July 2016

Microsoft Research: Using Data to Transform Engagement

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Microsoft Research (MSR) has an incredibly open research policy that allows its researchers to completely direct their work. This is effective for Microsoft for many reasons. First, an amazing caliber of researcher works at MSR, because they are attracted by the freedom. Second, once they get here they naturally gravitate to projects that take advantage of Microsoft data and platforms. But, rather than solving short-term problems, they have the freedom to dream up long-range solutions.

This is critical to Microsoft’s mission for two reasons. First, in constantly evolving technology landscape Microsoft needs to be evolving and MSR helps lead that path. Second, when customers commit to Microsoft’s platforms it is frequently a long-term commitment because it is expensive to move. They want to know that Microsoft is leading innovation, that they are trusted long-term technology partner. MSR provides a showcase for that.

I keep all of this in mind with my research. I was drawn to MSR because of the freedom it gives us and inevitably my research looked for ways to take advantage of Microsoft’s data and platforms. I study how and why people provide information, how to aggregate that information into market intelligence, and how decision makers consumer faster, larger, and more flexible market intelligence. I have been very fortunate to test large-scale polling infrastructure as MSN and Xbox. Where we can reach hundreds of thousands of respondents and revolutionize the impact of opt-in survey tools. I have been fortunate to explore the value of Bing query data and Cortana question answers. Where we can learn how people engage. Some of what I do helps improve these tools in the short run: make them more engaging, more effective at providing information, but much of what I do is think about how they will evolve over time in the years and decades to come.

A lot of the work I do is seen publicly, as demonstrations of where technology can head. In 2012 we had polling on the Xbox that is now seen as a primary example of how opt-in polling, from very unrepresentative respondents, can provide valuable market intelligence. Slowly that work has evolved into more generic infrastructure for Microsoft that we look forward to demonstrating publicly in the coming months. In 2012 we demonstrated some insights from social media and query data on Bing. Slowly that work has evolved into more generic infrastructure for Microsoft that is starting to power backend functionality for Microsoft.

A lot of the work I do is seen publicly, as demonstrations of where technology can head. In 2012 we had polling on the Xbox that is now seen as a primary example of how opt-in polling, from very unrepresentative respondents, can provide valuable market intelligence. Slowly that work has evolved into more generic infrastructure for Microsoft that we look forward to demonstrating publicly in the coming months. In 2012 we demonstrated some insights from social media and query data on Bing. Slowly that work has evolved into more generic infrastructure for Microsoft that is starting to power backend functionality for Microsoft.I have worked on many projects at Microsoft, but they ultimately share a common core. A very defined set of long-range academic theories on how data is collected from opt-in users and analyzed have been empirically tested in many different prototypes and now products. It is a process that can really only be nurtured in an environment like Microsoft Research, in a company like Microsoft.

I have worked on many projects at Microsoft, but they ultimately share a common core. A very defined set of long-range academic theories on how data is collected from opt-in users and analyzed have been empirically tested in many different prototypes and now products. It is a process that can really only be nurtured in an environment like Microsoft Research, in a company like Microsoft.


David Rothschild is an economist at Microsoft Research. He has a Ph.D. in applied economics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. His primary body of work is on forecasting, and understanding public interest and sentiment. Related work examines how the public absorbs information. He has written extensively, in both the academic and popular press, on polling, prediction markets, social media and online data, and predictions of upcoming events; most of his popular work has focused on predicting elections and an economist take on public policy. He correctly predicted 50 of 51 Electoral College outcomes in February of 2012, average of 20 of 24 Oscars from 2013-6, and 15 of 15 knockout games in the 2014 World Cup.

The Nitty Gritty: keys to transformation personally and as a leader

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This weekend I participated in the Microsoft Challenge at the New York City Triathlon. This was an event sponsored by Microsoft for executives from across commercial business to train and compete in the triathlon while also networking and learning about Digital Transformation. It was a great experience and allowed me to reflect on the tools that leaders need to draw on to achieve personal and professional goals.

As I completed the triathlon yesterday and pushed to the finish these words came to mind:

“Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Angela Lee Duckworth

It stands out to me that GRIT can serve as a foundation for leaders to personally transform by maintaining passion and perseverance for their goals around optimal health and fitness. We can also apply that same discipline to stick to a long-term goal despite setbacks as we lead our businesses to digitally transform.


When psychologist Angela Duckworth studied people in various challenging situations, including National Spelling Bee participants, rookie teachers in tough neighborhoods, and West Point cadets, she found: One characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ.  It was grit.  

After relying on my grit to prepare for the triathlon, I noticed that it’s the same source I pull from when leading teams to transform and advising other business leaders for how they can pursue change over the long term. Grit is essential, not only in academics or athletics but in business.

Grit can be taught through some of the following exercises:

Develop a Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck from Stanford University teaches us that people who have a growth mindset are more successful than those who think that intelligence is fixed.

Grit Takes Time

Commit to have grit today, but give it time to grow. Practice Grit in both personal and professional circumstances and keep a journal of how you have relied on Grit over time and then look back on how you have grown your ability to apply grit and stay gritty.

The ever changing technology landscape and business that moves at a breakneck pace requires grit now more than ever – in both our personal and professional lives. As you think about digital transformation for your business consider how Grit will play a role of getting your organization to the goals you have.

Molly WINNING MC Challenge Female category

Molly McCarthy wins the Microsoft Challenge Female Category at the NYC Triathlon

It isn’t Grit alone that will propel you to your goal, but teamwork is also essential. Building a team, you can rely on with a foundation of trust, encouragement and mutual respect also leads to great outcomes. In preparing for the triathlon, I came to recognize how much I rely on my support team both personally and professionally for the encouragement and “push” I sometimes needed to get me to my goal.

As you work toward your goals I recommend you prioritize Grit and Teamwork to fuel your personal best.  To learn more about Digital Transformation and other ways you can prepare as a leader check out our ebook to take digital to the core of your business: https://info.microsoft.com/Enterprise_EN-US_ITDM_DTebook_RegistrationPage.html


Sources: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/true-grit-measure-teach-success-vicki-davis

Fellow Profile: Briana Vecchione

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Where are you from?

I’m from Orange County, CA but moved to NYC four years ago.

School/grad year/major: 

I just graduated with a degree in Computer Science & Mathematics from Pace University in downtown Manhattan.

Last thing you searched on Bing:

“What is the area of Greece?” Context: Jake Hofman, a mentor of mine from Microsoft Research, recently did some work to improve user comprehension of large numbers that recently shipped as a new feature in Bing. Now, instead of returning the numeric answer, 50,948 sq miles, Bing returns “About equal to the size of New York State”. It’s really fun – try it!

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program?

I was actually involved in some previous research through the Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School, where I analyzed the network flow of New York’s bike sharing program and implemented algorithms to decrease system congestion. If you’re interested, you can check out our paper or talk. Matt ended up attending our final presentation and did a write up of it on his personal blog. When I found out about the Civic Tech Fellowship on Twitter, I reached out to him and John to see how I could contribute to the team!

What’s your favorite technology that’s building New York’s civic spaces?

I’ve been following the Beta release of LinkNYC since it began during the end of last year. I love that New York supports the idea that connectivity is a citizen’s right and is making active pursuits to improve the city’s Internet infrastructure. It brings public tech into the 21st century by offering free phone calls, charging stations, and open Internet which includes an interface directing users to city services, directions, and maps. It’s also a brilliant usage of the already-existing fiber optic networks that run through the city and is self-financed by each station’s advertisements.

Who is your civic tech mentor/idol?

I work under John Paul Farmer & Matt Stempeck, both of whom are definitely my in-house idols. I also really admire work being done by researchers Danah Boyd, Hilary Mason, and Hanna Wallach.

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New York?

The bulk of my work has been on civicgraph.io, where I’ve built out an analytics dashboard, restructured the codebase to add some exciting new features, and am implementing a scalable check-in system so users can easily add themselves during events. This is super exciting for me, because I’m really interested in how we collect and translate information in the digital sphere. Because civic graph is open and crowdsourced, it displays a knowledge base not held by a single individual, thus creating its own identity. To be able to administer a digital space that offers simple transparency, helps define ‘civic tech’, and creates such meaningful impacts in the lives of people is a privilege, to say the least.

Separately, I’m working on testing Microsoft Translator in various city spaces so that New York can make the most of its applications for machine translation. We’re going to be using it within summer school classes for ESL or hard-of-hearing students as well as in ID NYC locations for citizens applying for resident benefits. We’ve been doing some internal testing on our end already, and it’s incredible to see how powerful the technology has become. The last time we tested, I thought to myself, ‘wow, this could really make such a difference in so many people’s lives’. It’s an awesome feeling to be able to work on projects like that.

What excites you about civic tech?

I’m passionate about the ‘by the people, for the people’ narrative that civic tech carries. The ability to utilize technical skills is valuable in this economy and comes with a lot of responsibility, and I want to make sure that the work I’m doing contributes as much as possible. I also really appreciate the emphasis on transparency through the open data and open government initiatives that are grown and fostered throughout the community. I’ve never been interested in tech fads and have encountered too many people who exert a lot of talent and energy on products that cater to a very privileged subset of society. When you engage in a space like civic tech, you can’t help but run into an overwhelming amount of brilliant, empathetic, passionate, and conscious thinkers and technologists.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities?

There’s still a lot to be done to improve transportation safety & efficiency in cities. Vision Zero and Transit Wireless has been doing some amazing work in NYC and I’m hopeful that once vehicle automation is fully deployed, it’ll only help to improve that. It’s been fascinating to watch and contribute to the ongoing ethical discussions that have emerged lately as a result of automated transit systems.

Empowering Girls Who Code With Super Powers

Laura Clayton McDonnell, Girls Who CodeWhile I sat in the Girls Who Code classroom and watched Laura Clayton McDonnell, General Manager Microsoft New York Metro, deliver her speaking engagement/presentation, I was in awe of her ease and natural approach. She started her presentation with some personal information and beautiful pictures of her family.  Laura’s family is from Panama, however Laura was born in Bermuda and was raised in California.  She has a very diverse education background along with a fascinating work history; started her career as an attorney and then moved into sales.  Laura’s personal philosophy is “To live life in an exemplary manner that reflects what matters, with curiosity, optimism, courage, humility, compassion and integrity.”  

In my opinion, Laura had a brilliant way to approach her presentation, entitled “Empowering You with Super Powers”; she answered the same essay questions that all Girls Who Code candidates had to answer.  She shared her views on improving existing technology and why, overcoming challenges, contributing to the success of others and exploring computer science.  This was very well-received.

After sharing her views on the essay questions, Laura then moved onto sharing her top 5 life changing ideas and segued into Laura’s challenge to the coders, Diversity = Success.  

I watched the girls diligently write in their notebooks during the course of the presentation and asked very intriguing questions.

Laura concluded her presentation by asking the coders what are they going to do with their super power which led into the Q&A session.  I found Laura to be very inspirational. The coders asked for her email address and shortly after her departure from the class, the following email was received:

“I wanted to thank you for coming in today and giving an insight into your life beginning from Panama to Microsoft. It gave an idea of how to approach my career through various techniques revolving both personal growth and teamwork. In addition, your job as a business woman working in the field of computer science is a new career that I have begun to consider. It was truly a great experience to meet you.

Hopefully, in the future we may see more of each other.

Once again, a huge thanks.”  

Thank you to Laura for helping us inspire the next generation of coders!

Recap: Artificial Intelligence Now #AINow

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This week, the White House and New York University’s Information Law Institute hosted Artificial Intelligence Now, a symposium exploring the impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies across social and economic systems. We were pleased and honored to have Kate Crawford, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research and Senior Research Fellow, New York University Information Law Institute represent Microsoft as she joined to discuss social inequality, labor, healthcare, and ethics in AI technologies.

The symposium focused on the near future (5-10 years) in technology, with input from leaders in technology, industry, academia, and civil society. We’ve gathered some of the best moments from the symposium — in tweets — below:

Civic Tech NYC, Summer Edition

The summer, the city, and all the civic tech your heart could desire. Here are some of the top events in the tech sector this month in NYC:

July 7

The Social and Economic Implications of Artificial Intelligence Technologies in the Near-Term

The White House and New York University’s Information Law Institute, with support from Google Open Research, Microsoft Research and the MacArthur Foundation will host a major public symposium to address the near-term impacts of AI technologies across social and economic systems.

The focus will be the challenges of the next 5-10 years, specifically addressing four themes: social inequality, labor, healthcare, and ethics. Leaders from industry, academia, and civil society will share ideas for technical design, research and policy directions.

This event will be live-streamed. Check back on July 7th for a live feed.

July 8

BetaTalk – Affordable Housing: Data, Policy, People

BetaNYC is working to build a more effective government and create empowered communities. Toward that end, this event aims to increase awareness of a particularly complicated issue: affordable housing.

Having a solid and consistent stock of affordable housing is critical to New York City’s ability to thrive economically, socially, and culturally. However, creating and preserving affordable housing is difficult given the multitude of economic factors and cultural values.

We are organizing this event to engage with neighbors familiar with affordable housing policy and with those knowledgeable about the data that can be used to inform solutions. This conversation will inform the data and technology community about how to focus efforts to best address housing problems straining communities across the city.

Note – We’re working to live stream this event.

July 9

Maps Camp!

Come and join 250 fellow geo-enthusiasts at the first ever Maps Camp on July 9th, 2016 at the UN. We’re putting together an exciting day to discuss how Open Source and the Mapping/GIS world benefit one-another.

July 10

Edible Schoolyard NYC Weekend Volunteer Day

All levels of gardeners welcome! You’ll be helping out with a variety of seasonal garden tasks, from weeding and watering to light carpentry. For safety reasons, this event is for adults only. Snacks will be provided.

July 11

Will 311 Respond to Your Call? Investigating Geographic Response Rates

Government data can often reveal surprising insights about the way communities are served. In this project, built only using open data such as weather history, census data and New York’s 311 call data, we are trying to determine wether some parts of the city were served faster than others. Then we built a model to predict – at the time of the call – if the response to it will end up late or not.

The journey from the data collection to the predictive application will cover all the different steps of a data project such as data preparation or feature engineering. Several approaches to visualize the data will also be explored. A special focus will be on how to make different technologies (SQL, python, R) work together to get the best of all worlds.

July 12

Digital Politics: New technology in motion

This month on Modern Workplace, watch Digital Politics: New technology in motion, airing July 12th at 8:00 AM PDT / 3:00 PM GMT. Get a first-hand look at some of the new tools and innovations being put to the test in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

  • Stan Freck shares some of the tech innovations being used in political campaigns, including how new apps are informing an electoral process that is over 100 years old.
  • Patrick Stewart discusses how data visualization is playing a crucial role in the 2016 election cycle and takes a look at some of the emerging technologies.

July 12

July 2016 NY Tech Meetup and Afterparty

Join fellow technologists for an evening of live demos from companies developing great technology in New York, followed by a networking afterparty.

July 14

How 18F Approaches Digital Strategy And Content Design

What’s important to get right when you’re designing digital services in the government? Join Ed Mullen and Nicole Fenton from 18F for two short talks and a brief workshop.

Ed will share insights about 18F’s strategy team and the role of change agents in the federal government. Nicole will share tips for working on content in an iterative, collaborative way before leading us through strategic writing exercises.

July 15

Launch: United Nations World Youth Report: Youth Civic Engagement

Join us for the launch of the UN World Youth Report on Youth Civic Engagement #YouthReport

The World Youth Report on Youth Civic Engagement explores young people’s participation in economic, political and community life, responding to growing interest in, and an increased policy focus on, youth civic engagement in recent years among Governments, young people and researchers.

The event will bring together experts, young people and Member State representatives in dialogue on how to better enable and support youth engagement in all areas.

Those unable to attend can watch the broadcast live here: www.webtv.un.org

July 28

From Sketchbook to Real Book

Artist Mike Lowery has long since illustrated for kids books, magazines, galleries, and calendars. But what inspired him to throw his hat into the author ring? With the release of his new book series this past spring, Mike discusses writing and illustrating his own project, how he balances his work across many mediums (including social media sharing), and why you shouldn’t be afraid to make a mistake in your sketchbook.

Girls Who Code: Bridging the Skills Gap, One Girl at a Time

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The 2016 Girls Who Code Cohort at Microsoft New York

According to Code.org, there are currently more than 500,000 open computing jobs nationwide. Yet last year, only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce. Through our commitment to education, we’re working to bridge this skills gap, encouraging youth to pursue computer science and participating in initiatives that bring digital literacy to our schools. Despite our progress, female interest in computer science still drops off between the ages of 13-17. While 66% of girls express interest in computing programs, only 4% of college-aged young women express that same interest (and enrollment). Enter Girls Who Code.

Girls Who Code (GWC) is a national nonprofit organization that promotes bridging the skills gap and subsequent gender gap that is plaguing the tech sector. In 1984, 37% of all computer science graduates were women. Now, that number has dropped to a mere 18%. Girls Who Code programs battle that by engaging young girls in direct, hands-on computing education, from coding sessions to building hardware, creating their own apps, and meeting with female leaders in the tech industry.

Since its inception, Girls Who Code has gone from 20 girls in New York to 10,000 girls in 42 states. And we’re proud to partner with this organization, bringing girls into our Microsoft offices every summer to take part in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program. Our hope is that these girls will take what they learn and help make the world a better place through technology. After all, isn’t that what tech is for?

As GWC founder Reshma Saujani says, “When girls learn to code, they become change agents in their communities.” And we can’t wait to see that happen.

Stay posted on MicrosoftNewYork.com for more updates on Girls Who Code and the Summer Immersion Program.