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Fellow Profile: Emily Sim

Where are you from? Southern California and Seoul, South Korea

School/grad year/major: Tufts University, 2019, Computer Science

Last thing you searched on Bing: How to make hummus from scratch

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program? Coming from a technical background, I was fascinated by the Technology & Civic Engagement team’s work at a pivotal juncture of two industries. I wanted to explore how technology is being used for public good.

What’s your favorite civic project in the Greater Boston area? nesterly, which is a startup that matches elderly homeowners with younger subletters to provide affordable housing, companionship, and housekeeping.

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New England? I have helped launch the Starthub Boston’s Civic Innovation page by compiling resources, events, startups, investors, and initiatives. Currently, I am creating a dashboard for District Hall’s usage data. Soon, I will be working on integrating the District Hall form input with a database system, revamping the Venture Cafe Foundation website, and doing user research for a project with the MBTA.

What excites you about civic tech? It’s a relatively new field, yet the amount of community engagement the projects have generated is incredible. There is so much potential to drive more folks into taking action to help their towns and neighbors.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities? I hope that more affordable housing is made available in Boston, especially in the more gentrified areas, with partnership between the city, corporations, and caring citizens.

Danielle Dean Honored by UMass with Distinguished Young Alumni Award

Here at NERD we have even more reason to celebrate beyond our 10-year anniversary #NERD10. Part of what we get to celebrate day in and day out is our amazing team. One example is Danielle Dean, a senior data scientist lead in the Algorithms and Data Science Group within the Cloud and Enterprise Division, and the most recent recipient of the Distinguished Young Alumni Award by UMass Amherst.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor bestowed by the UMass Amherst Alumni Association on alumni, faculty and friends. Recipients of this prestigious award have translated their UMass Amherst experience into distinguished achievement in the public, business or professional realms and bring honor to UMass Amherst and to their field of endeavor.

Danielle Dean received the award for her contributions in Data Science and her leadership of an international team of data scientists and engineers working on machine learning solutions. In honoring Dean, the UMass Alumni Association cites many of her accomplishments in the data science field, including her role as lead author of three major publications; co-author of the data science modeling book, Data Science with Microsoft SQL Server 2016; and a speaker at more than 20 conferences in the last three years, including keynotes at SQLbits and SQL Nexus, and a featured talk at Strata & Hadoop World Conference in Singapore in December of 2015.

During her time at UMass Amherst, Dean earned two bachelor’s degrees: the first in psychology with a minor in mathematics and statistics, and the second in organizational behavior through statistical analysis. Dean was a student researcher in Professor Linda Isbell’s Psychology lab. Dean’s data analysis work within the lab inspired her eventual study of Quantitative Psychology and Biostatistics.

I am incredibly honored to win the award and feel very fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive community from my undergraduate and graduate schools as well as at Microsoft, which gave me many opportunities to learn and grow along my journey” says Dean.

“I feel fortunate to have had several amazing women mentors in my life who made me believe I could accomplish anything I set myself out to do,” Dean tells us, “from high school mathematics teachers to my undergraduate research professor Linda Isbell to my mother who studied computer science and moved into the big data field. As I have moved throughout my life, I have realized that others are not as fortunate to have so many role models and mentors directly accessible to them, and I want to do my part to fill that role for young women to whom it would benefit.”

Dean has leveraged this experience toward helping other young women through mentorship. She is an active advisor with Girls Who Code, a board member of Microsoft’s Women@NERD (New England Research & Development) resource group, and a career advice contributor through Microsoft’s Professional Data Science Degree Program.   

“My advice to young women who are interested in a career in data science would be to become curious about the world around you – how things work, how things are tracked,” says Dean. “Learn to work with many different types of people who have different interests and passions and come from different backgrounds than you, as they will give you unique perspectives and help you find who you want to become as a person. Never strive to be exactly like someone else but rather find what drives you and seek opportunities to push yourself.”

This isn’t the first time Dean has been recognized for her accomplishments. Previously, she’s received the UMass Amherst 21st Century Leaders Award, Senior Leadership Award, the LeBovidge Research Fellowship, and Psi Chi Regional Research Award.

 Congratulations Danielle and thank you for your contributions in data science and to women and others in this field!

#NERD10: Research Lab’s Interdisciplinary Approach Benefits from Region’s Intellectual Horsepower

2017 marks 10 years that Microsoft has hosted one of its Global Development Centers in Cambridge. The Microsoft New England Research & Development Center, fondly referred to as NERD, is celebrating its anniversary with stories and events year-round. Please join us in the celebration on the ground and online using #NERD10.

Jennifer Chayes, NERD Co-Founder

I’ve been here for most of the #NERD10 journey. Nine years ago, Christian Borgs and I co-founded Microsoft Research New England with the goal of establishing the lab as a leader in interdisciplinary research. To accomplish that goal, we’ve brought together computer scientists with researchers from the social sciences and facets of the biomedical sciences. Our work has included projects in areas such as economics, social media and health care, as well as more theoretical projects in areas such as cryptography, theoretical machine learning, mathematics and statistics.

When we established our lab, I knew Cambridge was one of the places in the world where this unique approach to interdisciplinary research could be most successful. The reason: Our lab’s proximity to so many world-class universities and access to such a large community of scientists.

But our ability to form tight bonds with the region’s academic and research institutions has exceeded even my initial, most optimistic expectations.

Through 2016, we’ve had more than 2,500 visitors to our lab here, including interns, and consulting and visiting researchers, with nearly 20 percent of these visitors coming from area colleges and universities.

From the very beginning, we wanted to establish economics as a key discipline within the lab, given that two of the top five schools for economics (Harvard and MIT) are in our backyard, along with the National Bureau of Economic Research. Since then, our economists have contributed to many strategic projects for Microsoft and the industry. A new project that I’m especially excited about is ALICE, a research project focused on incorporating artificial intelligence into economic decision making. This is a quintessential example of interdisciplinary research, as we’re bringing together economists and computer scientists specializing in artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve economic research while pushing the frontiers of AI development.

Christian Borgs, NERD Co-Founder

Another area where we’ve invested is our study of social media. We established the Social Media Collective in 2010 and it’s now expanded to our New York City lab as well. Locally, the team has expanded and now comprises such brilliant researchers as Mary Gray, Nancy Baym and Tarleton Gillespie, each of whom is doing fascinating work on how social media is affecting ethics, public discourse and the future of work. One reason for the team’s success: Our proximity to the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard.  The Social Media Collective started here with amazing work by danah boyd, who has gone on to found and be the executive director of the Data&Society Research Institute in New York City.

Still another area of pursuit has been biomedical sciences. One example is the amazing work by Jennifer Listgarten and Nicolo Fusi at the intersection of machine learning, computational biology and medicine. One high-profile project by these amazing researchers is the direct result of Jennifer and Nicolo becoming excited about working on the powerful gene editing tool CRISPR after attending a lecture given by John Doench, associate director of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard. Jennifer, Nicolo, John and collaborators developed a system called Azimuth that uses machine learning to predict which part of a gene to target when a scientist wants to knock out, or shut off, a gene. The research team, which includes collaborators from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Washington University School of Medicine, published their findings earlier this year in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Machine learning is one of the hottest areas within the computing industry these days, and a focus within our lab as evidenced by our upcoming sixth annual New England Machine Learning Day that’s taking place on May 12 at NERD. The event brings together researchers and local academics, such as Tina Eliassi-Rad from Northeastern University, Roni Khardon from Tufts University and David Sontag from MIT, among others. This program is being chaired by Adam Kalai, whose work on biases in computer algorithms with colleagues at Boston University received popular press coverage within the past year from NPR, MIT Tech Review and other outlets. The day before our Machine Learning Day we’ll be holding the New England Machine Learning Hackathon: Hacking Bias in ML in partnership with colleagues from Harvard, MIT, Boston University and UMass Amherst.

More than 30 years ago, I did my post-doctoral work in mathematics and physics at Harvard, and came to appreciate just how intellectually exhilarating the Cambridge area can be. The work within our lab in recent years has only heightened my appreciation for the intellectual horsepower that exists here. It also has confirmed my belief that establishing a lab here focused on interdisciplinary basic research would benefit Microsoft, our industry and society more broadly. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible and I’m looking forward to the many great collaborations that will form in the decade ahead.

Jennifer Tour Chayes is Distinguished Scientist and Managing Director of Microsoft Research New England in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which she co-founded in 2008, and Microsoft Research New York City, which she co-founded in 2012. These two laboratories are widely renowned interdisciplinary centers, bringing together computer scientists, mathematicians, physicists, social scientists, and biologists, and helping to lay the foundations of data science.

#NERD10: Microsoft R&D Celebrating 10 years in Kendall Square

2017 marks ten years that Microsoft has hosted one of its Global Development Centers in Cambridge. The Microsoft New England Research & Development Center, fondly referred to as NERD, is celebrating its anniversary with stories and events year-round. Please join us in the celebration on the ground and online using #NERD10. Below, T.K. “Ranga” Rengarajan, CVP – Engineering, kicks off #NERD10 with a look inside our Global Development Centers.

This year, we celebrate Microsoft’s New England Research & Development Center’s (NERD) 10-year anniversary—and what a 10 years it’s been!

NERD is home to one of Microsoft’s vibrant Global Development Centers, or GDCs, that are integral to the success of Microsoft. The company has six GDCs across the globe: Silicon Valley, India, China, Israel, Vancouver, and Cambridge, MA (NERD).

I liken GDCs to the roots of the banyan tree: these aerial roots elevate and strengthen the primary trunk and, over time, can become very strong supporting trunks themselves. Similarly, each of Microsoft’s GDCs cultivates an environment that yields innovation in engineering (AI, robotics, Azure and Hololens); health; education; gaming and augmented reality. Having research and development arms in various cities and countries is critical to having a diverse, global engineering workforce: they provide the company with access to top talent, different and exciting ecosystems, and dynamic markets.

I am honored to say I started my career in New England. My first post-grad job was at Digital Equipment Corp. in Nashua, New Hampshire. There, I was able to witness technology booming out of the Boston metro area during the minicomputer era, with great engineers creating industry-leading technologies, both in hardware and software. I have a profound respect for the workforce in the area–and that respect only continues to grow.

There are many reasons why we chose Cambridge as one of our strategic locations. The New England area exemplifies the interconnection and influences between academia, industry and technology. Cambridge, Boston and the Northeast are known for its universities, professors and research programs. For this reason, Microsoft NERD was built next to MIT and minutes away from several, other renowned institutions. Given this highly educated and skilled talent, Boston has a long tradition of starting and building great technology companies focused on software engineering, application engineering, medicine, health, finance… the list is long! In particular, Kendall Square (where NERD is located) has become a major hotbed for tech, biotech, and start-ups and has been called the most innovative square mile in the U.S! Having NERD in the middle of this ecosystem is important — not just to Microsoft, but to the community as a whole. Microsoft is proud to stand with our neighbors in such a robust community.

If you aren’t familiar with the work being done here, I encourage you to explore this site and to review the job openings we have here. Great technologies and research have emerged from NERD in its first 10 years, and we look forward to even greater contributions to Microsoft and to the community in the next 10 years.

To find out more about Ranga and Microsoft’s global development strategy, follow Ranga on Twitter @trengarajan.

T.K. “Ranga” Rengarajan, a Corporate Vice President within Artificial Intelligence and Research (AIR) in Microsoft is responsible for global aspects of engineering. Among his responsibilities are all Microsoft Global Development Centers located in China, India, Israel, New England, Silicon Valley and Vancouver, the Garage program to drive grass root innovation and advanced technology projects in the areas of system and performance. Ranga and his teams are responsible to ensure Microsoft attracts, trains and retains the best talent in the world. Previously, Ranga led engineering for Microsoft’s Database and Big Data businesses driving significant cultural transformation in the Data Platform team, notably in focusing on execution, faster innovation and delighting customers. His leadership was instrumental in growing the service culture in SQL DB and launching and growing the full complement of Azure data services – Data Lake, DocumentDB, Search, SQL DW, HDInsight on Linux. 

Before Microsoft, Ranga held senior leadership positions at SAP, Wily, Sybase, Digital Equipment Corporation and at several Silicon Valley startups. At SAP, he was responsible for the Business Analytics and Hana applications. Before that, he ran Wily’s application management solutions. He also has held executive positions in engineering, operations, and support at Silicon Valley startups focused on customer experience management, wireless, security, and internet messaging services. Earlier in his career, Ranga ran database server development for Sybase, Inc. At Digital Equipment Corporation, Ranga was among the youngest individuals elected as a Distinguished Engineer and set the world record in transaction processing with Oracle Rdb product in the TPC-A benchmark, resulting in papers and patents.

Ranga holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin. He lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and two daughters.

Working Forward: Shannon Felton Spence, Brown University Master of Public Affairs Candidate

I always knew I wanted to grow up to be a part of the bigger picture. It is a privilege to be part of a community, and the power of the human connection is what makes a society strong. I never wanted to have just a job. Rather, I want to lead a career of consequence.

Through my post-college years, I weaved my way through various mission-driven positions in Boston. Then, in 2013, I joined the public affairs department at the British Consulate General, Boston. As a lifelong anglophile and challenge-taker, I was excited to represent the British government in the town that’s famous for kicking it out. Truly a dream job! My role was to promote British culture and policy throughout New England. I spent much of my time talking to and learning from local organizations – both in the private sector and NGOs – as well as government.

The fabric of diplomacy is built on connecting with others and finding opportunity through partnerships. There is an understanding that no one has the resources to go it alone. Initiatives are stronger when the responsibility is shared. Collaboration also leads to greater innovation and creative solutions.

In the UK, private sector involvement in the greater good dates back over 100 years. In 2017, it is understood that participation in society is linked with an organization’s standard operations. The US has also come a long way in recognizing the opportunity that exists for the private sector to play a key role in community advancement. Tackling the challenges of the 21st century requires coordination across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.  

I left my job at the British Consulate to study for my Master’s degree in Public Affairs. I chose Brown University for its historic commitment to social justice through creative solutions. Through my courses, I’ve learned about smart policy design and data-driven decision making. When it came time to complete my consultancy, I could think of no better place than Microsoft. I wanted to explore the private sector lens on community engagement and responsibility.

With its mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, Microsoft has demonstrated a real commitment to being part of civic solutions. Boston and Cambridge are hyperlocal cities with high levels of participation. There are so many people and organizations working toward a greater good. The Microsoft Technology and Civic Engagement (TCE) team has expertly navigated this ecosystem to form meaningful partnerships and drive impact. I am fascinated by the way their work around innovation equity is enhanced by their commitment to collaboration within and across sectors. It is truly diplomacy in action.

Profile: Shannon Felton Spence

Shannon Felton SpenceName: Shannon Felton Spence

Where are you from? I grew up in Denver, Colorado but have made Boston my home since college.

Current education: I am in the last semester of my Master of Public Affairs from Brown University. I did my undergraduate in Political Communication from Emerson College.

What is your experience in the civic sector? I spent three years as the Head of Politics & Communication at the British Consulate General of New England. In that role, I worked a lot with SMART Cities and sharing best practices between the UK and the six New England states.

Last thing you searched on Bing: slow cooker recipes  (…my favorite way to survive the New England winters!)

Why did you choose Microsoft? It was a very easy choice! I am interested in how large corporations partner in the community to make a difference. Microsoft – and specifically the Civic & Tech Engagement team — is doing that in so many amazing ways. I am excited to be a part of that and to work with such a well respected organization.

What projects are you working on with Microsoft’s Technology and Civic Engagement team? I am working on a storytelling project: identifying the cool things Microsoft has accomplished in the community and communicating that to a larger audience.

What excites you about civic tech? Everything! I love how the use of tech can benefit an entire community.

Fellow Profile: Aaron Myran

aaronmyran_1455034528_97Name: Aaron Myran

Where are you from? I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

School/grade/major: I did my undergrad at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada where I studied biology.  I’m going into my second year of grad school at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Last thing you searched on Bing: Warriors – Cavs NBA finals predictions.

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program? I’m passionate about making an impact at organizations through building software and improving access to data.  Before grad school, I worked as the Deputy CTO at a political action organization and got a good taste of developing technology tools for my organization.  I wanted to explore how a global tech leader provides software as a service to make their users more innovative.  Microsoft is really leading in this space at the city and national level.

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New England? I’m working with a couple of civic organizations in the Boston area to develop performance data tools and data visualizations/dashboards using some of Microsoft’s technology stack like Power Bi.  I’m putting together some video tutorials on the process to make the development process open and replicable.

What excites you about civic tech? I’m not always sure that the next hip ‘app’ is really making anyone’s lives any better.  I like that there’s a pretty concrete theory of change behind civic technology:  The government provides a bunch of important services (education, transit, voting).  Civic tech makes these services more innovate or efficient using technology and validates their efficacy.

Staff Spotlight: Kristin Kube

Kristin

Name: Kristin Kube

Hometown: Columbia, Maryland

Job: Business Administrator for the Intune DeX Engineering and PM Teams in Cambridge, MA

Years at Microsoft: 3 years, 7 months

Favorite Local Restaurant: I love Commonwealth in Cambridge!

Last thing you searched on Bing: The singer Ellie Goulding; she was recently in a car accident in Norway and I was reading about it. I was also looking at images of her. I think she is so gorgeous and such a talented artist!

Something cool you’ve worked on recently: My favorite part of my job is event planning! I am currently working on a morale event for my leadership team which will be a bartending/mixology class they take together at Drinkmaster Bartending School in downtown Boston. I get to attend as well; I am super excited!

What inspires you about technology? I love how technology can help people with disabilities. I was particularly inspired by the story of Steve Gleason, a former NFL player who has ALS and who uses eye-tracking technology, which runs on Windows on his Surface, to communicate. This has greatly improved his quality of life. It is amazing and inspiring!

What problem would you like to see solved with technology? I would like to see technology continue to help improve the human experience, whether it be improving the quality of life for people with disabilities, developing new ways for people to express themselves creatively, making our daily lives and tasks easier or exploring the universe. Technology is capable of so much and I can’t wait to see what it accomplishes next!

Jennifer Chayes Receives Honorary Doctorate from Leiden University

jennifer-chayes

Earlier this week, Jennifer Chayes, managing director and distinguished scientist of Microsoft’s New England and New York research labs, was honored by Leiden University with an Honorary Doctorate. It’s very rare that Leiden University bestows an Honorary Doctorate to an individual who isn’t a professor, but this news comes as no surprise to us, as Jennifer has excelled in her 20 years at Microsoft. As a leading researcher in the fields of statistical physics, stochastics and discrete mathematics, she has made major contributions to Microsoft — and to other female researchers inspired by her work and leadership. All of us here at Microsoft New England congratulate Jennifer on this honor.

Read more about Jennifer’s honor — and her achievements — on the Leiden University website.

Fellow Profile: Kevin Yang

kevin-yang_MSNEWhere are you from? Orange County, California

School/grade/major: Harvard, Junior, Computer Science and Statistics

Last thing you searched on Bing: Best Sushi in NYC

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program? Previously, I led a nonprofit called the Digital Literacy Project, which brings undergraduates into middle schools to teach an introduction to computer science. From these experiences, I naturally became interested in understanding how to magnify my impact on communities and how communities function. As a leader in the Civic Tech space, Microsoft seemed like a great way to continue exploring my passions.

What’s the most exciting tech venture the City of Boston is working on? Naming the most exciting tech venture in Boston is particularly difficult. Boston has an unparalleled ecosystem of innovation with startup accelerators like Mass Challenge, spaces for entrepreneurship like the Cambridge Innovation Center, and partnerships between companies and policy makers like the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. These organizations help innovative tech ventures thrive in Boston and make me particularly excited to work on civic tech in Boston.

Who is your civic tech mentor? I find Hadi Partovi’s mission to demonstrate the transformative power of technology through Code.org particularly inspiring. Over the past two years since its inception, Code.org has engaged over one hundred million people to learn how to code.

What excites you about civic tech? Within the civic tech space, there are plenty of opportunities to make meaningful and lasting improvements to the lives of community members. As shown by the uptake of applications like Microsoft Pulse and OpenGov, local governments enhanced with technology can be transparent and responsive.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities? Through new civic tech services where governments can connect with citizens, I hope communities will become more involved with their local governments.