Name: 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.
What’s your favorite project Microsoft New York has done?
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.