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.

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

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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:

Personal Democracy Forum Brings The Tech We Need

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Last year, we posed a very simple question: Is Personal Democracy Forum For Me? And this year, that question is being answered directly. Today, we celebrated the first day of the 2016 Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) with inspiring talks and panels that showed how technology can improve government — and, in turn, our individual lives.

While we may be growing as a technological society, our government still has a long way to go to catch up. How can we use the technology that we have to improve our government? Our community? Our selves? As Robin Carnahan brought up, those who work in the tech sector (through government or otherwise) are woken up in the middle of the night worried about technology. If our websites are the “front door” to our offices, we need them to be accessible and open at all times to make sure we’re doing the work that needs to be done. And that’s exactly what PDF is exploring.

So where do we start? Kristin Soltis Anderson called up Hirschman’s theory on Exit, Voice, and Loyalty to show how everyone — including conservatives like her — can and should embrace civic tech. Using SimCity 2000 as an example, she showed how there are no exits or voices in the public sector. If we look at SimCity as a model for our government, we can see how to get the people to “love” us, to be happy, and to interact and improve our communities. But we need technology to leverage that, giving the people an option and a voice in government.

And then there was Alia McKee, whose inspiring talk on compassion (and subsequent dance of compassion) reminded us that, when it really comes down to it, what matters most is caring for each other — and for one’s own self. She wrapped up our morning session by inspiring us all to say no to our inner critic and to remember that we are capable of great things.

Finally, we wrapped up the PDF Speaker Series on Day One with none other than Danah Boyd, of Microsoft Research and Data and Society (which she founded). Danah explored how we can use technology to further our efforts in society. Technology, she says, comes at a cost. What, for example, is the environmental cost of all the open data we host blindly on the web? What is the cost of lazy and shoddy code on internet infrastructure? And, most importantly, are we paying attention to how our technology impacts everyone?

After two hours of breakout sessions, exploring everything from digital dystopias to civic features to Donald Trump, we see how the digital landscape is changing. As leaders in tech, PDF is inspiring us to bring tech straight to the people, for the people — isn’t that what civic tech is really all about? And we’re ready for another day of insightful, people-focused talks.

Feeling passionate about The Tech We Need? Join us for day two of Personal Democracy Forum — follow the live stream at Civic Hall’s livestream and on Twitter at #PDF16!

New Youth Workshops helps New Yorkers become Entrepreneurs and Tech Innovators

New York City is known as a center for achievers and innovators, so it would only make sense that this spirit can be found in even the youngest of residents. Just because the school year is coming to an end doesn’t mean the learning has to take a break (or that kids have to give up their summer fun!).

With the demand for technology and STEM education growing, Microsoft Stores are offering free workshops for students to get ahead and avoid the infamous summer brain drain. The objective of the workshops are not to teach kids to become programmers or software engineers, but rather to build a foundation through a fun, hands-on experience with the latest technology and guidance from industry experts. The workshops provide a place for students to build “the next great idea”, see it come to life and even learn the entrepreneurship skills to take their passions to the next level. Early development of creative thinking and problem-solving skills will help with success in the new school year and no one is better positioned to help than Microsoft.

This summer, the Microsoft Flagship Store in New York will offer three free, new camps including:

  • Kodu Makerspace – Kids age 8 to 11 can create rich and exciting games with Kodu Game Lab in this beginner-level camp. Kids learn coding fundamentals and how to build games in a fun, hands-on environment that fosters creativity, curiosity, and collaboration. 
  • Learn to Code Flatverse – Recommended for kids 12 and older, students can build a Flatverse game using TouchDevelop in this intermediate-level camp. Kids learn coding fundamentals, then get hands-on instruction on how to read and write basic code themselves.
  • Start Your Own Business – Offers entrepreneurial kids the knowledge, tools and support to make their business idea a reality. Kids will learn key concepts from testing their product or idea to protecting it, and receive training on how to create their own business pitch. All graduates will leave with a basic business plan and polished pitch, and the opportunity to present their idea to local entrepreneurs. This camp is for students 13 and older.

Registration for these classes just opened and they fill up fast. Traveling this summer? Not a problem! Microsoft has stores across the country that will offer the same classes. Get more details on each camp and register at microsoftstore.com/summercamps or microsoftstore.com/locations.

Join Us at the 2016 Personal Democracy Forum

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It’s time for civic tech, democracy, and collaboration. Next week, our national team is meeting us in NYC for the 2016 Personal Democracy Forum at NYU Skirball. Hosted by Personal Democracy Media, the annual conference brings together bright minds in the field of technology, politics, community, journalism, and academics for workshops, panels, talks, and more. Over two days, these talks explore the growing intersection between tech and societal building, showing how tech helps bring the future forward.

This year, we’re excited to have plenty of Microsoft team members on board to contribute to the conversation. Here are some guest speakers directly from Microsoft:

    • Annmarie Levins, General Manager of Technology & Civic Engagement, Microsoft:
      • Community Partnership Models for Civic Tech (moderator)
    • Kate Crawford, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research:
      • Know Your Terrorist Credit Score
    • Matt Stempeck, Director of Civic Technology, Microsoft New York:
      • Introducing the Civic Tech Field Guide
      • Civic features: When Platforms Do Public Good (moderator)
    • Betsy Aoki, Senior Program Manager, Bing Elections:
      • Civic features: When Platforms Do Public Good

We’ll be tweeting along on @MicrosoftNY, @MicrosoftSV, @MSNewEngland, and @MSFTChicago using #PDF16, but we encourage you to join us! Register now for last-chance tickets here.

Trees Count! Count Yourself In

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What kind of data lives in cities? Beyond government, census, and financials, you’d be surprised to find that data lives in every corner. In fact, data can truly live: in our “concrete jungle,” we have a number of plantlife that tells its own story. New York’s trees are important — not just for our livelihood, but for our history. That’s why New York’s tree data is so important. In the past 20 years — in 1995, 2005, and 2015 — NYC has conducted three composite inventories of our city’s trees, improving NYC Park’s ability to manage our urban forest. With 20 years of data, we have plenty to explore and to experiment with. And we want you to join us.

On Saturday, June 4th, NYC Parks and BetaNYC will unveil NYC’s latest urban forest dataset, the most spatially accurate map of New York City’s street trees ever created. Join NYC Parks, TreesCount! partners, and tree care volunteers to learn about the urban forest and its impact on our daily lives.

We’re looking for the city’s civic technologist, data specialists, design experts, and other passionate New Yorkers to help translate our tree data into actionable insights.

Join us now: RSVP here

Staff Spotlight: Ally Wharton

AwhartonName: Ally Wharton

Hometown: Hermon, Maine

Job: Sr. Operations Specialist

Years at Microsoft: 2

Favorite Local Restaurant: How does one answer this if they live in NYC!? If I must, a favorite in my neighborhood is AG Kitchen

Last thing you searched on Bing: JetBlue flash sale

Something cool you’ve worked on recently: We’re in the midst of our recruiting season, I love learning about the diverse candidates and chatting with them about their unique experiences.

What inspires you about technology? I find it exciting and inspiring that one day technology will be within the reach of every human being, in every country. My hope is that this will provide equal opportunities for citizens around the globe.

What is one problem you’d like to see technology solve?  Grocery shopping! I would love for technology to be able to complete all aspects of grocery shopping for me – order based on my preferences, select items to make meals throughout the week and even pick out a new beer or wine I might like. Of course, this would also include delivery.

Microsoft and Boot Campaign Host Pushup Event for Long-Term, High-paying jobs for our Veterans

Today, as part of National Military Appreciation Month, Microsoft hosted Pushups For Charity at the Microsoft Flagship Store in New York City.

The challenge featured some hard core fitness gurus, including: Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Johnny “Joey” Jones, Boot Campaign COO; J.W. Cortes, Marine veteran and actor on FOX TV’s “Gotham”; Steve Weatherford, Super Bowl Champion, 10-year NFL player; Chris Ryan, top fitness model and trainer on NBC’s “STRONG,” and our own Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA) graduate Jose Cruz. They will competed face-to-face to determine who can do the most pushups in 90 seconds.

Thank you to Wes Anderson, VP of U.S. Services, for hosting the LIVE event. The final 90-second challenge can be found on the Microsoft Military Affairs Facebook page.