December 2015

Microsoft New York’s Top Blogs of 2015

New York - 20152015 was a year of growth and change for all of us. As we welcomed new ventures into the New York tech scene, we were reminded every day why civic technology is so important. Thanks to our great partnerships, dedicated staff, and driven city, 2015 was one of our most successful years yet. We’d like to thank everyone who was there every step of the way!

Here are some of our favorite blogs of the year, highlighting special moments, special people, and the hard work that goes into civic tech every day:

February 12, 2015
City of New York Announces Microsoft NYC Tech Jobs Academy
March 4, 2015
Microsoft and Grand Central Tech bringing tech innovation to the Big Apple
President Obama Announces TechHire Initiative and Microsoft NYC Tech Jobs Academy March 9, 2015
President Obama Announces TechHire Initiative and Microsoft NYC Tech Jobs Academy
Women Forward — Civic Tech Changemaker Kristen Titus, Founding Director of NYC's Tech Talent Pipeline March 24, 2015
Women Forward — Civic Tech Changemaker Kristen Titus, Founding Director of NYC’s Tech Talent Pipeline
Microsoft and City Year: A Shared Belief in the Power of Young People April 16, 2015
Microsoft and City Year: A Shared Belief in the Power of Young People
 Civic Tech Fellows July 14, 2015
Celebrating a Year of Technology and Civic Innovation in New York
July 31, 2015
Blockchain for Social Good with Microsoft and the MIT Media Lab
 Donna Woodall, Citizenship & Public Affairs Director, Northeast August 12, 2015
Why Didn’t I Think Of This? The Girls Who Code Experience
 Two college students working together in the computer lab on a group assignment. October 7, 2015
Announcing the Tech Jobs Academy
CNN Debate with Bing Pulse September 9, 2015
Bing Pulse partners with CNN to let GOP Debate viewers provide real-time feedback

Get Creative with The Center for Out of Office Excellence

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that work isn’t your whole life, but it’s true. Life happens, and whether you’re away for an appointment, vacation, or a holiday, you can’t always be at your inbox. The Out of Office (OOO, or OOF) message has become a staple in the workplace, letting coworkers and clientele know that you’re unavailable without being dismissive. And this year, Microsoft is having fun with it.

We’re taking a creative approach to the OOO message by helping you tell the world that work can wait in a meme-like fashion. The Center for Out of Office Excellence is a do-it-yourself service that allows you to upload your own photo and add a creative filter onto it for a visual away message. Break away from the humdrum and add some fun to your outbox!

What’s the best OOF message you’ve seen? Leave a comment below or tweet at us with your own OOF Excellence meme!

MS_HolidayOOO_SockImage

Visit the Center for Out of Office Excellence to create your own Out Of Office Meme.

Recap: Civic Demo at Civic Hall

Every few months, we are lucky enough to invite young minds into our department for a period of innovation, creativity, and civic tech. And every few months, we are astounded by the hard work and dedication brought forward by our civic tech fellows.

From counting trees to working on an interactive map of the NYC civic tech scene, our Civic Tech Fellows are rock stars, and we couldn’t be more proud of them — so, of course, we have to show them off! Last week, we brought this semester’s fellows to Civic Hall for a Civic Demo, in which our fellows showcased their projects to the local civic tech community.

Here’s a quick recap of our Civic Demo, via Twitter:

Community Spotlight: We Connect the Dots, Inc.

WCTD-Inc

This past October, we excitedly opened up our first flagship Microsoft Store in Manhattan. To celebrate this moment, we announced local grants to help community organizations leverage technology for the success of their programs. One of these community grant recipients, We Connect the Dots, Inc. (WCTD), has taken this grant to help students build the STEM skills that are necessary in today’s professional world. We are excited to help WCTD take education in NYC one step further through the use of technology.

We connected with WCTD Program Manager Stephen Sobierajski to discuss the future of the organization and how technology and education interweave.

We Connect the Dots helps students build fundamental STEM skills that lead to success. What kind of experiences do you provide for these students? What are some of the best things you’ve seen students/alumni do?

We create brain-based experiential learning opportunities for students that explore every aspect of STEM disciplines, while also adding in the arts. We like to call it STEAM, because creative thinking is so important to innovation. The best things we continually see our students do is find their own paths to success and define what success means to them.

What does “civic technology” mean to you? How can we combine civic tech and STEM?

Civic Technology is akin to what we like to call digital citizenship, which is about learning how to use technology responsibly, helping others to understand its value, and providing a safe space in which to learn its many functions.

Tell us about your current technological setup at WCTD. What new technology have you implemented within the organization? What are your “next steps”?

Some of our more recent innovations include an exciting robotics program using the Trossen HROS1 Humanoid, teaching Windows 8 and 10 using the MS Surface devices, and our International Back-to-School Hackathon taking place this January, where students will learn to code in HTML and use the MS Azure Solutions Platform. Currently we run almost exclusively on a Microsoft platform for our internal needs. We plan to continue using our Yammer network and Office tools to continually expand our reach to more schools and students around the world.

Where do technology and education meet? Where do you see technology taking education in the future?

Technology is the purest inroad to education that we as human beings can provide to the next generation of students. Technology allows us to span huge distances, streamline communication, and package educational content like never before. In the evolution from print to computers, we have expanded the reach of our educational potential worldwide. Our vision is to see schools across the world connected through the network we have created, where students, teachers and professionals can collaborate openly and continue to share ideas.

Where is your new grant taking WCTD?

The grant provided by MS is allowing WCTD to reach out to a broader student audience and span greater distances. The grant will bolster our networking capabilities, while also allowing us to create better programming, ultimately giving us the opportunity to reach out to more students than ever before.

What’s one thing everyone should know about your company?

We are taking proactive steps to ensure that we can be an agent of change. We deliver education that will help students rise to the demands of an ever evolving workforce and the needs of the human race. Through our influence and successes, we will show educators around the world how to give students the proper tools to find their own paths to success.

Learn more about We Connect the Dots, Inc. by visiting their website or following them on Facebook and Twitter.

Microsoft Philanthropies: Empowerment Begins with Inclusion

Today we’re announcing an expanded commitment to our corporate philanthropy around the world with a broader ambition and a new organization within the company, Microsoft Philanthropies, to make this ambition a reality.

Our CEO, Satya Nadella, has defined a clear mission for Microsoft: Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. In his letter to shareholders this year, he said, “In the year ahead we will continue to ask ourselves what are the challenges mankind faces, how can technology help, and what is the contribution of Microsoft?”

This new organization within Microsoft will bring together a range of assets to address digital inclusion and help ensure the benefits of technology reach every person and every organization on the planet.

Read more about Microsoft Philanthropies on the Official Microsoft Blog from Brad Smith and check out the Fire Hose post on the leaders for Microsoft Philanthropies, Mary Snapp and Lori Harnick.

Recap — Looking Back at Computer Science Education Week 2015 and the Hour of Code

12186232_10153305199318253_5139764306900738454_oThis year, we joined millions of educators and students worldwide in the annual Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), a week-long celebration of awareness and education worldwide. Throughout the week, while students took part in the Hour of Code, educators, legislators, and constituents worked together to help make Computer Science for All a standard.

While CSEdWeek took place internationally, we’ve gathered some of the best local moments to celebrate computer science in New York:

Recap: Machine Eatable with Mitul Desai and Anoush Tatevossian

Every month, we meet with some of the top local leaders in data science for Machine Eatable, a Friday afternoon lunch and “unpanel” where we discuss hot topics in data, providing local solutions, and working together to create new ideas. This December, we joined up with DataKind and Civic Hall once again for a Machine Eatable lunch featuring Mitul Desai, Director for Research Partnerships and Analytics at the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth (@CNTR4Growth) and Anoush Tatevossian (@artate), Strategic Communications & Partnerships Officer at UN Global Pulse.

Miss out on this month’s Machine Eatable and don’t want that to happen again? Keep up-to-date with our calendar on Eventbrite.

A recap of our most recent Machine Eatable:

 

#CSEdWeek: Taking Computer Science Education Beyond School — Samuel Eng, Playcrafting NYC

As part of our commitment to education, we’re thrilled to be celebrating Computer Science Education Week. This year, we have teamed up with Playcrafting, an organization that utilizes gaming through events, classes, and workshops that make computer science education available to all. Playcrafting has introduced us to some of their top instructors, who showcase opportunities in computer science beyond primary and secondary education.

Samuel Eng, Instructor — Playcrafting NYC

What was your introduction to the gaming community?
My first introduction to the NYC gaming community was through a game jam, sponsored by Tresensa and Microsoft NY. It was a game jam for kids, and I was signed up as a mentor. I met a bunch of really great people there, and made some incredible friends, while helping kids create their own games using the game engine for the jam.

What do you teach in your Playcrafting courses?
I mainly specialize in Unity and C#. I do a variety of courses, from basic navigation of Unity’s interface, to a complex lesson on syntax and architectural techniques.

How did you learn game dev / design?
It was persistence. I put in the hours, coding and making little things, day after day. I spent hours upon hours over my compiler, making silly little things that weren’t impressive in the slightest. But it all was great, great fun. I was incredibly lucky to go to a high school that offered computer science, and upon that, AP computer science. We learned Java and C, which are invaluable when doing any sort of programming. A lot of times, when I learned a new concept in school, it felt like I learned a new ability, or just got a level up. Learning arrays in AP computer science was like discovering fire!

Who is your computer science mentor?
I never really had a single mentor, but a huge variety of people have helped me in huge ways. My computer science teachers from high school were incredible and introduced me to many crucial concepts. One of my great friends in the game dev community is a seasoned developer who has been extremely helpful to just shoot some questions at. Of course, those are not the only ones—there have been many people that I’ve taken inspiration from, and many internet posts I’ve soaked in.

Outside of higher ed, what are some opportunities to learn dev or design?
Playcrafting is of course one of the great ways to learn about every part of making a game. Outside of Playcrafting are a huge variety of resources. Unity and Unreal themselves make dozens of tutorials to inundate people into their engines, for example.

Tell us about computer science applications in gaming.
In my experience, there are certain aspects of academic computer science that are critical to game­making, while the rest of them are miscellaneously irrelevant or only useful in minor circumstances. When I took traditional computer science, I learned about data structures and almost arbitrary algorithms. Perhaps I’m the type of person to learn by application rather than theory, but I found such studies drab. That is until I found a use for it. Hash maps, for example, were ridiculous when I first learned them in high school, but the first time I cringed when looping through an enormous array every frame to find an object, I realized its use.

Outside of game dev, how do coding skills apply in your everyday life?
I’m pretty mediocre on my skateboard, but I still find it amazingly fun. While I’ve only been at it for a short amount of time, I found that learning to skate had similarities to learning how to code—it’s all about persistence and learning tiny steps one at a time.

Who can learn computer science?
Anybody who wants to!

Who can take a Playcrafting course?
Anybody who wants to!

Looking for more coding opportunities? Find more coding tools and resources for students, parents, and educators at microsoft.com/hourofcode.

#CSEdWeek: Taking Computer Science Education Beyond School — Kurt Bieg, Playcrafting NYC

As part of our commitment to education, we’re thrilled to be celebrating Computer Science Education Week. This year, we have teamed up with Playcrafting, an organization that utilizes gaming through events, classes, and workshops that make computer science education available to all. Playcrafting has introduced us to some of their top instructors, who showcase opportunities in computer science beyond primary and secondary education.

Kurt Bieg, Instructor — Playcrafting NYC

Kurt BiegWhat was your introduction to the gaming community?
I initially set out to make a platform that would raise donations for non profits through games in 2007. That’s when I realized I would have to learn a bunch more about game design. Shortly after that I enrolled in Parsons MFA program for Design and Technology. I learned how to code there and also learned to make games. After graduating I formed Simple Machine and started making mobile games. The rest is history.

What do you teach in your Playcrafting courses?
I generally teach three classes. One is an 8 week intensive where students learn basic to intermediate skills for Unity 3D, programming in C#, and game design. I also teach a class that gives a complete breakdown of programming basics so people can feel more confident about learning to code. And the last class is a puzzle design class where we go over match three principles and classic puzzle games.

How did you learn game dev / design?
My time at Parsons was instrumental where I learned about game design from Nick Fortugno specifically. Otherwise I play a lot of games, I read a lot of articles, and I think a lot.

Who is your computer science mentor?
Ramsey Nasser is my computer science mentor. He taught me everything about coding and guided me through my first two years. He is unbelievably brilliant and an excellent mentor.

Outside of higher ed, what are some opportunities to learn dev or design?
There are tons of opportunities to learn game design outside of higher ed. For instance, you can participate in the Global Game Jam right right around the corner. There are also a bunch of smaller game jams that take place throughout the year where you can get into a community and learn from them. You can also hop online and learn a ton about coding, making games, etc. Of course, I’m biased, but Playcrafting is an excellent place to learn from industry experts and build a game that you can share with the community.

Tell us about computer science applications in gaming.
I think computer science can be helpful in gaming, but it’s not crucial. I actually feel that people who don’t have a computer science background bring inspirational prospectives to gaming because they are exploring it all for the first time.

Outside of game dev, how do coding skills apply in your everyday life?
Code is a poetic expression of the systems we experience everyday. From the games and apps we use, to buying lunch and banking, coding is part of everything we do. Once you get into programming you start to see how it’s actually designed to imitate the world around us, even nondigital scenarios, like ordering a coffee, or meeting someone at a party, or deciding what to eat for dinner. It all can be replicated through programming. So I see it everywhere.

Who can take a Playcrafting course?
You!

Looking for more coding opportunities? Find more coding tools and resources for students, parents, and educators at microsoft.com/hourofcode.

#CSEdWeek: Taking Computer Science Education Beyond School — Sande Chen, Playcrafting NYC

As part of our commitment to education, we’re thrilled to be celebrating Computer Science Education Week. This year, we have teamed up with Playcrafting, an organization that utilizes gaming through events, classes, and workshops that make computer science education available to all. Playcrafting has introduced us to some of their top instructors, who showcase opportunities in computer science beyond primary and secondary education.

Sande Chen, Instructor — Playcrafting NYC

Sande Chen

Sande Chen. Photo: Thomas Hall.

What was your introduction to the gaming community?
As a child, I programmed my own text-based adventures and I definitely played games.  But, I didn’t really think about video games as a career until much later. After I finished film school, I decided that I wanted to work in video games because interactivity was a new frontier in writing. I started working as a freelance writer in the video game industry. I transitioned that experience into jobs as a producer then as a game designer.

What do you teach in your Playcrafting courses?
The courses I’ve done for Playcrafting are Educational Game Design, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Game Worlds, and Game Writing.

How did you learn game dev / design?
I took classes at MIT like Non-Linear and Interactive Writing. The last project in that class is to build your own game or interactive experience. I took other workshops on game design, MMOs, and mobile storytelling at MIT during the Independent Activities Period, which is a whole month  where as a student, you can explore anything you want.

Outside of higher ed, what are some opportunities to learn dev or design?
My local public library is currently running a video game design class to make platformers. In the past, the library has had courses on Unity, Scratch, and even on how to build a desktop computer. Scratch, which targets younger learners, has instructional videos online. There are even games that teach programming and game development. Some are available on the Web.

Tell us about computer science applications in gaming.
Computer programming is an important aspect of video game development. It’s also important on the art and animation side. Artists need to learn how to use 2D and 3D tools to make assets for the game. Producers, designers, and writers may not be doing the active coding but they still have to understand how to use the programs.

Outside of game dev, how do coding skills apply in your everyday life?
I think understanding the process of coding and debugging is definitely helpful in daily life in terms of problem-solving. Just looking at a problem logically can help in determining the best way to tackle a problem.

Who can learn computer science?
I think anyone has the capacity to learn computer science. Especially when you consider how computers and computer power has infiltrated our lives, it’s an important skill to have. I think that’s why more states, including New York, will be requiring computer science education.

Who can take a Playcrafting course?
Anyone can take a Playcrafting course! There are so many disciplines covered at Playcrafting that I think it would interest artists, makers, programmers, writers, designers, and even business people.  If you want to be involved in games or if you just want to increase your knowledge about certain topics, then Playcrafting classes are a great way to do that.

Looking for more coding opportunities? Find more coding tools and resources for students, parents, and educators at microsoft.com/hourofcode.