What’s Next After Microsoft — Civic Tech Fellow Briana Vecchione

Nov 8, 2017   |   Briana Vecchione, MSNY Civic Tech Fellow

Where did you study? 

I was brought onto the team immediately after I finished my undergraduate degree in computer science from a small department at Pace University 

What were your main duties as a Microsoft fellow? 

One of the reasons this fellowship was so conducive to my working style is because it allowed me to mix my affinities for technical projects and community engagement. Technically, I was responsible for product development and maintenance, but I was also able to do plenty of external relations, outreach, and public speaking work. The fact that I was given both responsibilities helped me develop greater autonomy and self-define how I wanted to make an impact with my work. 

What has been your favorite project with Microsoft? 

Hands down, my favorite project I’ve worked on is BoardStat — A series of open data dashboards using NYC’s 311 data for Community Boards. This is a project Microsoft built in collaboration with the Manhattan Borough President’s Office and BetaNYC, who came to us with prior research around the need for data-driven decision making within hyperlocal government. My role was to translate this research into a functional tool. Throughout the process, we held regular meetings with board members and liaisons to emphasize user-testing by understanding use cases and product needsBoardStat was the theme of this year’s National Day of Civic Hacking, where it was launched by Noel Hidalgo and Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer. On this day, I was able to teach a day-long tutorial on open-source data dashboarding in order to democratize skillsets and empower individuals to build tools. We were also able to present our work at Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange as well as Stanford’s Digital Impact NYC.

A lot of what we do on this team is figure out how a company like Microsoft can use its resources to empower others, and seeing this project grow and launch has been a clear example of how corporations can delegate their assets to help achieve a public need. Being able to develop a solution alongside government officials and an insanely focused local nonprofit has been what I consider the definition of effective civic technology.

BoardStat is hosted on Gale Brewer’s site now.

Where is civic tech taking you next? 

I’m planning on pursing a PhD. This fellowship has made me realize how necessary it is to focus on fairness and accountability when developing technical solutions. In turn, my interest led me to the FATML community, a rapidly-growing group of “interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners concerned with fairness, accountability, and transparency in machine learning”. This is where I’ll be focusing my efforts going forward.  

What advice do you have for future fellows? 

Use this opportunity to hone your interests and figure out where you can best apply your skills to empower the community! I’ve met so many brilliant, kind, driven, and hardworking professionals doing much-needed and valuable work in this space. Many of them ended up turning into my closest friends and mentors. My greatest projects were born through conversations and ideation sessions about how to make civic life better for all of New York’s inhabitants.    

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