November 2016

City Year New York Makes a Difference at JHS218 James P Sinnott Middle School

City Year New York and JHS218 James P Sinnott Middle School

It was a bright sunny day as we approached JHS218 in Brooklyn, NY. Laura Clayton McDonnell, GM of Microsoft New York, Antuan Santana and I were scheduled to visit our City Year New York Corp Member team at our “adopted”school, JHS218.  We were cheerfully greeted by the City Year New York leads for the school and started our school tour with City Year’s First Circle.

Our first stop, a visit outside to see the beautiful playground that use to be a parking lot. As we moved back inside, we had an opportunity to briefly meet the school principal, Lisa Ann Hermann. We were touched by a poster that was on the wall just outside of the principal’s office — it read:



written down with a date becomes a


A goal broken down into steps becomes a


A plan backed by


makes your dreams


                                         ~Author Unknown

While we continued our tour, we met a teacher who was a student years ago at the school. During the introduction it was shared that she was from Panama, which is where Laura’s parents are originally from. Such a small world!

As we made our way to the classroom on the second floor, which the Corp Member team uses as their office space, we sat down as a group, did a round of introductions, and then moved onto table topics. Table topics is a fun way to get to know about people in a short period of time that you are just meeting.

We approached the close of our visit with some Q&A and wrapped with a group photo. It was a great opportunity for Laura to see Microsoft’s sponsorship in action; it makes it real, seeing the positive impact that City Year has on youth.  Thank you City Year for making a difference.

Looking Forward in Civic Tech: Code for America Summit and Beyond

Every year, thousands of people gather at the Code for America Summit to discuss how technology can improve our governments and the services that they provide. I had the pleasure of attending the Summit this year in Oakland, CA alongside colleagues from Microsoft and friends from various sectors, all of whom are passionate about advancing a 21st century government by the people, for the people.

If you didn’t make it to Oakland, come to the Civic Hall farewell party followed by a recap of the CFA Summit on Friday!

Jen Pahlka, founder and Executive Director of Code for America, kicked off the Summit with an overview of Code for America, a non-partisan, non-political organization that employs civic technology experts and supports a network of over 80 “Brigades” (local volunteer groups) nationwide. Many of these groups showcased their current efforts at the Summit, including projects related to food assistance programs, criminal justice, and others.

Code for America Summit 2016

This year’s CFA Summit included many fantastic speakers, starting with Cecilia Muñoz (Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council), who praised the growing role of technology in government:

To Code And Beyond — Computer Science at Play at Cornell Tech


Photo via Microsoft YouthSpark

It was an honor to join Cornell Tech as they hosted the second annual To Code and Beyond: Computer Science at Play Conference. This conference brings together organizations and contributors to K-12 Computer Science (CS) education who deliver impact not only in the Greater NYC area but across the US and globally.

With over 1.1 million youth in NYC public schools, there are less than 5% receiving computer science (CS) education. New York City Deputy Mayor Richard Buery asked, “How do we spark a love of computers and technology among our young people? The economy demands out young people grow these skills [to] thrive in the economy. How do you create excitement?”

Debbie Marcus from the NYC Department of Education also raised the question, “How do we provide computer science education to every student regardless of age, gender race, and to see computer science as a literacy?” The idea is not only to create a pathway for youth to explore CS careers, but to see it as a valuable skill that opens opportunity in other fields as well.

Earlier this year, CSNYC announced the CS for All Initiative, a 10-year, $80 million plan to bring computer science education to every student in the New York City public schools. After two years of operation, CSNYC now reaches 7% of the City’s schools and 10,000 students who fully represent the economic, ethnic, and gender diversity of the City.

To Code And Beyond was a culmination of not only sharing years of technology education work, but sharing resources and an open forum for ideas and collaboration. The conference consisted of keynotes, panel discussions that highlighted innovative ways to engage youth not only through CS curriculum, but out of the classroom; per Diane Levitt of Cornell Tech, ‘the vibrancy of informal education’.

The conference highlighted initiatives such as CS4All and organizations across the Greater NYC Area including CSNYC and its CS4All Consortium, NY Hall of Science, Lower East Side Girls Club, and FIRST Robotics NYC supported by national tech companies.

Currently in 23 high schools across the Greater NYC Area and around the US, Microsoft TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) helps high schools build sustainable computer science programs by pairing trained computer science professionals.

What can NYC local organizations and schools do to access CS education and reach more youth?

Local NYC organizations and schools can join the CS for All movement and attend CS NYC pedagogy meetups, joining the NYC STEM education network, STEM Funders Network, CS for All Consortium, or Hive NYC.

Next month, we’re excited to celebrate Computer Science Education Week (CS Ed Week). From Dec 5th-11th across the globe, anyone, anywhere can organize an Hour of Code event. One-hour tutorials are available in over 45 languages. No experience needed for this training geared toward new coders ages 4 to 104.

Start now: Find a local YouthSpark or Minecraft Event near you.

Rebecca Garcia is a Program Manager for Tech Jobs Academy. Previously she was awarded as a U.S. White House Champion of Change for ‘Tech Inclusion’, named one of Glamour Magazine’s Top 35 Women Under 35 Changing the Tech Industry’ and Hispanicize’s STEM Star for her non-profit work as Co-founder of CoderDojo NYC.

Habitat III: A Once-In-A-Generation Civic Experience


Photo: John Paul Farmer

It’s hard to catch your breath in Quito, Ecuador. Whether it’s the thin air of its 10,000 foot elevation, the natural beauty of its volcanic mountains, or the built beauty of its colonial-era architecture, Quito is a city that leaves you breathless.

Last month, 30,000 people came together in the scenic Ecuadorian capital to discuss the future of cities at Habitat III. Hosted by the United Nations, this once-every-20-years convening marked just the third of its kind, following in the footsteps of Habitat I in Vancouver in 1976 and Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. UN-hosted World Urban Forums have been held every couple of years in recent decades, although none has reached the scale of Habitat.

At Habitat III, a wide range of individuals and organizations – including governments, companies, non-profits, and academic institutions – gathered to share best practices, to celebrate successes, and to approve a New Urban Agenda that marks the culmination of years of negotiations among United Nations member states.

Gatherings ranged from formal (including official delegate discussions in the National Theater), to participatory (such as the youth assemblies) to informal (like the lightning talks that electrified the expo hall). Some of the most interesting highlights were the following:

The Global Municipal Database – Lourdes German, Director of International and Institute-wide Initiatives at the Lincoln Institute, showcased a dashboard for cities that is built upon Microsoft technologies such as Azure, Power Map and Power BI. Working with cities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the Global Municipal Database tracks key fiscal indicators including expenditures, revenue, and borrowing and gives communities the tools to visualize the data and create actionable insights. What’s so powerful about these technologies is that many of their functionalities are Excel-based, meaning millions of people could use them tomorrow to make their cities more transparent and accountable, with no further training necessary.

Water and Resilience – It has been said that everyone has a water problem: either too polluted, too much, or not enough. For example, fully one-third of the Netherlands – a country built on its shipping and ports – lies below sea level. The country’s strength – water – is also its greatest vulnerability. With years of such experience living with water, the Netherlands was especially well qualified to host a conversation on the subject, which included viewpoints from Rotterdam and The Hague as well as a framework shared by 100 Resilient Cities’ Andy Salkin. One insight from The Hague was that resilience is not only physical, but must also be social and digital. Every aspect of a city must be able to bounce back. And while the cities of the Netherlands are especially advanced in learning how to live with water, most cities around the world are just getting started.

Public Spaces – Public spaces also played a key role, with planners asking whether placemaking will be at the heart of cities in the future. With a discussion of Eastern and Western traditions in terms of public spaces, the room erupted into a lively debate, during which an audience member noted that urban planners are increasingly using Microsoft’s Minecraft to engage people – particularly the young – in co-designing their own public spaces.

Housing – Housing was a major focus at Habitat III, for developed cities such as New York and for developing cities such as Lagos alike. With the majority of humanity living in cities for the first time in history, the influx of newcomers creates new stresses. Safe, accessible, and affordable housing is a priority.

Accessibility – A theme that was more woven into the conference experience than something explicitly called out was the need for more accessible communities. Microsoft is increasingly collaborating with cities to use technology to improve accessibility to services, information, and opportunity. “Eliminate the unnecessary barriers that limit our potential,” implored Dr. Victor Santiago Pineda of the University of California at Berkeley, who also served as co-chair for accessibility at Habitat III.

Youth – A particularly interesting aspect of Habitat III was the prevalence of young people everywhere you went. While most delegates were more senior, accomplished professionals, the conference grounds also teamed with young people of high school and college age. Many of those youth were local Ecuadorians engaging with this once-in-a-lifetime event that was on their home soil. Others were young people from around the world who journeyed to Quito to serve as agents of change. A middle-aged delegate at one youth-run session exclaimed “I’ve been going to sessions back-to-back for two days and this is the first one that is participatory. I think we need more of this.”

After several incredible days in Quito, the big question on everyone’s lips was, “What happens next?” How does the New Urban Agenda get implemented? To what extent will cities be prioritized by the UN? What role will technology play in forging solutions to our hardest problems? Will upcoming World Urban Forums be effectively leveraged to ensure steady progress on such audacious goals? Will the assumptions and priorities of Habitat III stand the test of time? Only time will tell.

Habitat III brought together planners, policymakers, technologists, and young people who care about the future of cities. Technology was there and will be an increasingly ubiquitous part of our lives. These new cross-sector connections have the potential to pay dividends between now and Habitat IV in 2036 – but that potential requires action by us to be fulfilled.

Source: Habitat III

Microsoft New York GIVES

The month of October is Microsoft’s Annual GIVE campaign; employees are encouraged to give time, talent, money, and most of all, hope. In New York we hosted weekly events over the course of the month to encourage campaign participation.

Our first event was a bake sale benefitting St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital, all baked goods were sold. Virtual bowling was our week two event and we are so appreciative to all of those employees who participated.

During week three we had two exciting events. The first one, employees volunteered their time to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for those in need. This was in support of the organization called One Sandwich at a Time. Our sandwiches were destined to reach the Bowery Mission in lower Manhattan.

Our second event for week three was a Rock Paper Scissors tournament. In order to participate each employee had to commit to donating a specified dollar amount to the charity which was to be selected by the overall tournament winner. It was a fast and fun event.


Last, but certainly not least, was our annual in-office service event with City Year New York. This year our employees volunteered their time to create plant kits and STEM packets, featuring Minecraft, for students at JHS 218K as part of Microsoft’s STEM initiative for in-school service.

The STEM packets contain math and science worksheets, comic templates and a section for the volunteer to write a letter to a student currently attending the City Year after school program. A portion of the science worksheets will be dedicated to the steps of the scientific method from hypothesis to analysis and conclusion.

The math sheets were tailored to middle school, which will include algebra, PEMDAS, and fractions. To spark their creativity and connect STEM to arts, students will be able look

to draw their own comic. Volunteers were encouraged to begin drawing a STEM-related comic, and have the students finish the comic in the last box. The comic may be related to the contents of the personal letter that the volunteers will wrote to the student.

The plant kits are a real-life science project to give students the opportunity to learn more about plant-based biology, provide practical skills on how to properly grow and care for a plant, and beautify the classroom spaces at JHS 218. Students will be able to get hands-on experience on planting the seed, understand how it grows in different types of light, temperature and amount of water given x amount of days as they go through the scientific method.


As part of our overall GIVE campaign, a huge thank you to all of our employees for their donations and for volunteering their time to bring life-changing opportunities to people in need in our backyard and around the globe.

Human-Centered, Pro Bono Data Science at Machine Eatable


Photo: Susan Sun at Machine Eatable | C/O John Paul Farmer.

Just in time for International Pro Bono Week, this past month’s Machine Eatable discussion featured two DataKind volunteers presenting on recent pro bono consulting projects. These DataCorps projects, as they’re called, typically last 3-6 months with volunteers donating a whopping 5-10 hours per week in addition to their full-time jobs. While the projects are pre-scoped by DataKind staff before teams start, there are still usually some twists and turns along the way where teams must pivot and come up with creative solutions. 

With a PhD in business economics from Harvard, DataKind volunteer Raluca Dragusanu first presented on her team’s work with a nonprofit called MicroCred. MicroCred works to make financial services available to the individuals that are underserved or unserved by the traditional financial sector, particularly the micro, small and medium entrepreneurs. In a project sponsored by IBM, her team used predictive modeling to improve their customer scoring and overall efficiency in granting loans so they can ultimately reach more people underserved and unserved by the financial sector. 

Up next, Susan Sun, a freelance data scientist working at Google, spoke about her team’s work with VOTO Mobile, one of West Africa’s fastest growing social enterprises. They aim to amplify the voice of the underheard through a mobile-based Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and survey platform that removes the barriers to insightful mobile communication between citizens worldwide and the organizations that serve them. In a project sponsored by Google, her team did statistical analysis on VOTO Mobile’s call and response data to identify the factors that result in successful completion of IVR surveys by women. This is all in an effort to combat the issue of data deserts, where certain populations tend to be underrepresented in datasets used to drive decisions around policy or other humanitarian interventions. 

Both projects had some common twists and turns including challenges with the data itself and also ensuring that the team’s work was continuously guided by the organization’s needs. As Susan described, her team had to pivot from a “hammer/nail” mentality where you want to fix everything with a machine learning model to a human-centered one where you are tailoring your work to meet the actual needs of your partner – even if it means doing something simpler or more foundational. Similarly, Raluca commented that The Data for Good movement is about more than just data science – it’s also about empowering and supporting the people that will ultimately carry the work forward.

Indeed, people are ultimately at the heart of this work so it’s important not just to select the right model or have the right data, but engage the right people to affect long-lasting change.

Tweets from this month’s #MachineEatable:

Civic Tech Events This November in NYC


It’s November and time to give thanks for the advancements our city is making in the Civic Tech space. Show your appreciation and join us this month at these top events around the city:

November 1-3 

Code for America Summit

The Code for America Summit is a roll-up-your-sleeves conference that brings together government innovators, civic-minded technologists, and entrepreneurs. It’ll be you and 1,200 of the most talented civic tech leaders taking over downtown Oakland, CA. Come with your passion for building a 21st-century government. Leave with the skills you need to do it.

We’ve put together a lineup of more than 200 speakers from the public, private, and non-profit sectors. They’re excited to share what’s working, what’s not, and what they’re learning along the way.

BSR Conference 2016

The BSR Conference is one of the most important global gatherings dedicated to sustainable business. This November, a global audience of close to 1,000 senior business executives from the public and private sector and civil society will gather in New York to explore emerging trends and innovative solutions to crucial sustainability questions. This year’s conference theme — BE BOLD — is a rallying cry for businesses addressing the toughest issues of our time.

November 1-6

Harlem Tech Week

Harlem Tech Week is NYC’s largest diverse tech community conference. The conference & expo supports under-resourced small businesses and entrepreneurs to excel and succeed in tech.

November 1-4 

Fast Company Innovation Festival

This fall, The Fast Company Innovation Festival will bring these extraordinary personalities together for surprising talks, hands-on workshops, unexpected performances and behind-the-scenes tours designed to inspire creativity and innovation.

November 2 

November 2016 NY Enterprise Technology Meetup (ft. The Blockchain Revolution)

The future is blockchain. You’re invited to join Work-Bench, RRE Ventures, and the NY Enterprise Tech Meetup for an exclusive blockchain event.

November NY FinTech Fireside Chat w/ Betterment Co-Founder Eli Broverman

Join the live stream for this fireside chat at 7pm EST on Wednesday, November 2.

November 2-4 

OpenLink Global Summit 2016

Please join us for the OpenLink Global Summit 2016, to be held on November 2-4, at the prestigious New York Marriott Marquis. The OpenLink Global Summit is a knowledge-oriented, interactive three-day event. The event will include, presentations with examples of real-world applications, hands-on demonstrations, product previews, and valuable networking sessions with our senior management and development staff, as well as your peers.

November 3-4 


DataEngConf is the first engineering conference that bridges the gap between data engineers and data scientists. Conference talks focus on examples of real-world architectures, data pipelines and plumbing systems, and applied, practical examples of data science.

November 7 

NYC TechBreakfast: BLASTeo, CFT Power Systems, Collaborizm, Roomi 

Interact with your peers in a monthly morning breakfast meetup. At this monthly breakfast get-together techies, developers, designers, and entrepreneurs share learn from their peers through show and tell / show-case style presentations.

Womensphere Global Awards @ Womensphere Summit & Festival 2016

The Womensphere Foundation recognizes extraordinary women and men whose leadership create a better future, and whose life’s work have created transformational impact in their industry, field or discipline, and the world. This year, we are honoring over a dozen extraordinary leaders and changemakers. Among this year’s Womensphere Global Leadership Award honorees is Carla Harris, Vice Chairman of Morgan Stanley.

November 9 

ARcade 7: VR, AR, and Politics 

At the Meetup we will have content curated from the likes of RYOT and Huffington Post to show how VR is being used as a form of journalism to spread awareness about environmental issues, an experience that shows how it feels to be in solitary confinement courtesy, while also have recordings of the Republican and Democratic Presidential Debates.

1st Annual NYU Stern FinTech Conference 
Our first annual FinTech conference will address how the expansion of technological services will challenge our preexisting ideas about how financial institutions should operate. The day will include: Faculty presentations on the potential of FinTech and the influence of Blockchain; Keynote speakers’ (Adrienne Harris, NYU Stern MBA ’14, and Dan Schulman, NYU Stern MBA ’86) insights into the future of the FinTech industry; Panels led by Stern professors, stacked with business leaders coming from major tech companies, such as CircleUp and EquityNet; and an evening networking reception with representatives from FinTech businesses.

November 10

Women In Tech Panel

Calling all Women in Tech! Come out for a fun night of networking and candid discussion about interviewing for jobs, first jobs in tech, and life as a female developer. Our panel will include Laurence Bradford (Founder, Learn to Code With Me), Karen Teng (Director of Engineering, ClassPass), and Anita Wang (UI Engineer, Meetup), who can share perspectives on the NYC tech scene.

November 10-12 

Exploring Future Reality 2016

Is the age of virtual and augmented reality, long anticipated, finally upon us? Exploring Future Reality is a full day event with virtual and augmented reality faculty researchers and industry experts delivering lightning talks, presentations, and interactive demos. The discussion will focus on the impact of VR/AR on the media and technology industry, including best practices for storytelling, prototyping, and distribution.


Cyber Security Awareness Week 2016

Cyber Security Awareness Week is the largest student-run cyber security event in the nation, featuring six competitions, keynote presentations, workshops, and an industry fair.

November 12 

The Silicon Alley Technology Summit

Join us at the inaugural S.A.T SUMMIT 2016 to mingle with 2500+ startup founders, 1000+ gurus of the tech industry, 1500+ top angels and VCs, 1000+ experts, and so much more. Become one of the 125 pre-selected startups to pitch on stage in front of the premier Silicon alley angels & VCs.

November 15

Women in FinTech: Humanizing Data

Join LMHQ + Future\Perfect Ventures for a Women in Fintech event on November 15th. We’ll explore the importance of humanizing data in the fintech sector. Join for the panel discussion featuring influential and innovative women in the industry, including Shaunda Brown, Director of Business Development SoFi, Hilary Mason, Data Scientist and Founder of Fast Forward Labs, and Jane Barratt, Founder GoldBean.

November 16 

Women Who Code NYC: Algorithms @ Betterment

This monthly meetup covers algorithms. We’ll split attendees into two main groups: whiteboarding skills and beginner skills.

6:30 Arrive/Network/Food
7:00 Welcome from Women Who Code and Organizers
7:05 Welcome from Betterment Engineering
7:15 Meetup starts
9:00 Event ends after solution presentation from volunteers

November 16-17 

Data Transparency Lab Conference 2016

The third annual gathering of the Data Transparency Lab, a community of technologists, researchers, policymakers and industry representatives working to advance online personal data transparency through scientific research and design.

November 17

AlleyBoost Startup Expo

The AlleyBoost Startup Expo: An opportunity for over 75 exciting exhibitors to get in front of thousands of awesome attendees including startup enthusiasts, elite talent, the press and leading investors. The Expo is being hosted at The Yard: Flatiron North which is located in the heart of Manhattan.

Global Startup Hackathon – Columbia

Whether you are a bootstrapped founder, engineer, doctor, PhD scientist, business hacker, or student, you are invited to join this must attend Hackathon. The top participants “based on innovation merit” will be invited to showcase their proof of concept or demo.

November 18

Out in Tech Talks

Out in Tech Talks will unite 450+ leading and aspiring LGBTQ and allied voices in the tech community to advance the dialogue around diversity in tech and address the power of technology to create social change.

November 19

DAT2016 Workshop on Data and Algorithmic Transparency

The Workshop on Data and Algorithmic Transparency (DAT’16) is being organized as a forum for academics, industry practicioners, regulators, and policy makers to come together and discuss issues related to increasing role that “big data” algorithms play in our society. Our goal is to provide a venue for fruitful discussions and high-quality academic research papers focused on increasing understanding and transparency of large-scale data collection and the systems and algorithms that it powers.