#MSFTCOSO POV: Making the world safer one hack at a time

Since early July, I’ve been leading an internal team focused on revolutionizing “parental controls” for the 21st century household. Our project was part of Microsoft’s first-ever companywide Hackathon, where individuals and small teams put forth innovative project ideas, and employees from around the world volunteered their time, talent, skills and energy to give shape to the various concepts and visions. “Hack,” meaning “to hack something together” over the course of two full days last month, as opposed to the traditional computer security-related definition of hacking into a device or dataset to gain access for illicit purposes.

Our project, called “Safer kids. Saner parents.,” welcomed 41 practical strangers to brainstorm and deliver a functioning “dashboard” to help parents learn about and manage their kids’ online activities across our three screens: the PC/laptop/tablet, the game console and the mobile phone. Building on Microsoft’s existing work and long-standing commitment to online safety, just six short weeks later, the group designed and developed a fully customizable and personalized prototype, fashioned to account for an individual family’s unique values, as well as each child’s age and maturity level. The dashboard would inform parents and child caregivers “where” their kids have been online; “what” they’d been doing across various devices, websites, games and apps, and “with whom” they’d been interacting. It would also offer helpful tips about safer online habits for everyone in a household, and allow for rewards and incentives for good digital behavior.

Of the more than 3,000 projects put forth as hackathon challenges, 10 were selected to be viewed by senior Microsoft leadership. Over the week-long internal rating period, our organically formed group rose as high as number two and finished eighth overall in the Consumer category with 642 employee ratings. Along the way, our project was selected to be featured externally, and the accompanying photo shoot gave many of us an opportunity to meet face to face. Going forward, several are committed to working together again; so hopefully, this is the first of more great family-centered hacks to come.

Microsoft 2014 Hackathon team photos
(L – R): David Laves, Jacqueline Beauchere and Tiffany Teichrow (Photo credit: Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)

Collaborative, cooperative, respectful, committed to our end goal, results-driven, passionate and compassionate are just some of the words I would use to describe the hack team. Even “disagreements,” largely of a substantive nature and few and far between, were settled in the most democratic of ways and the most open and transparent of forums. For instance, the team was divided as to the approach our required video-demo should take: cutting-edge style television commercial or more traditional, scenario-based explanation of features and functionality? Within minutes of the preferences for the two options being voiced via email, one hacker stepped up with a formal, online voting mechanism. In the end, my favored format lost out, but we upheld the integrity of the collaborative, decision-making process.

Unfortunately, a personal matter removed me from Redmond for the actual hack days, but the team barely missed a beat. They knew what was on the line, and stepped up to deliver and take the project through to completion. A real highlight for the hackers was the opportunity to share our project with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella; Executive Vice President of Marketing Chris Capossela and Executive Vice President of Technology and Research Harry Shum.

This project was one of the most rewarding, challenging, satisfying and invigorating of my near-15-year Microsoft career. Not surprisingly, it was the people that made the difference. And, if this first global hackathon is any indication of where the company is headed, I can only hope to be a part of it for the next 15 years.

For more information about Microsoft’s work in Online Safety, visit our Safety & Security Center; “like” us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter, and look for my “point of view” following the #MSFTCOSO hashtag.

Editor’s Note: Once a month on Microsoft on the Issues, Jacqueline Beauchere shares her point of view on topics related to the global consumer online safety landscape. Follow the conversation on Twitter using #MSFTCOSO.