The Endless [Civic Tech] Summer

| Briana Vecchione, Microsoft NY Civic Tech Fellow

While the calendar (although perhaps not the thermometer) tells us that summer is winding down, there are still plenty of events to join in on while avoiding the current heat wave. From community launch events to AI hackathons, you can be sure that there’s always something happening to keep your mind stimulated and your after-work hours occupied. Since joining Microsoft NY, I’ve kept my eye out for new and emerging organizations to expand the breadth of my civic tech horizons. Here are a few organizations I’ve been able to collaborate with during the past week:

Cornell Tech — Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York


Cornell Tech’s recently launched Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY) initiative seeks to encourage and guide young women entering higher education and entrepreneurship in technology. As part of the initiative, WiTNY hosts a two-week ‘Summer Studio’ program modeled after Cornell’s curriculum, introducing students to real-world skills like software engineering, product development, product ideation, and design thinking. I spoke on a panel to about 40 soon-to-be CUNY women about my day-to-day as a software engineer, workflows used, project developments with and Microsoft Translator, and my journey into computing. Mentorship and outreach is something I’ve found to be particularly helpful in the development of my own career, so it’s terrific to be given opportunities to pass along knowledge to students as passionate, driven, and inquisitive as those at WiTNY.

CodeNewbie NYC

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Saron Yitbarek, A former team member and eternal friend of Microsoft NY, launched the New York chapter of CodeNewbie, an incredibly supportive community of new and established technical professionals. The theme revolved around ‘Keeping it 100’ in celebration of the release of CodeNewbie’s 100th podcast episode. As part of the event, I gave a brief keynote on a topic that I’m a CodeNewbie in myself: Using data for space exploration as a member of the 2016 class of NASA Datanauts. During my talk, I presented a workflow on creating a web-based orrery using various open source tools. Other keynotes included a discussion on cybersecurity and a testimonial by John Resig, the creator of JQuery, on the benefits that’ve resulted from his choice to program on a daily basis. CodeNewbie also took the opportunity to announce its first-ever conference, CodeLand, which is scheduled for April 2017.

General Assembly & Clarifai — Artificial Intelligence Hackathon

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Big thanks to our friends at Clarifai for letting us use this image

Last Saturday, Clarifai and General Assembly teamed up to host their first Artificial Intelligence hackathon. I held a seat on the judges panel and reviewed projects responding to the satirically-dystopian theme requiring participants to “make something with AI that will advance the inevitable robot apocalypse”. The projects were equally as silly. Here are a few that stood out:

  • Miss-Direction: A mapping engine that navigates you to a random location within a few blocks of your destination.
  • Giggle: A search engine returning the least relevant results for a given search query.
  • CutiePai: A dating app that scraped your social media accounts and found your most compatible matches based on similar tagging.
  • Safehouse: A smarthome application using facial recognition to wreak havoc on your appliances while you’re distracted.

There were 28 teams, all of whom put forward incredibly witty submissions. Needless to say, it was overwhelmingly difficult to narrow down the submission pool and decide on winners!

Through events like these, I am constantly inspired and reminded to think creatively, work diligently, and have fun. Every time I walk into a space allowing me to contribute knowledge and connect with brilliant individuals, I’m reminded why New York is known for its top-tier workforce. The fact that these opportunities were spaced within just one week’s time demonstrates the frequency and accessibility of events, which is unique to the New York lifestyle. As a proud New Yorker, that’s why I know I can be excited for what’s yet to come!

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