John Paul Farmer

Director of Technology & Civic Innovation

John Paul Farmer
Meet John
John Paul Farmer believes in the combined power of technology and cross-sector collaboration to drive positive change throughout society. As the Director of Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Innovation team in New York City, John leads hands-on engagement with governments, non-profits, for-profits, academic institutions, startups, and civic hackers so that they can do more good together than they could apart. Previously, John served as the Senior Advisor for Innovation in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where he spearheaded the President’s innovation agenda. Under President Barack Obama, he co-founded and led the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, which attracts top innovators and entrepreneurs from the private sector for focused tours of duty in government, in order to make game-changing progress on projects of national importance. He also served in the Administration as Senior Advisor for Healthcare Reform, working on healthcare information technology such as Blue Button, delivery system reform and economic analyses. Previously, John worked in the investment industry for Credit Suisse and Lehman Brothers, where he built a new business unit from the ground up. He played professional baseball as a shortstop in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves minor league systems, compiling a .344 career batting average. John holds an MBA with honors from the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University and an AB with honors from Harvard University. He grew up in Pittsburgh before moving to Manhattan over a decade ago.

The Nitty Gritty: keys to transformation personally and as a leader

Molly finishing

This weekend I participated in the Microsoft Challenge at the New York City Triathlon. This was an event sponsored by Microsoft for executives from across commercial business to train and compete in the triathlon while also networking and learning about Digital Transformation. It was a great experience and allowed me to reflect on the tools that leaders need to draw on to achieve personal and professional goals.

As I completed the triathlon yesterday and pushed to the finish these words came to mind:

“Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Angela Lee Duckworth

It stands out to me that GRIT can serve as a foundation for leaders to personally transform by maintaining passion and perseverance for their goals around optimal health and fitness. We can also apply that same discipline to stick to a long-term goal despite setbacks as we lead our businesses to digitally transform.


When psychologist Angela Duckworth studied people in various challenging situations, including National Spelling Bee participants, rookie teachers in tough neighborhoods, and West Point cadets, she found: One characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ.  It was grit.  

After relying on my grit to prepare for the triathlon, I noticed that it’s the same source I pull from when leading teams to transform and advising other business leaders for how they can pursue change over the long term. Grit is essential, not only in academics or athletics but in business.

Grit can be taught through some of the following exercises:

Develop a Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck from Stanford University teaches us that people who have a growth mindset are more successful than those who think that intelligence is fixed.

Grit Takes Time

Commit to have grit today, but give it time to grow. Practice Grit in both personal and professional circumstances and keep a journal of how you have relied on Grit over time and then look back on how you have grown your ability to apply grit and stay gritty.

The ever changing technology landscape and business that moves at a breakneck pace requires grit now more than ever – in both our personal and professional lives. As you think about digital transformation for your business consider how Grit will play a role of getting your organization to the goals you have.

Molly WINNING MC Challenge Female category

Molly McCarthy wins the Microsoft Challenge Female Category at the NYC Triathlon

It isn’t Grit alone that will propel you to your goal, but teamwork is also essential. Building a team, you can rely on with a foundation of trust, encouragement and mutual respect also leads to great outcomes. In preparing for the triathlon, I came to recognize how much I rely on my support team both personally and professionally for the encouragement and “push” I sometimes needed to get me to my goal.

As you work toward your goals I recommend you prioritize Grit and Teamwork to fuel your personal best.  To learn more about Digital Transformation and other ways you can prepare as a leader check out our ebook to take digital to the core of your business:



Fellow Profile: Briana Vecchione

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Where are you from?

I’m from Orange County, CA but moved to NYC four years ago.

School/grad year/major: 

I just graduated with a degree in Computer Science & Mathematics from Pace University in downtown Manhattan.

Last thing you searched on Bing:

“What is the area of Greece?” Context: Jake Hofman, a mentor of mine from Microsoft Research, recently did some work to improve user comprehension of large numbers that recently shipped as a new feature in Bing. Now, instead of returning the numeric answer, 50,948 sq miles, Bing returns “About equal to the size of New York State”. It’s really fun – try it!

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program?

I was actually involved in some previous research through the Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School, where I analyzed the network flow of New York’s bike sharing program and implemented algorithms to decrease system congestion. If you’re interested, you can check out our paper or talk. Matt ended up attending our final presentation and did a write up of it on his personal blog. When I found out about the Civic Tech Fellowship on Twitter, I reached out to him and John to see how I could contribute to the team!

What’s your favorite technology that’s building New York’s civic spaces?

I’ve been following the Beta release of LinkNYC since it began during the end of last year. I love that New York supports the idea that connectivity is a citizen’s right and is making active pursuits to improve the city’s Internet infrastructure. It brings public tech into the 21st century by offering free phone calls, charging stations, and open Internet which includes an interface directing users to city services, directions, and maps. It’s also a brilliant usage of the already-existing fiber optic networks that run through the city and is self-financed by each station’s advertisements.

Who is your civic tech mentor/idol?

I work under John Paul Farmer & Matt Stempeck, both of whom are definitely my in-house idols. I also really admire work being done by researchers Danah Boyd, Hilary Mason, and Hanna Wallach.

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New York?

The bulk of my work has been on, where I’ve built out an analytics dashboard, restructured the codebase to add some exciting new features, and am implementing a scalable check-in system so users can easily add themselves during events. This is super exciting for me, because I’m really interested in how we collect and translate information in the digital sphere. Because civic graph is open and crowdsourced, it displays a knowledge base not held by a single individual, thus creating its own identity. To be able to administer a digital space that offers simple transparency, helps define ‘civic tech’, and creates such meaningful impacts in the lives of people is a privilege, to say the least.

Separately, I’m working on testing Microsoft Translator in various city spaces so that New York can make the most of its applications for machine translation. We’re going to be using it within summer school classes for ESL or hard-of-hearing students as well as in ID NYC locations for citizens applying for resident benefits. We’ve been doing some internal testing on our end already, and it’s incredible to see how powerful the technology has become. The last time we tested, I thought to myself, ‘wow, this could really make such a difference in so many people’s lives’. It’s an awesome feeling to be able to work on projects like that.

What excites you about civic tech?

I’m passionate about the ‘by the people, for the people’ narrative that civic tech carries. The ability to utilize technical skills is valuable in this economy and comes with a lot of responsibility, and I want to make sure that the work I’m doing contributes as much as possible. I also really appreciate the emphasis on transparency through the open data and open government initiatives that are grown and fostered throughout the community. I’ve never been interested in tech fads and have encountered too many people who exert a lot of talent and energy on products that cater to a very privileged subset of society. When you engage in a space like civic tech, you can’t help but run into an overwhelming amount of brilliant, empathetic, passionate, and conscious thinkers and technologists.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities?

There’s still a lot to be done to improve transportation safety & efficiency in cities. Vision Zero and Transit Wireless has been doing some amazing work in NYC and I’m hopeful that once vehicle automation is fully deployed, it’ll only help to improve that. It’s been fascinating to watch and contribute to the ongoing ethical discussions that have emerged lately as a result of automated transit systems.

Empowering Girls Who Code With Super Powers

Laura Clayton McDonnell, Girls Who CodeWhile I sat in the Girls Who Code classroom and watched Laura Clayton McDonnell, General Manager Microsoft New York Metro, deliver her speaking engagement/presentation, I was in awe of her ease and natural approach. She started her presentation with some personal information and beautiful pictures of her family.  Laura’s family is from Panama, however Laura was born in Bermuda and was raised in California.  She has a very diverse education background along with a fascinating work history; started her career as an attorney and then moved into sales.  Laura’s personal philosophy is “To live life in an exemplary manner that reflects what matters, with curiosity, optimism, courage, humility, compassion and integrity.”  

In my opinion, Laura had a brilliant way to approach her presentation, entitled “Empowering You with Super Powers”; she answered the same essay questions that all Girls Who Code candidates had to answer.  She shared her views on improving existing technology and why, overcoming challenges, contributing to the success of others and exploring computer science.  This was very well-received.

After sharing her views on the essay questions, Laura then moved onto sharing her top 5 life changing ideas and segued into Laura’s challenge to the coders, Diversity = Success.  

I watched the girls diligently write in their notebooks during the course of the presentation and asked very intriguing questions.

Laura concluded her presentation by asking the coders what are they going to do with their super power which led into the Q&A session.  I found Laura to be very inspirational. The coders asked for her email address and shortly after her departure from the class, the following email was received:

“I wanted to thank you for coming in today and giving an insight into your life beginning from Panama to Microsoft. It gave an idea of how to approach my career through various techniques revolving both personal growth and teamwork. In addition, your job as a business woman working in the field of computer science is a new career that I have begun to consider. It was truly a great experience to meet you.

Hopefully, in the future we may see more of each other.

Once again, a huge thanks.”  

Thank you to Laura for helping us inspire the next generation of coders!

Recap: Artificial Intelligence Now #AINow

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 3.33.30 PM

This week, the White House and New York University’s Information Law Institute hosted Artificial Intelligence Now, a symposium exploring the impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies across social and economic systems. We were pleased and honored to have Kate Crawford, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research and Senior Research Fellow, New York University Information Law Institute represent Microsoft as she joined to discuss social inequality, labor, healthcare, and ethics in AI technologies.

The symposium focused on the near future (5-10 years) in technology, with input from leaders in technology, industry, academia, and civil society. We’ve gathered some of the best moments from the symposium — in tweets — below:

Girls Who Code: Bridging the Skills Gap, One Girl at a Time

Girls Who Code NYC 2016

The 2016 Girls Who Code Cohort at Microsoft New York

According to, there are currently more than 500,000 open computing jobs nationwide. Yet last year, only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce. Through our commitment to education, we’re working to bridge this skills gap, encouraging youth to pursue computer science and participating in initiatives that bring digital literacy to our schools. Despite our progress, female interest in computer science still drops off between the ages of 13-17. While 66% of girls express interest in computing programs, only 4% of college-aged young women express that same interest (and enrollment). Enter Girls Who Code.

Girls Who Code (GWC) is a national nonprofit organization that promotes bridging the skills gap and subsequent gender gap that is plaguing the tech sector. In 1984, 37% of all computer science graduates were women. Now, that number has dropped to a mere 18%. Girls Who Code programs battle that by engaging young girls in direct, hands-on computing education, from coding sessions to building hardware, creating their own apps, and meeting with female leaders in the tech industry.

Since its inception, Girls Who Code has gone from 20 girls in New York to 10,000 girls in 42 states. And we’re proud to partner with this organization, bringing girls into our Microsoft offices every summer to take part in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program. Our hope is that these girls will take what they learn and help make the world a better place through technology. After all, isn’t that what tech is for?

As GWC founder Reshma Saujani says, “When girls learn to code, they become change agents in their communities.” And we can’t wait to see that happen.

Stay posted on for more updates on Girls Who Code and the Summer Immersion Program.

TICTeC 2016 — The Impacts of Civic Technology

Matt Stempeck mySociety TICTeC

This year, we were thrilled to have our own Director of Technology & Civic Engagement, Matt Stempeck, present at the 2016 TICTeC Conference, hosted by mySociety in Barcelona. At the conference, over 140 researchers and practitioners in the tech and government sectors explored the true impact of civic technology. We’re now pleased to announce that TICTeC has put together a video compilation of the conference, including insights from Matt Stempeck himself as well as plenty of the brightest minds in civic technology today.

Watch highlights from TICTeC 2016 live below:

Matt’s spotlight, via mySociety:

Fellow Profile: Hannah Cutler

HannahName: Hannah Cutler

Where are you from? Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

School/grad year/major: University of Pennsylvania, School of Engineering and Applied Science / 2017 / Computer Science

Last thing you searched on Bing:
“What is the area of Greece?”
I was testing a new feature courtesy of Microsoft Research, intended to improve users’ numerical literacy. Before, Bing’s answer to this query was “50,948 sq miles.” Now, it also reads “about equal to the size of New York State.”

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program?
I am passionate about finding ways to use technology to solve problems that will have social impact.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to work at The Governance Lab, an organization that attempts to improve the ability of institutions and people – including but not limited to governments – to work more openly, effectively and legitimately to make better decisions and solve public problems. From the experience, I got a glimpse of how technology is changing the ways that governments, technologists, and policymakers are thinking about effective governance in the 21st century. I also observed some of the challenges governments today face as they try to inject innovation into their practices.

I first learned about the Microsoft Civic Tech team last July when I heard Matt Stempeck, co-director of the New York team, speak on a panel about the team’s work. It really piqued my interest! The fellowship seemed like a hands-on role that would challenge me to expand my skill set, work with super talented, passionate people, and see how Microsoft is building a presence in the civic technology space.

What’s your favorite technology that’s building New York’s civic spaces?
Aeroponic/hydroponic rooftop gardens/farms. I have always been interested in food — from production and distribution to preparation and consumption. Inspired by Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, CA, I built a raised-bed community garden at my high school, I have volunteered on a non-certified organic farm and I conducted an independent study of “The Business, Politics and Science of Sustainable Agriculture.”

Not only are rooftop gardens/farms an incredibly smart use of outdoor space, especially in a dense metro area such as New York City, but they also highlight the importance of community health, environmental sustainability, and add a new dimension to locally-sourced food.

Who is your civic tech mentor/idol?
Megan Smith, current Chief Technology Officer of the United States. I admire her transition from private to public sector and all she has accomplished during the current administration. And: Alice Waters for her activism and leadership of the local food movement. Among other things, Alice’s work has inspired a global network of registered farms, gardens and individuals working to create a more sustainable and equitable food system.

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New York?
I am continuing with the development of Microsoft Civic Graph, helping to build out new features and automate some of the data collection. I am also working on the Microsoft Translator project.

I’m excited to work on Civic Graph because I am eager to gain more experience with the technologies that the project is built with — namely, Flask, JavaScript/D3.js, and mySQL.

What’s your favorite project Microsoft New York has done?
Civic Graph.

What excites you about civic tech?
I’m excited about civic tech because it is a broad and burgeoning field. At Penn, in addition to developing projects myself, I am a project manager for Chris Murphy’s “Software Design & Engineering” course, serving as the liaison between clients and student teams building Android/iOS apps as a final project. Over the past year, I have managed four projects and clients included faculty at Penn’s Rehabilitation Robotics R&D Lab and The Perelman School of Medicine. From these experiences, I’ve developed an appreciation for how powerful technology can be, but also an awareness that software is never a standalone solution to a problem.

I think that technical skills are most valuable in the presence of cross-sector collaboration. The civic tech community is a diverse blend of backgrounds and skillsets — software developers, community organizers, product managers, civic hackers, government agencies, elected officials, technology companies large and small — and this warrants added opportunities to create long-term impact. I am excited to play a part in Microsoft’s work in the civic tech space!

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities?
Promoting healthy eating among children and reducing the prevalence of food deserts (i.e. neighborhoods with limited or lack of access to healthy, affordable food) in the United States and internationally.

Fellow Profile: Natasha Scantlebury

Natasha Scantlebury MSNY FellowWhere are you from? I am a born and raised Brooklyn girl and proud of it!

School/grad year/major: Trinity College/ May 2012/ B.A. in American Studies

Last thing you searched on Bing: The registration page for the SXSWedu New York PanelPicker Meet Up and Panel Discussion with Urban Arts Partnership and Civic Hall.

 Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program? The opportunity to become a Civic Tech Fellow specifically working on the Tech Jobs Academy program came at a perfect time in my life when I decided to transition out of the nonprofit sector and set my sights on a new industry—technology and civic technology, to be exact.  My background is in community development and I’ve spent the last few years working to improve the quality of life for New Yorkers including the elderly age in place, helping college-bound students have access to the resources needed to get to and through college and provide supportive services to children of incarcerated individuals, to name a few.  This program afforded me the opportunity to try something different while still doing something that I enjoy, and that’s helping people help themselves.

What’s your favorite technology that’s building New York’s civic spaces? Art and technology has a way of working cohesively together to create feelings of unity and shared experiences in pre-existing spaces.  For instance, the many art installations that have been exhibited throughout the Brooklyn Promenade, and other parts of the city, help to encourage not only more traffic to these sites but unique and creative ways to use them to benefit others.

Who is your civic tech mentor/idol? Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors.

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New York? When I came on board in March, I was hired specifically to assist with Tech Jobs Academy (TJA).  TJA is an intensive 16-week technical training pilot program that was created in partnership by Microsoft, City Tech at the City University of New York (CUNY) and the Mayor’s NYC Tech Talent Pipeline.  The goal of the program is to prepare underemployed and unemployed New Yorkers for in-demand tech jobs in cloud and server administration.  TJA is my main focus at the moment but I’m sure as the fellowship continues, there may be other opportunities to support other projects as needed.

What’s your favorite project Microsoft New York has done? The great thing about Microsoft and the New York team specifically is it is full of some of the best and brightest in this industry and they are always trying to think outside of the box and come up with useful tools that will serve the masses.  One of these projects that are continuing to make great strides is Civic Graph!  Who wouldn’t want to map the organizations, agencies and individuals in the civic tech community in an effort to understand the work they do while examining the many different ways they are all connected.

What excites you about civic tech? Coming from the nonprofit sector and more specifically the community development arm of it, I have always been passionate and committed to helping support and improve the lives of low-to-moderate income individuals all while trying to ensure that the support they receive allows them the agency to become self-sufficient. The opportunity to work in civic technology affords me the ability to blend two worlds: community development and social good, a world that I am quite familiar with, with a world that I am eager to explore in more detail, the technology sector. My hope is to be able to take the knowledge I’ll learn from my Civic Tech Fellow peers, members of the Microsoft team and the industry, in general, to be able to make long-lasting impactful change for in-need neighborhoods across New York City.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities? My hope is that people (with varying levels of technical savviness) have ways to connect and engage multiple types of resources in their neighborhoods and communities surrounding theirs (like knowing where free, extracurricular programs are for children, where local food pantries are located, and where senior citizens can apply for benefits like SCRIE and SNAP, to name a few).

A Plan of Action For Women’s Political Leadership

Dare to Lead

Democracy works because our elected leaders represent the people. But the numbers are clear that we don’t have enough women running for elected office, especially at the local and congressional levels. Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Engagement team is proud to support VoteRunLead’s Dare to Lead training to empower more women from across the political spectrum to vote, run, and lead.

— Matt Stempeck

Congress has been stuck at 20% women for the past 20 years and just 6.2% of the total members of Congress are women of color. When you get to the local levels, less than 10% of elected positions are filled by women.

It’s time to activate every woman who has ever thought about leading change in her community.

On June 18, VoteRunLead presents their historic Dare to Lead event. Throughout the day, they aim to train over 1,000 women in designing a plan of action for political change in their community.

Inspiring leaders, aspiring women in politics, and individuals looking to make a change — join us! You are invited to attend — get in the room and Dare to Lead.

Our goal is to support and connect women with the people and resources they need to succeed in making change happen in their community.

Change doesn’t have to be big to be important. It starts by getting in the room. Join us at #DaretoLead June 18!

#Recap — 2016 Personal Democracy Forum


New York knows the tech we need.

There was no better evidence than last week’s Personal Democracy Forum (PDF), a two-day consortium of great minds in tech, politics, and people. Over the course of two days, we explored the impact that technology can have on our daily lives, and why making technology accessible can change everything.

With talks, slideshows, workshops, and — yes — a little bit of interpretive dance, we had a blast working alongside some of the brightest minds in civic tech to explore how we can improve our communities, one technology at a time.

Here are some of our favorite moments from PDF 2016, told in tweets: