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Recap: 2017 State of the City Addresses

This week, we were fortunate to join New York City in celebrating the current state of the city, while looking forward to future progress in NYC. With two separate addresses — the first by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and the second by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — we recounted the successes our city has made and the steps we need to take to move forward.

We’d like to thank the city especially for spotlighting April, a graduate of our Tech Jobs Academy, as an example of how New Yorkers are seizing opportunities to build better futures.

A recap, via Twitter Moments:

National Entrepreneurship Week helps small businesses reach their big dreams

Every small business starts with a big dream. To help any company’s accomplishments mirror its ambition, Microsoft is sponsoring National Entrepreneurship Week. Five days of online and in-person events running Feb. 20‒24 are designed for entrepreneurs and business owners, including a Women in Entrepreneurship event in New York City.

Empowering business creators to thrive matters because small businesses play a crucial role in America’s economic success. They account for 55 percent of U.S. jobs, according to the Small Business Administration. And America’s 28 million small-business owners and entrepreneurs are at the forefront of innovation, fueling growth and creating jobs.

National Entrepreneurship Week will feature free workshops, content, webcasts, events and more, offered by event supporters including Dun & Bradstreet, LinkedIn, Wix and Yelp.

The Women in Entrepreneurship Panel will highlight the triumphs and tribulations faced by women from all walks of life who run small businesses. Ramon Ray of Smart Hustle Magazine will moderate as women entrepreneurs detail tips on how to get a business off the ground and growing. It takes place Thursday, Feb. 23, 6‒8 p.m. ET, at the Microsoft Store (677 5th Ave., New York, NY 10022). The event is free but seating is limited, so RSVP now.

Also live in New York (and live on Facebook), Microsoft’s Cindy Bates — who leads the Small and Midsized Business and Distribution group — will discuss how modern technology can transform your small business. She will advise on best practices for launching a brand and outline the latest affordable tech tools for connecting with customers. RSVP now for Bates’ presentation on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 6‒8 p.m. ET at the Wix Lounge (235 West 23rd St.).

Here are additional in-person and online events and content to experience throughout the week. Visit the Microsoft Small and Midsize Business Blog for details:

To boot, many National Entrepreneurship Week supporters are offering specials and discounts to boost your business productivity. For example, Microsoft is offering 10 percent off select Surface and Windows 10 Pro devices. To find out more, visit your local Microsoft Store from Feb. 20‒26.

Check Entrepreneurship Week for regular updates, resources, new content and special offers throughout the week. And join in the conversation on Twitter by following #WININBIZ.

We look forward to engaging further and learning more about how these activities help small-business owners accelerate their success.

Working Forward: Ross Dakin, Senior Advisor, Microsoft New York

From waiter to White House — it’s all about people

My first “real job” was at a local Italian restaurant in San Diego, where I bussed tables for three years during high school.

On my first night of work—having no experience—I loaded a tray full of eight water glasses, walked over to a table, and spilled them all onto a customer’s lap. I was devastated; I knew I would be fired.

Later that night, Javier (the restaurant owner) approached me in the back of the restaurant.

“What do you do when you fall off a bicycle?” he asked.

I paused, wide-eyed, then replied, “Get back on?”

With a nod, Javier walked away, and that was the end of it. To this day, he remains a mentor and one of my closest friends.

That job taught me so much about effective leadership, team dynamics, engagement with the public, and—above all—how to treat women and men working long hours in the service industry with respect and an appreciation for the distinction between “server” and “servant.”

Everyone should work in food service at least once—I’ve found no better lesson in empathy.

Technology is easy; culture is hard

Fast forward a couple decades—last year, it was my honor to serve as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow in Washington, D.C., where again I found service and empathy to be at the heart of my job. This program (affectionately abbreviated “PIF”) was created to provide an avenue for bringing modern methodologies and best practices from the private sector into the federal government.

While there is a technology flavor to the PIF program, its greatest strength lies in the beginnings of culture change that it has brought to the federal workforce (agile development, human-centered design, an embrace of failure and an appetite for experimentation, etc.), and the key to changing that culture has been the employment of deep empathy for career federal employees. Understanding their procurement, budgetary, and security requirements helped us best facilitate the shedding of the business-as-usual mindset (“but we’ve always done it that way”) in favor of an open-minded curiosity for novel and alternative approaches.

One manifestation of this was the warming of government to modern cloud technologies despite unfamiliarity and natural skepticism. By empathizing with their encumbering bureaucratic constraints, we (and our friends in 18F, USDS, and other groups) were able to help many agencies navigate their way toward adopting cloud services for their technical needs. It’s been very encouraging to watch more and more agencies trust their missions (from food stamps to national security) to Azure and other cloud service providers.

None of that would have happened without first building trust and understanding between our group and the civil servants with whom we worked—it all starts with people.

The real heroes

As a side note, I cannot overstate how amazing career government employees are. The vast majority of everyone I met during my time in D.C. had the highest levels of work ethic, integrity, and true passion for public service. While participants in programs like PIF, 18F, and USDS perform short-term “tours of duty” to help modernize government (sometimes in highly visible ways), the career government employees of all levels who dedicate their lives to public service are very truly deserving of the highest praise and recognition.

The challenges I mention arise from the fact that our government is an enormous organization that necessarily has many regulations unique to the charter of providing for every single person in our country, often requiring stability that results in a natural isolation from the ways of the ever-evolving private sector. In this and other respects, it was very illuminating to appreciate the critical differences between running a business and running a nation.

Speaking of business

Many PIFs remain in government after their fellowships end, either as White House advisors, at other technology-focused groups like 18F or the US Digital Service, or within executive agencies in such roles as Chief Technology Officer, Chief Data Scientist, etc.

I opted to return to the private sector because I realized that it’s just as important for people with government experience to be in private companies as it is for people with private sector experience to cycle through government. When both sides of the table share experience with each other, we can begin to collaborate from a place of common understanding and accomplish much more than we could accomplish without the benefit of having gained insight beyond our respective silos.

This continues to be true for me personally, as my time as a PIF informs my current role at Microsoft a great deal: they share many attributes (both are small groups within large organizations, both are undergoing periods of reinvention) and their associated challenges and opportunities. While not public service, the Microsoft TCE team strives to generate public good in many of the same ways that I did as a PIF (identifying strategic partnerships, leveraging our unique scale, employing best-of-breed technologies, etc.), and I am grateful for both the opportunity to have served in my governmental capacity and to continue applying the learnings I gained there in the private sector.

Stronger together

Both my time as a PIF and with Microsoft TCE have opened my eyes to many astoundingly unfortunate conditions that exist in our country. The fact that 19% of American kids grow up in poverty is unacceptable. It’s 2017—we can do better.

This is why private sector programs like Microsoft’s Tech Jobs Academy, public sector initiatives like #CSForAll and TechHire, and public/private collaborations like The Opportunity Project excite me so much: the keys to economic advancement should not be the zip code you grew up in or being of a privileged demographic, but a strong work ethic and the daring to chase big dreams.

Both public and private sectors share a role to play in advancing economic opportunity, and the most progress can perhaps be made when they function together in collaboration.

Success and humanity

With the shared responsibility of generating public good comes a shared challenge: what is “success” when the goal is not simply to make money?

If we impact the lives of 10 people, have we been successful? Must we impact a thousand people to be successful? A million? What depth of impact is required to achieve success? How should we quantify the level of impact?

These are questions without right or wrong answers. They’re questions that are highly subjective in nature. When much of a technologist’s career involves black-and-white programming, these questions present an interesting gray area that must be navigated with an element of gut feeling, ethics, and intuition that a computer cannot provide.

This is the human side of technology—it’s truly all about people.

NYC Hacks Shipping at the Ports & Logistics Hackathon

This month, our team at Microsoft NY collaborated with developers, business people, designers, domain experts, and lawyers as sponsors and mentors to bring modern technology to the international shipping industry at the NYC Ports & Logistics Hackathon. The 48-hour hackathon was a collective effort between Rainmaking Innovation, Ports America, the Port Authority of NY/NJ, Mærsk Group, Microsoft, Quintiq, INTTRA, Cisco and the Red Sea Gateway Terminal. The history of international shipping has seen very little technological disruption, despite accounting for 90% of global trade. A marketplace that employs 13.5 Million people and generates $436.6 Billion in the US alone is a prime opportunity to innovate, and to this we say: Bring in the hackers.

RECAP: Lightning Talks with Tech Jobs Academy

With the start of a new year, people around the world generally make resolutions to themselves [to do better things and be better people].  These resolutions can run the gamut, but the one thing they seem to all have in common is the want and desire to improve—whether it be to improve on one’s self, one’s circumstances, one’s environment etc.  

The beginning of 2017 is very significant for the Tech Jobs Academy program as we celebrate one year of the program and are still freshly excited about our second cohort, who graduated three months ago. Keeping with the spirit of new beginnings and new resolutions, last week we celebrated the new year by hosting a “Tech Jobs Academy Lightning Talk” which featured three awesome graduates from our first cohort.  

The goal of this event was very simple—provide an opportunity for the program’s two cohorts to get together and hear from some of their peers who are utilizing the skills they’ve learned in Tech Jobs Academy in their every day work. It was a chance to share, to learn, to grow, to be vulnerable and to be present. We were fortunate to have three keynote speakers who all took a different approach on sharing their experiences in Tech Jobs Academy, their paths leading up to Tech Jobs Academy and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Abel Chajet, Information Technology Support Specialist at The Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG Justice Center) provided an overview of his path to Tech Jobs Academy which started off with a deep love and appreciation for technology. Despite his tech interest, he always felt barriers to building on and deepening his skill set. Abel remarked that the things he felt were missing from his different academic experiences prior to Tech Jobs Academy were great resources and peers.

He explained to the room that beyond the wonderful technical skills he acquired in Tech Jobs Academy, he learned even more about the importance of “networking with more than just Ethernet cables and switches!” In fact, his networking led him to connecting with Bradley Michelson, Director of Business Development at Idealist and friend to our team, who then was able to connect him to CSG Justice Center. For Abel, it was important to work for an organization like the CSG Justice Center because he felt “it would be fitting to serve the public good because so many public resources have been spent” building him up.

 

Makini Osson, IT Helpdesk Engineer at WCA Technologies Inc., provided encouragement to her peers to constantly talk about the work you’re doing to your network and to constantly do things that will showcase yourself and your abilities.

Through her presence both online and offline, Makini was able to land in a career path where she is able to expand on her skills using what she learned throughout the program. In fact, the president of her company told her she was primarily hired because of her training in Azure, since many of their clients, who are small businesses, were beginning to migrate to the cloud. Makini concluded her remarks by quoting Albert Einstein, “life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

David Linton, Service Desk Engineer at Dataprise, concluded the series by detailing his extremely diverse path to Tech Jobs Academy and by emphasizing the point Makini made of communicating with your network the work you’re doing.  

David opened by saying his first introduction to the New York City College of Technology (CUNY City Tech) came a number of years ago when he was enrolled as a Computer Science major studying computer engineering.  His time there, however, was cut short when he was told by a professor that computer engineering was a dying field if you weren’t on the teaching side.

From there, David entered the workforce doing various jobs including producing fashion shows, working for the radio station “Hot 97” to working as an Operations Director for a bus company. It was during this particular role that David was re-introduced to technology and his passion for it because his manager also wanted him to work as the main IT professional on staff. It was also around this time that David, drawing from his various work experiences, created his own one-man video, photography and web design consulting business called No Introductions.  

When David was laid off around the recession, he continued growing and building No Introductions. A few short years later David accepted a position as a Video Manager at a company that also wanted him to work as an IT Coordinator. It was here where his love for technology resurfaced and coincidentally it was during this role that he found out about Tech Jobs Academy.  David felt this opportunity could be his big break into strengthening his technical chops and adding to his portfolio.  

Fast forward to Tech Jobs Academy. David made it a point to utilize social media platforms to share the work he was doing in the program, and this simple yet powerful act allowed him to gain contracts for small businesses, where he could set up and manage their wi-fi connections and build servers for their network. David concluded by reiterating that no matter how long it takes, if you’re passionate, dedicated and committed things always have a way of working out.  

As someone who joined the Microsoft Tech Jobs Academy team well into the first cohort, one thing working on this program has shown me is that New York City is fortunate to have talented and passionate people with great drive and ability who are just looking for an opportunity.  Beyond that, it’s shown me that when you bring these types individuals together from it grows a supportive and nurturing community dedicated to paying it forward for generations to come.

Year in Review: 2016 in Civic Tech

msny-2016

We’ve spent our 2016 working forward in civic tech, while sharing stories of leaders in technology and civic progress right here on our blog. Thank you to everyone who has used their voice this year to help us elevate others in the New York area.

A look back at an amazing year on the Microsoft New York Blog:

January

Microsoft New York welcomes District General Manager Laura Clayton McDonnell

We welcomed the newest member of the New York Metro District team — our district general manager, Laura Clayton McDonnell. McDonnell brings a wealth of knowledge in sales management and legal experience, most recently in executive roles at Aspect Software, IBM, Sun and Apple.

IMG_20160115_113237DataViz for good: How to ethically communicate data in a visual manner: #RDFviz
Matt Stempeck

Microsoft’s Director of Civic Technology in New York City, Matt Stempeck, recaps his experience at the Responsible Data Forum, a collaborative effort to develop useful tools and strategies for dealing with the ethical, security and privacy challenges facing data-driven advocacy. Topics included non-screen data visualizations, communicating uncertainty in data and more.

February

OnyiVoices of Change — The Future of Technology and the Black Community
Onyi Nwosu, Computer Science Engineer, Black Girls Code

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. For Black History Month, month, we were honored to feature the voices of local leaders who represent our commitment to diversity and use their drive to help the community in which they serve. One of those people is Onyi Nwosu, a computer science engineer at Black Girls Code.

April

civic-tech-1Towards a taxonomy of civic technology

What is civic technology? It’s a question we’re asked often. As Microsoft’s team behind Technology and Civic Engagement, there’s no one “real” answer. Matt Stempeck, Director of Civic Technology, went to Barcelona for The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC) to help spread the word of civic tech and explain what it is exactly that we do.

May

Tech Jobs AcademyCelebrating Tech Jobs Academy
John Paul Farmer

Twenty three incredible New Yorkers and their families gathered at Civic Hall to celebrate an accomplishment that would have been impossible just a few months prior. But, like most overnight successes, this one was actually years in the making. Microsoft New York’s Director of Technology & Civic Innovation, John Paul Farmer, told the story of how Tech Jobs Academy came to be.

June

Fellow Profile: Hannah Cutler

Every year, we gain an incredible cohort of civic technology fellows who inspire us through their hard work and dedication to utilize technology in local government and community applications. With each step forward our fellows make, we help make New York City more interconnected through technology. Meet one of our fellows, Hannah Cutler.

August

Welcoming Ross Dakin to the Microsoft NY Team
Ross Dakin

Ross Dakin joined the Microsoft Technology and Civic Innovation team, where he’s excited to use data and technology for social good. He came to us with a deep understanding of civic tech via his former positions at Silicon Valley companies and as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow.

rocinha-favelaQuadratic Voting: Civic Tech for Eminent Domain
E. Glen Weyl, Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research New York City

E. Glen Weyl, Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research New York City, wrote about a new voting system he devised, called Quadratic Voting, in which individuals can buy additional votes on an issue at an increasing cost. Beyond eminent domain, Quadratic Voting has a variety of other uses in cities and politics more broadly, allowing citizens to find compromises that allow them to have more say on the issues most important to them in exchange for letting their fellow citizens have their way on the issues more important to them.

Meet High School Intern: Sagar Punjabi

Microsoft is committed to developing junior talent and championing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related fields. Over the summer, we were thrilled to host high school students as part of our NYC Microsoft High School Summer Internship Program (HSIP). We interviewed one of our high school interns, Sagar Punjabi.

October

panorama-entrance01-low-resMicrosoft Reactor opens to spur tech innovation in New York City

Expanding on its commitment to innovation, Microsoft celebrated the grand opening of its latest Microsoft Reactor, based in New York City’s iconic Grand Central Terminal. This is the third Reactor where businesses, universities, governments and entrepreneurs can come together and access the latest Microsoft technologies and expert resources.

November

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

City Year New York deploys 257 highly skilled AmeriCorps members to serve in 24 elementary, middle and high schools. Laura Clayton McDonnell (GM of Microsoft New York), Antuan Santana (Operations & Community Manager) and Donna Abrusci (Business Program Manager) visited the City Year New York corp member team at JHS218 James P Sinnott Middle School.

December

CoderDojo NYC students work at the Microsoft Store on 5th Ave. Photo from CoderDojo NYC. Coding Outside the Classroom: CoderDojo NYC Teaches Children Computer Science Fundamentals

Although New York announced plans to offer all students programming classes by 2025, fewer than 10 percent of city schools currently offer any form of computer science education, and only 1 percent of students are currently in CS classes. But students do have interest. Living proof is CoderDojo, a global network of programming clubs for young people.

Thank you to all who joined us in sharing the important stories that shape our community. Let’s work together for an incredible 2017.

Event Recap: Discovering Urban Tech at Microsoft’s NYC Reactor

Last week, we joined CUNY Tech Meetup for Discover Urban Tech at Microsoft’s NYC Reactor, a celebration of local technology that is making our city better, step by step. We were thrilled to host the event at our new Microsoft Reactor location at the Hub @ Grand Central Tech.

Speakers included:

Some highlights from the event:

 

Celebrating Early College Initiative at CUNY

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-2-30-42-pm

In November 2016, Idealist, Microsoft, and CUNY brought together 150 students, technologists, educators, and business leaders to celebrate the partnerships that drive an innovative new model that brings STEM career pathways to high school students—the Early College Initiative at CUNY. Over the course of six years, the program provides a high school education along with internship and college experience and works to close the gap between young people’s ambitions for college and careers and the specific skills needed by employers in high growth industries.

More than 20 students who are part of the Early College Initiative attended the event which was at the new Microsoft Reactor Space and part of the Idealist Tech++ event series, appropriately created to bring together students, educators, job seekers, employers, and anyone else interested in the pipeline for social good tech careers.  The students and attendees heard from and were able to speak with industry leaders such as Bradley Michelson from Idealist, Natasha Scantlebury from Microsoft, Robinson Hernandez from the Urban Tech Hub at Grand Central Tech, and Dawn Barber from CUNY Tech Meetup. These leaders exemplified the power of networking and partnerships, and stressed to students to engage with like-minded groups in and out of their own communities.

A short video about the event and the Early College Initiative.

The event celebrated the collaboration of many of those passionately involved in the program already including Ellen Hogarty of CUNY ECI, Cass Conrad from CUNY, Hilary Ayala from Con Edison, Dana Politis from Montefiore Medical Center, Denise Ward from the Queensborough Community College, and Reina Utsunomiya from NYC Department of Education. There was wonderful discussion about how the program disrupts the current educational system by offering a focused track for high school students, including Destiny Jacobs and Bryann Sandy, who shared how their ECI internships gave them invaluable experience at IBM and NYC Transit. Partner companies also present in joining the celebration were New York Presbyterian, National Grid, the 4A’s, and more.

Partnerships are the cornerstone of the ECI learning model–especially those that provide students with internships and a formative first-work experience. These internships enable students to heighten their understanding of the world of work, refine their technical skills, and contribute to employers’ project-based needs.  Internships help students experience the connection between work and learning.  The Early College Initiative views internships as closely supervised work experiences informed by an intentional learning strategy.  To that end, ECI is committed to providing eligible students with at least one internship experience during their enrollment at a 9-14 Early College & Career School. Additionally, all students will have access to a wide array of work-exposure activities, including mentoring, job shadowing, and more.

ECI embraces seven guidelines for identifying appropriate partnership sites for students currently enrolled in 9-14 Early College & Career Schools.  Internships endorsed by the Early College Initiative must:

  1. Extend the knowledge gained in the classroom and identify clear learning outcomes.
  2. Provide an opportunity to gain transferrable skills.
  3. Clearly identify a defined work period (beginning and end date), number of hours per week, and job description with specific qualifications.
  4. Identify a designated supervisor and/or mentor with at least three years of professional experience in the field.
  5. Include constructive feedback from the designated supervisor, and provide multiple opportunities to observe the internship site.
  6. Exhibit adequate employer resources to facilitate interns’ success: (i.e. work space)
  7. Clearly identify specific projects for the intern to complete.

Please reach out if you are interested in learning more about sponsoring academic year and summer internship opportunities at ecipartnerships@cuny.edu. If you are interested in being part of the Idealist Tech++ event series, please reach out to bradley@idealist.org.