November 2015

You Can Make It Here

Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to take part in the selection committee for New York’s Next Top Makers (NYNTM), gaining a deep understanding of a number of innovative businesses vying to play crucial roles in our community’s next generation of economic development. Now entering its third year, NYNTM is an incubation program of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) that aims to connect innovative new maker movement businesses with local production, in order to build growing companies that provide 21st century jobs and skills, while supporting next-generation manufacturing infrastructure.

The maker movement itself represents the convergence of the digital and the physical – from 3D printing to robots and wearable technology. As many have noted, this deeper appreciation for the physical aspects of technology holds the promise to turn more people into makers of things, not just consumers of things. In addition, it holds importance for re-shoring of manufacturing jobs to the United States and offers great promise in terms of how young children learn new skills.

One of the fantastic attributes of NYNTM is that a wide range of startups will be invited to participate in the program’s events in the coming months, but as 2015-16 NYNTM Fellows, these six particular standouts will receive in-depth mentoring and access to key Microsoft resources:

Next Top Makers All Together

  • StrongArm Technologies is deploying exoskeletal wearable devices to prevent serious injuries to factory workers and other blue-collar laborers. As StrongArm describes itself, it produces “the first on-body answer to musculoskeletal injuries related to lifting that accumulate $60Billion in workman’s comp claims in the U.S. each year.”
  • Thimble delivers maker starter kits to a customer’s door on a monthly basis. Many people across the country are intrigued by the maker movement, but those same people are often intimidated by it or simply don’t know where to start. Thimble removes those barriers to entry, by providing customers with both ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes to create connected hardware. For example, customers can use one particular Thimble kit to build a basic wifi-connected robot.
  • blink blink is designing creative circuit kits specifically to appeal to girls, in order to address the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Born out of Parsons School of Design and having gained popularity through grassroots marketing at New York Tech Meetup and elsewhere, blink blink kits are made with empathy for 8-18 year old girls, providing a fun and welcoming path toward an inclusive maker movement.
  • Dog Parker is a technology-driven solution for the problem many dog owners face when visiting a store or restaurant that doesn’t allow pets inside. Dog Parkers are subscription-based single-occupancy doghouses on the sidewalks in front of popular stores that are “[Radio-frequency identification (RFID)] lock-enabled, temperature controlled, and webcam-monitored,” allowing pets to wait safely while enabling their owners to fuel the local businesses that are so important to New York neighborhoods.
  • FlexTraPower is developing a turnkey smart clothes solution. Initially focusing on temperature-sensing clothing – and the mobile applications that will make understanding the data a delightful, seamless experience – in partnership with major brands, FlexTraPower envisions its embedded flexible graphene temperature patches assisting couples in understanding their fertility cycles better and helping parents monitor sick toddlers from afar.
  • Beyond Sight is developing haptic feedback-assisted devices that can help users – from drivers to the visually-impaired – with simple wayfinding cues that allow them to keep the rest of their senses focused on the task at hand. According to Beyond Sight, for all the good they do, mobile phone usage has now surpassed drunk driving as the primary cause of car crashes. In response, Beyond sight has used haptic motors to “tap” the left side of a driver’s arm to indicate that she should turn left and envisions this as the tip of the iceberg in terms of product applications.

As you can see, the 2015-16 NYNTM Fellows represent the full spectrum of the maker movement – wearables from early stage to later stage, educational maker kits, assisted wayfinding, and more.

At Microsoft, we are always on the lookout for how people are using new technologies to empower themselves and their communities. Clearly, the maker movement will play a central role in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the 21st century. With innovative people, next-generation manufacturing infrastructure, supportive public policy, and key programs like NYNTM, New York City is poised to remain the beating heart of this growing, diverse, and impactful movement.

Let’s make it so.

Celebrating The Hour of Code with Minecraft

image002 (1)

The Hour of Code is here!

To kick off another Computer Science Education Week (December 7 — 11), we’re excited to join for the Hour of Code. The quick and easy program teaches anyone to code with an hour of fun that shows the amazing things you can create with code. And this year, we’re even more excited to announce that the Hour of Code tutorial uses Minecraft to teach code to all!

Anybody can learn to code, and this year, you can join 1,922,485 others in an educational opportunity that takes an hour, but lasts a lifetime. Imagine all the possibilities you can build with code.

Read the full announcement at the Microsoft News Center.

Looking for more coding opportunities? Find more coding tools and resources for students, parents, and educators at

Recap: Machine Eatable with Mimi Onuoha

Lunch, listen, and learn with us! Our new monthly lunch series, Machine Eatable, kicked off last October and we’re already having a blast. Held at Civic Hall with our partner DataKind, we’re excited to host local leaders in data every month for an hour-long discussion on how we can utilize data to our best abilities.

Last Friday, our November Machine Eatable spotlighted Data Society fellow Mimi Onuoha in a discussion on data collection and the relationship between data and reality. While we’re saving the best of the conversation for those who lunch with us, we’ve gathered a recap of the event in tweets below.

Check out what you’ve been missing out on in our recap and be sure to join us for our next Machine Eatable on December 11!

Honoring Veterans Every Day

Every November, we pause for a day to honor our veterans who have served overseas and returned home to us. After a day filled with parades, ceremonies, and banquets, it can be hard to remember that our veterans need support year-round. From returning to the civilian workforce to receiving proper healthcare to simply finding a home, we can work around the clock to give back to our veterans who have served so bravely for our freedoms.

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to community, we take the time to serve our veterans the way they served for us. After months to years of service, these veterans must take on the jarring task of returning immediately to civilian life — and that’s where we can help.

This year, we were proud to sponsor Team Red White & Blue in their second annual Old Glory Relay, a two-month, 3,540-mile journey across the continental U.S to shine a light on our nation’s veterans:

And every year, we help open doors for our service members by providing training and career opportunities in the tech industry. After all, a veteran’s spirit lies within innovation and entrepreneurship. This year, we’re excited to announce an expansion to our Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) from three regions to nine, bringing our coverage to a total of 12 bases nationwide. Read more here.

MSSA-Infographic_Web_102815 (1)

And our work has just begun. This Veterans Day, we encourage you to honor our service members and challenge you to keep them in mind year-round.

Responsible User of Open Data: Government and the Private Sector (November 19 & 20)

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 1.19.30 PM

New York University’s Information Law Institute and Department of Media, Culture and Communication and the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, are holding a conference on Responsible User of Open Data: Government and the Private Sector at NYU on November 19-20, 2015.

This conference will build on Berkeley’s April 2015 Open Data: Addressing Privacy, Security, and Civil Rights Challenges symposium and will feature Dr. Amen Ra Mashariki, City of New York’s Chief Analytics Officer in charge of the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics.

The conference will also addresses two related issues. The first is a set of normative challenges associated with the open data movement, including e.g. privacy and other civil liberties, equitable access to data, and what counts as public interest. The second addresses obligations of private/commercial holders of data to make their holdings available for public and research purposes. Panels will include leading thinkers and actors representing a range of perspectives and positions.

Attendance is free of charge but because space is limited registration is required.

To view the full agenda, click here.

To register for this event, click here.

Women Startup Challenge Takes on New York

logo1Women are leading more startups than ever before in history — but women-led startups only receive 7% of investor money. Women Who Tech wants to change that. The Women Startup Challenge, launched this June at a national event in D.C., is a competition for women-led startups to present their innovative ideas and connect directly with investors.

This evening, the Women Startup Challenge is celebrating their first regional event at Microsoft’s Times Square office, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to host a night that celebrates diversity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

We had the chance to speak to Allyson Kapin, Founder at Women Who Tech, ahead of tonight’s sold out event:

Tell us about the Women Startup Challenge’s Beginnings.
The Women Startup Challenge in partnership with Craig Newmark of craigslist and craigconnects showcases and funds innovative women-led startups that are solving problems for people, businesses, and the planet. Currently, only seven percent of investor money goes to women. If we truly want to innovate and create the best products for people in this world, we need to radically change how we invest. And that is what we are hoping to ignite through the Women Startup Challenge.

What brings the WSC to New York?
We received an overwhelming amount of support and positive feedback from the first national Women Startup Challenge in June at General Assembly and 1776 in Washington, DC. Following the national challenge, Craig and I discussed different ways to scale it. We also talked with the community to get their feedback. There was a lot of support for a regional Women Startup Challenge so we launched our first one in NYC.

You chose your 10 New York finalists from almost 200 submissions. What is the narrowing down process like? How tough is it to pick only 10?
It was a very competitive process. It was challenging to select ten startups when there were so many game-changing ventures who entered the Women Startup Challenge and who had great traction. I wish we could have included a lot more in the Women Startup Challenge Pitch Competition at Microsoft. However, we will be hosting a national Women Startup Challenge in the spring of 2016 where we will showcase and fund more women-led startups.

What are some of the most innovative projects you’ve seen in past challenges?
On Second Thought, cofounded by Maci Peterson, and was the grand prize winner of the national Women Startup Challenge, is a messaging app that lets you take back text messages before they are received on another person’s phone.

Kicker, cofounded by Holly Epstein, a former NYT Editor, is a news site aimed at millennials and gets them up to speed, really easily and quickly, on what’s happening in the world and helps them discover ways to take action.

What does diversity mean to you? To startup culture?
Diversity (whether it be gender, ethnicity, age, etc.) is incredibly important to the startup world because it leads to better products and innovation. Diversity means products are developed through a different lens and perspective that solves problems we haven’t seen other products solve yet. However, these products will never get to market until more diverse-led startups are funded.

How do you see startup culture in New York growing in the next five years?
New York has an incredibly passionate and supportive startup community, particularly for women entrepreneurs. Over the next five years, we’ll see more and more startups launch and thrive as more incubators, accelerators, and niche funds launch and expand their presence in the region. New York will also see a surge in women investors.

Congratulations to the Microsoft New York Community Organization Grant Recipients

On October 26, in celebration of Microsoft’s first flagship Microsoft Store opening in New York City, we were excited to make another huge announcement. In keeping with our mission to support our local community, Microsoft is providing over $3 million in software grants to community organizations in all five boroughs. With these grants, we’re aiming to help these organizations make their local communities better, brighter, and bolder through the use of technology.

The full list of grant recipients:

All Star Code
We Connect the Dots
Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship
National September 11 Memorial Museum

New York Botanical Garden
Per Scholas

Brooklyn Academy of Music
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
Directions for our Youth

New York Hall of Science

Staten Island:
Staten Island Children’s Museum
Staten Island MakerSpace

Our grant recipients took the time to talk to us about their organizations and where these grants will take them:

What’s your company’s mission statement?

Logo-Stacked-LightPer Scholas:

Breaking the cycle of poverty by providing technology access and education in underserved communities.

Staten Island MakerSpace:

simakerspaceLogotransparentStaten Island MakerSpace is a non-profit community based organization dedicated to building economic growth and supporting innovation in our community. Our education programs open new doors to learning, creative problem solving, and invention through the sciences, new technology, and vocational skills for all ages.  Our goal is to promote creativity and collaboration across disciplines and to make technology accessible to anyone who desires to make or invent something, regardless of skills or experience.

We Connect the Dots, Inc.:

OWCTD-OPTION1-ssur mission is to excite, inform and educate students about Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) careers.  Through a collaboration with the community, education, government and the technology industry, WCTD provides awareness and education of the 21st Century workforce skills, as well as the opportunities available to students embracing STEAM careers.  Impacting students at a local, national and global level, our programs create a hunger for learning that empowers students to find their own paths to success.

National September 11 Memorial & Museum:

The Memorial Mission

911_prim_rgbRemember and honor the thousands of innocent men, women, and children murdered by terrorists in the horrific attacks of February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001.

Respect this place made sacred through tragic loss. Recognize the endurance of those who survived, the courage of those who risked their lives to save others, and the compassion of all who supported us in our darkest hours.

The Memorial Museum Mission

The National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center bears solemn witness to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. The Museum honors the nearly 3,000 victims of these attacks and all those who risked their lives to save others. It further recognizes the thousands who survived and all who demonstrated extraordinary compassion in the aftermath.


PowerMyLearning LogoPowerMyLearning helps students in low-income communities, together with their teachers and families, harness the power of digital learning to improve educational outcomes.

All Star Code:

All Star Code 2 tieredAll Star Code is a non-profit initiative that prepares qualified young men of color for full-time employment in the technology industry by providing mentorship, industry exposure, and intensive training in computer science. We are dedicated to closing the opportunity gap between young men of color and the tech industry.

How will you be using software to further your organization? What software do you use?

All Star Code:

Interpersonal and business skills development is a key part of ASC’s programming. Our students use Word to format their resumes and PowerPoint to make project presentations. And the 25% of our 2015 Summer Intensive cohort that attend school outside of the five boroughs continue to use Skype to participate remotely in mentor sessions and hatch new ideas for companies with their fellow All Stars.

Per Scholas:

The most current Microsoft software will equip our IT training classrooms to reflect what the students will encounter in the workplace. As well, Per Scholas is a data-driven organization. We track, measure and report out on performance and outcomes, evaluate trends and forecast programmatic performance results. This is supported through our use of Microsoft Office, Dynamics, and Windows.


The software donation will boost productivity and reinforce our network structure, allowing us to strengthen our free digital learning platform, PowerMyLearning Connect. Throughout our offices, we benefit from a number of Microsoft products, ranging from using Microsoft SQL Server as the back-end database to our platform, to leveraging the Office suite, which supports our day-to-day tasks.

What’s your favorite Microsoft technology?

National September 11 Memorial & Museum:

In 2014, Microsoft sponsored an online registry to collect and display a historic record of survivors, rescue and recovery workers and commemoration surrounding the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Designed by the global technology and design company Infusion, the registries can be accessed online and on touchscreens in the museum’s Foundation Hall.


With teammates in different locations, we’re big fans of Skype for Business! Skype video chats simplify our collaboration, plus it’s always fun to *see* our colleagues smiling faces!

We Connect The Dots, Inc.:

Yammer has brought the most value to our organization because it allows us to stay connected and collaborate with our students, teachers, and industry partners. Our programs are developed in this collaborative space and provide a great way to gain feedback through our growing community.

How will you use this grant to help your local community?

Staten Island Maker Space:

We are an organization dedicated to helping bring access to tools and  technology to our local community through low cost memberships to our facility and education programs for all ages. This grant will help us build our overall organizational capacity to help us bring programs to our community.

All Star Code:

In 2015, only 146 African-American students in New York State took the AP Computer Science exam.​ ​75% of New York State schools don’t even teach computer science at all.​ ​Next year’s All Star Code Summer Intensive cohort alone has the potential to more than double the number of African-American students who take the AP Computer Science exam in New York. All Star Code is committed to teaching computer science skills to the next generation of tech pioneers, starting right here in New York City.


This grant will provide our technical team with the enhanced Microsoft tools and software they need to build a stronger and more stable PowerMyLearning Connect platform. With these enhancements in place, our platform will be capable of responding to increased user demand, giving us the opportunity to impact the lives of more students, parents, and educators.

Per Scholas:

Per Scholas will benefit from this software upgrade to ensure students are familiar with the latest technology and hence enter the field with the knowledge to operate and support it. Additionally, Per Scholas staff would benefit from an upgrade in order to work more efficiently and keep up with the current technology standards.

What’s the best part of your borough?

Per Scholas:

Some say the Yankees. Some might say Arthur Avenue. The savviest say the birth of hip hop. But Per Scholas would say the best part is the untapped potential that surrounds us. The Bronx is the next pioneer for a tech corridor to further establish New York City as an inclusive, culturally rich, and competitive Silicon Alley.

Staten Island Maker Space:

We opened Staten Island MakerSpace exactly one year after we were flooded in Hurricane Sandy. The way the community came together to help each other out really inspired us to create a space where we could give back to what we feel is the greatest borough in the city. Staten Islanders have big hearts and we are grateful to be a part of this community.

We Connect The Dots, Inc.:

The schools and the students! Teachers in the NY Metro area care about their students and want to invest in their collective future. The students are eager, brilliant young people with a stamina and hunger for knowledge that makes them the best kind of unique.

National September 11 Memorial & Museum:

The first responders and others involved in the 9/11 response and recovery efforts who sacrificed so much for our city are a real treasure. We’re proud to be a part of the resilient community of Lower Manhattan, which has undergone a remarkable transformation since the terror attacks of 2001.


The people! It’s the people in Manhattan who make it such an incredible place to work. It’s these people who inspire us with their diversity, motivate us with their energy, and encourage us to push ourselves to new heights. It’s a special honor to be headquartered in Manhattan and we work hard to make our neighbors proud of our efforts to help all students succeed.

All Star Code:

The best part of Manhattan is Silicon Alley, which is generating the vast majority of the 291,000 tech industry jobs in​ ​the greatest city on earth.

DataKind Recaps Machine Eatable: Interrogating Algorithms

This post was originally published on DataKind by Sara-Jayne Terp, Data Scientist at Thoughtworks.

In October, I attended the first-ever Machine Eatable, a new lunchtime series by DataKind and Microsoft Technology & Civic Engagement, held at Civic Hall New York. 

The inaugural event’s “un-panel” – Cathy O’Neil, Meredith Broussard and Solon Barocas – spoke about interrogating algorithms, and the Machine Eatable team recorded this conversation. My key takeaways are below: if you missed the event or aren’t located in New York, you can listen to the full podcast below, and please be sure to check out the next event in November!

What is an algorithm?

Sketchnotes by Jonny Goldsten

An algorithm or model is a set of steps that you, or a machine, follow to solve a problem or answer a question.  For example, you use an algorithm to get ready every morning: get up, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast. Machine algorithms are everywhere and increasingly are being used to help people make significant decisions, like determining who to hire for a job, who to accept into a university program or who to go on a date with.

While algorithms are transforming our world by automating decision making, they are not the impartial, precise mechanisms you might think they are. Algorithms and the data they depend on are created by people, and people are biased and make mistakes. People on the wrong side of the digital divide tend to be most affected by this, yet have the least number of tools to fight it.

And this is why we need to interrogate algorithms. We need to know what they’re considering when they make a decision, and whether they’re well-justified, substantiated, well-oriented and reasoned, or sloppy, unfair and discriminatory. This ultimately comes down to ensuring that algorithms are fair, transparent and accountable.

Can we make algorithms that are better and less biased than people are?

Sketchnotes by Jonny Goldsten

Fairness should be formalised and built into algorithms. We need an equivalent of civil rights laws for algorithms because right now, data is used unfairly without taking account of broader structural inequalities, and algorithms are developed using data from humans’ biased behavior and learn the same biases that they exhibit.

Algorithms are reproducing inequalities that affect people based on race or gender.  For example, algorithms used to determine a person’s credit score may not explicitly use race in its decision making, but may inadvertently use characteristics like zipcodes that are proxies for race. Algorithms are also being used in the justice system to determine sentencing, recommending longer sentences for someone because of their past history of offenses or even their address. But this doesn’t take into account other societal factors that lead to recidivism or how a person might change his or her behavior. These structural biases should be changed, but we should also be careful not to build them into our algorithms. 

Shining a Light on the Black Box

Algorithms should be transparent: non-experts should be able to understand what they do and the biases that they introduce, through plain-language explanations and visuals (e.g. flow diagrams). Transparency can force algorithm choices, for example credit companies use decision trees because they have to explain why people are denied credit cards.

For algorithms (e.g. Google’s object recognition for photos) whose workings are more complex than rules produced by humans, interrogating algorithm outputs may be more practical than reading code. For instance, the Value Added Model creates a teacher score by comparing student test scores against expected scores. Teachers can’t interpret their scores because each score depends on every child in the school, and teachers of poor kids have highly variant scores (the kids have more variance in their scores). Giving teachers an app to examine their scores, confirm data and understand their score by doing sensitivity analysis (for class size, different schools etc) would be a better model.

Data Scientists Must Facilitate the Conversation

Part of our jobs as data scientists is to facilitate this conversation about algorithms and accountability for things that can change the course of someone’s life, like access to credit, jobs, and freedom. It’s difficult to identify responsibility for an algorithm, but we should do it. It’s difficult to make government accountable because politics are everywhere, for example the US Senate shutting down a CDC study showing correlations between public health and school shootings. We should nevertheless work to increase data literacy and remove the government’s excuse of “people don’t want to know that data.”

Please join in! Listen to the full conversation from the event and jump in with your own thoughts and questions at #MachineEatable on Twitter.

Register for the next Machine Eatable on November 13 here.

Civic Tech Events This November

NY November

Even though my birthday’s in November, I’ve always seen it as a gray, chilly month between the Halloween candies and the holiday pies. Help me celebrate by growing a mustache or coming to some of these events with me.

To celebrate the opening of our Flagship Microsoft Store on Fifth Avenue, we’d like to invite you directly to attend our workshops, seminars and meet-ups happening every day in store! See the full list here.

November 3 — Election Day! Polls are open 6am to 9pm. Find your polling place here:

November 3 — Programming Basics: Learn the basic concepts that are shared among all major programming languages.

November 3 — November New York Tech Meetup: Join fellow technologists for an evening of live demos from companies developing great technology in New York.

November 3 — Ranking Digital Rights: Corporate Accountability Index Launch Event: Rebecca MacKinnon comes to Civic Hall to share her new project, the first inaugural Corporate Accountability Index. The Index “ranks 16 of the world’s top Internet and telecommunications companies on their commitments and disclosures of policies and practices affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy.”

November 5 — Intro to RPG Maker: Learn the ins and outs of RPG Maker VX Ace’s database, event structure, and mapping tools well enough to make a basic RPG.

November 5 – 6 — Microsoft Cloud Roadshow: Join us for a free 2 two-day technical training event for IT professionals and developers that provides best practices and insight directly from the experts who build and run the cloud services across Office 365, Microsoft Azure, Windows 10 and more. Whether you know your way around the cloud or are just getting started, you’ll learn something new and walk away ready to apply your new skills.

November 11 — The Future of Security in the Cloud: Join us for an evening of lively conversation and diverse perspective on the future of security in the cloud.

November 12 — Getting Started with Virtual Reality – Oculus Rift + Unity: Learn how to integrate Oculus Rift into Unity as you build a basic environment to be explored in virtual reality.

November 13 — Machine Eatable: DataKind and Microsoft Technology & Civic Engagement present Machine Eatable, a lunchtime conversation at Civic Hall. This monthly lunch series offers a candid discussion led by a community leader around the latest happenings on the front lines of data science and social good communities.

November 13 – 14 — platform cooperativism: the New School in New York City will host a coming-out party for the cooperative Internet, built of platforms owned and governed by the people who rely on them. The program will include discussion sessions, screenings, monologues, legal hacks, workshops, and dialogues, as well as a showcase of projects, both conceptual and actual, under the purview of celebrity judges. We’ll learn from coders and worker cooperatives, scholars and designers. Together, we’ll put their lessons to work as we work toward usable apps and structural economic change. This is your chance to get on the ground floor of the next Internet, and to help make it a reality.

November 17 — Role-Playing Game Design: Learn the fundamental design elements of a role playing game, with an emphasis on the steps a creator should take before starting to code.

November 19 — Intro to UX for Games: Create less frustrating in-game experiences with a basic understanding of UX design.

November 19 – 20 — We’re sponsoring the Conference on Responsible Use of Open Data: Government and the Private Sector, at New York University. The event is co-organized by BCLT and NYU’s Information Law Institute and Department of Media, Culture and Communication. Dr. Amen Ra Mashariki, the City of New York Chief Analytics Officer will open the conference.

This event is inspired by two central themes. The first is a set of normative challenges associated with the open data movement, including e.g. privacy and other civil liberties, equitable access to data, and what counts as public interest. In 2014, Microsoft funded six academic research projects focusing on these challenges toward an idea of “responsible open data.” In the morning of November 20, the conference will highlight four of these projects.

November 20 – 22 — Hack the Dinos: Data is everywhere—from the smartphone in your pocket to scans of specimens in our Museum collections. Discover how programmers and scientists are working together to mine the Museum’s paleontology database, developing new ways to visualize and understand current research. Hear first-hand accounts from the data trenches and test your hand at coding. Explore how you, too, can get involved in computer science, and find out what hackers can really create in 24 hours.