Fellow Profile: Emma Smith

| MSNY Staff

Emma Akari SmithWhere are you from? I’m from New York City, born and raised!

Where do you study? When will you graduate? I go to the University of Chicago, class of 2017, majoring in CS with a minor in molecular engineering.

Wow, that sounds rather demanding! Were you always interested in tech? Actually, I started as a political science major but at some point I just realized that I could be more directly involved in improving the world as a programmer than as a political actor. Experiences like my work here at Microsoft and last year at MODA (Mayor’s Office of Data Anlaytics) have certainly strengthened that belief!

And how did you end up at MODA? My interest in politics drove me to work with the DeBlasio mayoral campaign working on graphics. After that, I was able to get a summer job working with MODA where I got to do a lot of really cool work with city data.

How did you get involved with Civic Tech team? I’ve been skipping around the Civic Tech scene in various ways out in Chicago and here in NYC in the past couple years. The thing is, I didn’t really know I was involved in this thing called Civic Tech! I knew that I was interested in the intersection between policy and technology, but I didn’t know that intersection existed in a defined way. Then I met John who crystallized things for me. He really helped define the value and role of civic tech for me and once that seed had been planted I just had to get more involved!

What is your favorite thing Microsoft is doing? I know this isn’t the most popular answer but I’m a huge fan of BizSpark. I think it’s really important to support early stage startups and it’s great to see Microsoft stepping up and giving these organizations the resources they need to grow and succeed. It’s really great to encourage that kind of collaboration within the industry.

And what are you working on at Microsoft now? I was initially involved with Civic Graph, our tool for connecting everyone working in the Civic Tech ecosystem, but now I’m more focused on expanding Microsoft’s involvement with the Maker movement. This is really important to me because I feel that the more you empower people to build things, the more innovative problem solving we’ll see spring from our communities. It’s hard to overstate the importance of inspired invention. I’m really excited to see what people will build with the resources we’re looking to give them.

What has been your funniest memory on the team so far? Perhaps this isn’t the most serious answer but there was a really funny moment that happened during LMHQ’s opening week. A news crew came in asking to film us so Hessvacio started pretending to write stuff on the wall. He just started writing random things that didn’t make sense but looked vaguely technical. Anyways, the next day we were appearing on a local news cast somewhere in Arizona. I guess their technical literacy was a little lacking!

What are some civic tech ideas you would like to see developed? I would love to see someone use technology to help allocate resources in education. Specifically pre-k – 12th grade. I think there are myriad opportunities to look at improving resources available for parents to evaluate schools and for schools to improve the learning experience for students and educators through technology. The relationship between technology and education is one of the more interesting opportunities today in tech as far as I’m concerned.

Any dreams for what you want to do 10 years down the line? Honestly, it’d be impossible for me to say. Two years ago I was a political junkie with no interest in becoming a programmer. Now I’m a programmer and a Maker. Who knows what I’ll be doing in another 2 years! I’m just focusing on my job and graduating!

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