Winners and runners-up will be chosen for each of the challenge tracks above by a panel of expert judges.
  • Special Prizes: Judges will also pick winners for best student project, best project from someone new to data, best project built on open source software, and best project using maps or geospatial analysis.
  • Grand Prizes: An overall Grand Prize winner and runner-up will be chosen by audience vote.

May 10

Explore | Create | Code

Ever curious about your tech? Learn how to program a micro:bit and create a circuit-based game with Microsoft Garage staff. Tour the Garage and check out the 3-D printers, laser cutter, and future realities room.

The micro:bit is a tiny, easy-to-program device that can be used for cool creations ranging from robots to musical instruments to games. It’s been featured on the television show Robot Wars, and it has programmable LED lights, buttons, a compass, accelerometer, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Sisters will use the micro:bit as part of their games, and then Little Sisters will be able to take it home and keep creating!

May 11

New England Machine Learning Hackathon: Hacking Bias in ML

Join us for hacking the biases, discrimination, and fairness in machine learning, algorithms, big data analytics! Our goal is to have each team develop websites to address these issues.

Prizes will be awarded at the end of the day. The winning team will receive a Surface Pro 4 for the team leader and Xbox One S FIFA ’17 bundle for each team member.

May 13

Technovation 2017 Showcase & Pitch

Celebrate all the locally-made apps submitted for the Technovation Challenge!

This year Posterboard judges will be reviewing a team’s materials beforehand, and then submitting final scores at the Showcase after meeting the team and hearing their pitch. The Posterboard scores will determine which teams get to pitch for the Presentation Award, as well as which teams will move on to the semifinal round.

May 16

MedTech Boston 40 Under 40 Awards

Please join us for an evening to celebrate the 2017 MedTech Boston 40 Under 40 Healthcare Innovators, hosted by PULSE@Masschallenge. This year we are teaming up with the PULSECHECK community to bring you the best in Boston Healthcare.

Boston Public Schools’ Transportation Challenge Brings Data to Buses

This year, we are partnering with the BPS Experience Lab, the education segment of New Urban Mechanics. This work has focused on visualizing data on student time on buses – length of trip, frequency of use, and conveying this information to headmasters through a dashboard using Power BI.  Through that work (and some recent Globe articles), we learned that 10% of the BPS budget is spent on Transportation. And as identified by the BPS Long Term Financial Planning Initiative and the 10 Big Ideas to Unlock Resources for Student Success, addressing these transportation costs can free up funds to invest in student success. 

BPS is hosting a challenge to better leverage technology to improve routes and bell times with the ultimate goal of reducing transportation costs. In TCE, we sit at the intersection of government, industry and non-profits and this kind of challenge is a terrific use of the data science capacity of the private sector to enable the public sector to better serve constituents and students.    

We are proud to welcome John Hanlon and Will Eger as guest bloggers to tell us more about this challenge. 

— Aimee Sprung, Civic Engagement Manager at Microsoft New England

Last Saturday, over fifty technologists, academics, and transportation industry leaders braved an early Spring snowstorm (only in Boston…) to join us to kick off the first-ever Boston Public Schools (BPS) Transportation Challenge — a data science competition, open to the public, aimed at improving Boston Public Schools’ bus routes and equitably and efficiently balancing our school start times.  We are excited that this innovative public-private hackathon will help us reach — as BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang put it — “a technical solution to a technical problem, using data science to transform our district” in a way that provides the best outcomes for students and families.  We are hopeful that this solution will come from one of the groups in attendance, including students from Northeastern, MIT, BU and Harvard, or from industry powerhouses like FedEx and Uber, but it could just as likely come from someone reading this blog! So… (shameless plug) if you have a knack for solving these kinds of problems then please roll up your sleeves with us and hack away!

The event helped remind us of a number of things. First, as our panelist Andy Rotherham — co-founder of Bellwether consulting — pointed out, “solving school district transportation problems is incredibly hard.” But as John’s remarks highlighted, it’s incredibly important not just for BPS but for Boston as a whole. Reducing the 45,000 miles our buses drive every day wouldn’t just allow us to reinvest in schools, it would also dramatically reduce our carbon footprint. Rebalancing our school start times could potentially free up funds for investment in the classroom while establishing school schedules that work better for families.

The event also illuminated the evolution of our bus routing system, something that is still a work in progress. Mike Hughes, the Assistant Director of BPS Transportation, reminded us of this when he said during the event’s panel discussion: “When Boston Public Schools began creating bus routes in the 1970s, we unrolled large and detailed maps of the city and used push-pins to mark bus stops and connected them with multi-colored string to form unique routes.” Needless to say, our routing and fleet management has evolved dramatically since then. Today, our 650 buses drive  45,000 miles a day and serve 25,000 riders at 231 public, charter, and Parochial schools.

Technology has played an increasing role in planning these routes. Push-pins and strings have been replaced by routing software and digital maps. However, our software still can’t solve this puzzle without placing a significant burden on our excellent drivers, who often have to operate on  inefficient routes, or on our talented transportation staff, who need to troubleshoot and fine-tune the computer-generated routes each summer.

And why is that such an issue? As research into the Traveling Salesman Problem has found, as the number of stops increases the permutations of possible routes grows on factorially (n! – that is, possible permutations increase faster than exponential growth). Therefore calculating the optimal solution by brute force becomes impractical after about 20 stops. And we have 5,000 unique stops, at which our buses stop about 20,000 times per day (the same stops often serve multiple buses).

Things get even more complicated when you factor in the many “rules of the road” that we have to consider when routing. These rules establishing ride-time maximums, bus-stop placement rules, and so on, quickly make this problem nearly impossible to solve.

But there’s hope! With the tremendous advances in digital mapping, the rebirth of the Traveling Salesman problem in academic circles, and the sheer growth in computing power, we believe that now is the time to try to solve this historically unsolvable problem. We think that there just might be someone out there who can develop an algorithm that creates a more optimal solution to both routes and school start times.

As we think about our wish list, we know that this algorithm must be adaptable. We want to better understand the true costs of our various policy choices regarding walk to stop distances, ride times, and student assignment. Given the interconnectedness of our system, we’ve learned that seemingly small changes can snowball into large cost changes. What we want in the end is a tool that not only reliably automates efficient bus routes but also acts as a calculator of sorts, quickly and agilely determining the system-wide impact or cost of various policy scenarios.

Lastly, this is a technical challenge – but one with a very real human component. For 25,000 students, their school day begins when they step on the bus. Therefore this challenge isn’t just about improving efficiency. It is also about ensuring that our students reach schools safely and on time. It is about ensuring that schools start and end at times that work for more families. It is about reinvesting in our schools.

We hope to see your entry in the our routing challenge – make sure you don’t miss the 4/30 deadline and visit our website to learn more!

John Hanlon has served as the Chief of Operations for Boston Public Schools since July of 2015. Prior to becoming COO, John worked for the City of Boston as the Commissioner of Property and Construction Management where he oversaw the management, maintenance, and operations of City Hall and other municipal facilities across Boston. He previously served as Chief Operating Officer for Scholar Athletes, a nonprofit that supports public high school athletes and was the longtime Executive Director at the Dorchester Educational Enrichment Program, a nonprofit that offers mentoring services for middle-school youths. John is a proud Boston Latin School graduate and Dorchester resident, where he lives with his wife and four children. He holds an MBA from Duke University and a BA in journalism from Boston University.

Will Eger is a Strategic Project Manager in Finance for Boston Public Schools, where he works on developing and implementing the district’s Long Term Financial Plan. Prior to this he was in Parthenon’s education practice and was a high school math teacher in Philadelphia. He has written on education for The Atlantic, Ed Week, the Huffington Post, and Higher Education in Review as well as a full length book on the Tea Party. He has an A.B. from Harvard College and a M.S.Ed from the University of Pennsylvania.