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.

Announcing A New Way to Watch Presidential Debates

Election season is in full swing!

With our two 2016 major-party candidates gearing up for debates, we’re excited to announce the newest venture between PBS NewsHour and Microsoft:, expanding on an existing civic education partnership between PBS and the Commission on Presidential Debates. This interactive civic education and voter engagement site provides access to every general election debate since 1960, allowing visitors ability to screen entire debates and highlights, track how specific issues over the years, and interact with the content using online voting tools from Microsoft Pulse.

Since the first televised presidential debate in 1960, these events have been integral to the American democratic process and the leading forum for serious discussion of current affairs. Today, for the first time, these debates are being organized and made available in one place for the American public in an online forum.

On, users can access various content and engagement tools, including:

  • Livestreams of the four 2016 general election debates
  • Full debate footage from 39 previously broadcast debates
  • Online rating and audience engagement of previous & this year’s debates, powered by Microsoft Pulse
  • Highlight reels of memorable moments from all televised debates between 1960-2016
  • Issue-based reels looking at the evolution of key policy and political issues through the years

Experience WatchTheDebates yourself — head to

Small and Midsize Businesses Get a Boost at Microsoft Stores

New York City-area businesses have something to celebrate: many Microsoft Stores across the region, including the flagship location on Fifth Avenue, have rolled out new SMB Zones. What are those, you ask? SMB Zones are spaces where you can get hands-on access to business-grade technology — and they were designed with entrepreneurs and small and midsize business (SMB) owners in mind.

New York City has the highest concentration of small businesses in the state.In fact, more than 98 percent of firms in New York City reported fewer than 500 employees.To further support these local businesses and their employees, Microsoft Stores in the New York City region are also offering the Accelerate Your Business leasing program – created to help small and midsize organizations choose the technologies that best meet their business needs as well as get training, support, warranties and deals for combined solutions.

In addition to the Fifth Avenue location, Microsoft Stores in White Plains, N.Y.; Huntington Station, N.Y.; Bridgewater, N.J.; Freehold, N.J.; Willowbrook, N.J.; and Paramus, N.J., are offering the new programs.

To underscore Microsoft’s commitment to SMBs, on Thursday, Sept. 22, entrepreneur, author and CNBC contributor Carol Roth will host a live-streamed event at the flagship Microsoft Store to discuss how small business owners can use technology to solve problems and take their business to the next level of success. Register here and tune in online starting at 4 p.m. Eastern Time to hear from Roth as well as a handful of other entrepreneurs.

In addition to the SMB Zone and the Accelerate Your Business program, SMBs can access a host of in-store and on-the-ground support, training, and services designed especially for them. Check out the Microsoft U.S. Small and Midsize Business Blog for more details.

1 The Economic Impact of Small Business in New York State, New York state comptroller, March 2016

Microsoft Empowers the 2016 Republican & Democratic National Conventions

Microsoft Surface screen at RNC 2016

Regardless of your political stripes, Microsoft’s mission is to empower everyone to achieve more. This year, Microsoft is playing a significant role in the election process. We believe technology, and our teams, can create a more secure, accurate, and efficient elections process. After starting in Iowa, we continued onto Super Tuesday, and this past July, we were vital to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

Republican Convention 2016 stage

Microsoft Surface screen After all the balloons dropped, and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had been officially nominated at their respective parties’ conventions, the entire Microsoft community can proudly say they helped make these significant events in our democratic process a success. Teams across the company, from Washington state to Washington, DC, coordinated over the past year to engage with the political parties, the planning committees, the host cities, and local organizations and businesses to provide access to Microsoft technology and services. From the earliest planning stages, we worked with the RNC Committee on Arrangements and the Democratic National Convention Committee to empower those people and organizations running the conventions to address challenges and provide solutions.

From Azure to Skype to O365 to Surface, Microsoft became integral to two weeks of conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia, viewed by millions of people around the world.

Just as important, we aimed to leave a lasting legacy in each host city. In Cleveland, we partnered with Cuyahoga County on an Azure-based, mobile app to help solve some of the areas on-going challenges. In Philadelphia, we partnered with local organizations to launch the Microsoft Reactor, where entrepreneurs and developers can have a home to innovate into the future.

We will continue supporting the next steps in the 2016 election (bookmark and check out throughout the election cycle), and are committed to being a vital part of the democratic process for years to come.

The Elections newsroom on Microsoft News Center provides an ongoing reflection of the company’s work as the election cycle continues.

Civic Tech Events This September in NYC


As we’re settling into fall, the last thing we want is to get the early September blues. Luckily for you, we’ve gathered some of the top events NYC has to offer this month to keep you active as summer wraps up:

September 1

NYC Data Science Seminar Series Presents: Matt Salganik, Social Research in the Age of Big Data

This event is part of the NYC Data Science Seminar Series, organized by MSR NYC, Facebook, NYU Center for Data Science, Columbia University, and Cornell Tech, with the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute.

September 5


Let’s talk about Europe – now more than ever! DLDeurope will shed a spotlight on the implications of the digital age on the economic, political, and cultural spheres of Europe – a continent with boundless opportunity, undergoing major transitions. Join DLDeurope on September 5th, 2016 in Brussels.

**John Paul Farmer will be speaking on a panel at this conference**

September 7

Women in Design & Tech Leadership Forum NYC

In a recent publication by the National Center for Women & Information Technology, it was found that gender diversity at top management levels improves companies’ financial performance – yet the numbers show that we’re far behind in hitting goals of balancing leadership roles. Join a panel of leaders from design, tech and higher education for presentations and a town hall discussion to develop goals and practices to move toward leadership equality.

September 7

2016 Startup Tech Demo Night

Join us as we celebrate 26 hard-working NYC high school students participating in the fifth year of Startup Tech Summer (formerly NYC Generation Tech). This innovative and intensive tech-entrepreneurship program trains high school students to develop coding, business planning, and entrepreneurship skills that will allow them to transform the world through tech-based innovation. This year the students were challenged to design apps aimed at improving the lives of New Yorkers with help from mentors representing MasterCard, Warby Parker, LivePerson, Appnexus, and Deloitte.

On Demo Night, all five teams will be celebrated and pitch their mobile app prototypes and business plans before a panel of expert judges to compete for a top prize of $5,000.

September 10

Out in Tech Digital Corps | Launch Party

Out in Tech is teaming up with Squarespace to support 10 international organizations fighting to protect LGBTQ+ rights in their home countries, from Pakistan to Botswana.

Join us at Squarespace on Saturday, September 10 for rooftop drinks and snacks, sweeping views of Manhattan, and the chance to see the 10 websites unveiled with over 250 of your closest friends (and NYC’s top LGBTQ tech talent).

Please share with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and share your favorite moments via #OutInTech.

September 13

NYC TechBreakfast: Wunder Capital, Brohan, IntroNet, IssueVoter

Interact with your peers in a monthly morning breakfast meetup. At this monthly breakfast get-together techies, developers, designers, and entrepreneurs share learn from their peers through show and tell / show-case style presentations.

September 21

OGP Toolbox Hackathon: Civic Tech for Open Government

France will host the Open Government Partnership 2016 Global Summit that will take place in Paris on December 7, 8 and 9.

As announced at the Global Summit launch event on April 20, a hackathon on civic tech and the concrete implementation of open government principles and national commitments will take place during the Global Summit. The goal of this hackathon is to come up with an open government toolbox for the OGP, governments and civil society.

Open data portals, public consultation platforms, tools for monitoring and co-creating the law, discussion forums, civic tech solutions, online platforms to monitor the implementation of national action plans: these are examples of software and online services used by governments and civil society around the world, which could be referenced, shared and reused.

This toolbox will be based on a catalogue, including examples of use cases and technical criteria, to help choose among available solutions. It aims at facilitating the implementation of national commitments made by governments in their national action plans and encouraging cooperation, peer learning and resource sharing between OGP members.

September 22

NYC Media Lab 16

NYC Media Lab 16 is a snapshot of the best thinking, projects, and talent in digital media from universities in NYC and beyond.

This is an opportunity for media executives, technologists, and decision makers to explore interesting technologies and applications related to the future of media. Through thought-provoking discussions, faculty-led workshops, and 100+ innovative demos, attendees will explore pressing issues related to digital media innovation.

Meet High School Intern: Sagar Punjabi

This summer, we’ve been thrilled to host high school students as part of our NYC Microsoft High School Summer Internship Program (HSIP). The HSIP is a 6 week internship for junior and senior high school students providing an opportunity to explore the technology industry while expanding engineering skills. Microsoft is committed to developing junior talent and championing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related fields. HSIP sets out to inspire students to pursue collegiate degrees in computer science or STEM through exposure to those career paths. In addition, HSIP strives to attract a diverse pool of students with a technical background and a passion for technology.

Sagar PUnjabi (1)Where do you go to school? When are you graduating?

I am going to be a senior at Forest Hills High School this fall. I will be graduating in 2017.

Where are you applying to college? What do you plan on studying? 

I’m still currently looking into schools, but so far I’m interested in Cornell and Brandeis. I want to major in Computer Science.

What brought you to Microsoft’s internship program? 

I first learned about it through The Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship. Microsoft’s vision of empowering every person and organization to do more is something that stuck with me, and I knew a summer here would be a summer I would not forget.

What’s your favorite piece of Microsoft technology?

The Xbox One. It has so many capabilities and functions, what can’t you do with it?

What work are you most excited about this summer? 

I loved to work with all of the different types of technologies Microsoft has available.

What’s one thing you learned with Microsoft? 

I’ve learned how useful the cloud can be and how to utilize it. This is something that has made my life a lot easier.

How are you utilizing entrepreneurship skills at Microsoft this summer?  

Every entrepreneur must be able to solve the challenges that come his or her way no matter how big they might be. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve been given work I’m not familiar with, but that hasn’t stopped me from completing it.

Meet High School Intern: Sejal Mehra

This summer, we’ve been thrilled to host high school students as part of our NYC Microsoft High School Summer Internship Program (HSIP). The HSIP is a 6 week internship for junior and senior high school students providing an opportunity to explore the technology industry while expanding engineering skills. Microsoft is committed to developing junior talent and championing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related fields. HSIP sets out to inspire students to pursue collegiate degrees in computer science or STEM through exposure to those career paths. In addition, HSIP strives to attract a diverse pool of students with a technical background and a passion for technology.

Sejal MehraWhere do you go to school and when are you graduating? I go to school at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, NY. I will be graduating this coming June 2017.

Where are you applying to college and what do you plan to study? I will be applying locally (New York City) and to MIT. I plan on studying computer engineering.

What brought you to Microsoft’s internship program? The excitement of getting to know the real technology world brought me to Microsoft’s internship program.

What’s your favorite piece of Microsoft technology? My favorite piece of Microsoft technology is the Surface Pro and Microsoft Band.

What work are you most excited about from this summer’s program? I am most excited that we were able to work on IoT (Internet of Things) this summer.

What’s one thing you have learned with Microsoft? One thing I learned with Microsoft is how much more there is to Office 365 than Word and PowerPoint.

How has Girls Who Code empowered you to use technology? Why is coding important? Girls Who Code empowered me to express my passion for technology. Coding is important because it’s something that is all around us and everything can be programmed, from the smallest toy to the biggest building.

Recap — New York City Council’s Digital Inclusion Summit

In New York, the tech sector—the city’s fastest growing industry— is 62% white, 9% black, 11% Latino and 16% Asian, according to a study by the Center for an Urban Future, and while efforts are underway to diversify the workforce pipeline, a comprehensive look at institutional practices from the beginning to end of that track is critical for addressing under-representation.

— New York City Council


Last week, the New York City Council hosted its second annual Digital Inclusion Summit, a day-long conference bringing together tech and government’s hardest-working drivers to build on a better future. While tech may be the fastest-growing sector, our government and our workforce have yet to catch up to the equity, organizational culture and processes behind a successful growth.

Together with speaker Mark-Viverito and other national corporations and organizations, Microsoft made a commitment to work on these issues moving forward, while presenting our own proposals for change and growth.

Here are some of the top tweets from the day:

Welcoming Ross Dakin to the Microsoft NY Team

Ross DakinHello, New York! I’ve just joined the Microsoft Technology and Civic Innovation team, and I couldn’t be more excited. The last chapter of my career was incredible and I’m optimistic that this next one will be every bit as impactful. For the past year, as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow, it’s been my tremendous honor to help our federal government reinvent the way it approaches service creation for the benefit of all citizens. I can’t think of a more natural transition than to now do the same within a global technology company that’s been reinventing its products, its culture, and its role in the world.

At Microsoft, I’m eager to use data and technology for social good. Initially, I’m planning to focus on taking the Civic Graph to new heights, using Microsoft Translator for real human impact, and ensuring that every student developer has the cloud services they need to learn, no matter how much or how little they may have in their wallet. But I’m also excited to meet the people and organizations that are already doing great work in the city. I’m sure the city is teeming with all kinds of high-potential projects that I simply don’t know about yet.

The early days.

Microsoft has a special place in my heart. In 2002, I was lucky enough to have a high school teacher show me how to go “behind the scenes” and write Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros in Microsoft Access. This became my first computer programming experience, and it would come at a pivotal time as I was deciding which college to attend and which major to declare.

Now—a decade and a half later—I find it fitting to join the company that created the tools which initially seeded my interest in technology and continues to inspire the next generation of technologists by actively encouraging kids of all genders and backgrounds to try their hands at software development (see the robots, animations, and websites created by the Microsoft Girls Who Code Class of 2016 last week!).

Those formative experiences led me to attend Santa Clara University, where I earned a degree in computer engineering while writing programs in Notepad on my Windows XP laptop. However, it was a Windows program called Cygwin that allowed for the compilation and execution of my code by emulating a POSIX-compliant operating system in which many common open source tools could be used—in other words, my learning environment was a Windows/open source hybrid.

This is a powerful combination of ubiquity and versatility, and it represents another memory to which I’m excited to pay homage by joining Microsoft at a time during which the company is accelerating its embrace of the open source tools that so many developers know and love (learn more about Microsoft’s support of open platforms like Linux, Docker, and Node.js).

Work on things that matter.

“I truly believe that each of us must find meaning in our work. The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, but something that will improve other people’s lives.”

—Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of a number of exciting Silicon Valley companies, including: LiveOps, where I developed software for hosting distributed call centers while receiving incredible mentorship from engineers who literally created the first web browsers; BrightPoint Security (acquired by ServiceNow), which leveraged the power of virtualization to move traditional enterprise security appliances to the cloud; Upstart, where we employed big data to shatter the incumbent paradigm of credit-score-based lending risk models; and Deliv, which is utilizing crowd-sourced drivers to provide same day delivery services for the retail brands you find in every shopping mall across the country. Each of these companies have generated value by applying innovative technologies in novel ways. However, my barometer for value creation shifted last year during my tenure as a Presidential Innovation Fellow.

I can even give you a specific date. On March 9, 2016, seven of my colleagues and I traveled from Washington, DC to New York City. We met with people all over town who had written letters to the President (did you know that the White House really does keep them all?), in order to better understand the stressors that might be preventing them from thriving in their given situations.

From Brooklyn to Queens to Harlem and the Bronx, we learned about housing vouchers that the homeless didn’t know how to apply for; food stamps that the hungry stopped receiving because of a missed re-enrollment letter; rejection from cash assistance programs due to not having enough money for cross-town bus fare to submit the paperwork. Every person I met that day held my hand, looked me in the eye, and expressed their sincere gratitude to us for listening to their stories.

That was the most meaningful day of my career.

It’s all about people.

“We shouldn’t think of a technology as radical or transformative unless it benefits every single person.”

—DJ Patil, U.S. Chief Data Scientist

Since that day, it has remained clear to me how much tremendous potential for impact exists in the civic technology space if we are able to “continue to make strides in providing innovation in the realm of connected systems that bridge the unstructured world of human processes with the structured world of business applications,” which Satya Nadella has committed Microsoft to do. As he observed, “Many companies aspire to change the world. But very few have all the elements required: talent, resources and perseverance. Microsoft has proven that it has all three in abundance.”

I’m eager to help apply such abundance to the public good, starting right here in New York. 

Celebrate Our Civic Tech Fellows at #CivicDemo 8/24


Join Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Innovation team as we celebrate our summer Civic Tech Fellows and the progress they’ve made in using technology for public good. Our team has spent the past several months working on useful tools and programs to support the field of civic tech. Come see what we’ve been up to, have a drink, and connect with other civic technologists as summer winds down.

We’ll hear from:

Doors (and the bar) will open at 6:00pm, with presentations beginning at 6:30 pm.

Don’t forget to tweet along using @MicrosoftNY and #CivicDemo!

RSVP here to attend

The Endless [Civic Tech] Summer

While the calendar (although perhaps not the thermometer) tells us that summer is winding down, there are still plenty of events to join in on while avoiding the current heat wave. From community launch events to AI hackathons, you can be sure that there’s always something happening to keep your mind stimulated and your after-work hours occupied. Since joining Microsoft NY, I’ve kept my eye out for new and emerging organizations to expand the breadth of my civic tech horizons. Here are a few organizations I’ve been able to collaborate with during the past week:

Cornell Tech — Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York


Cornell Tech’s recently launched Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY) initiative seeks to encourage and guide young women entering higher education and entrepreneurship in technology. As part of the initiative, WiTNY hosts a two-week ‘Summer Studio’ program modeled after Cornell’s curriculum, introducing students to real-world skills like software engineering, product development, product ideation, and design thinking. I spoke on a panel to about 40 soon-to-be CUNY women about my day-to-day as a software engineer, workflows used, project developments with and Microsoft Translator, and my journey into computing. Mentorship and outreach is something I’ve found to be particularly helpful in the development of my own career, so it’s terrific to be given opportunities to pass along knowledge to students as passionate, driven, and inquisitive as those at WiTNY.

CodeNewbie NYC

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Saron Yitbarek, A former team member and eternal friend of Microsoft NY, launched the New York chapter of CodeNewbie, an incredibly supportive community of new and established technical professionals. The theme revolved around ‘Keeping it 100’ in celebration of the release of CodeNewbie’s 100th podcast episode. As part of the event, I gave a brief keynote on a topic that I’m a CodeNewbie in myself: Using data for space exploration as a member of the 2016 class of NASA Datanauts. During my talk, I presented a workflow on creating a web-based orrery using various open source tools. Other keynotes included a discussion on cybersecurity and a testimonial by John Resig, the creator of JQuery, on the benefits that’ve resulted from his choice to program on a daily basis. CodeNewbie also took the opportunity to announce its first-ever conference, CodeLand, which is scheduled for April 2017.

General Assembly & Clarifai — Artificial Intelligence Hackathon

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Big thanks to our friends at Clarifai for letting us use this image

Last Saturday, Clarifai and General Assembly teamed up to host their first Artificial Intelligence hackathon. I held a seat on the judges panel and reviewed projects responding to the satirically-dystopian theme requiring participants to “make something with AI that will advance the inevitable robot apocalypse”. The projects were equally as silly. Here are a few that stood out:

  • Miss-Direction: A mapping engine that navigates you to a random location within a few blocks of your destination.
  • Giggle: A search engine returning the least relevant results for a given search query.
  • CutiePai: A dating app that scraped your social media accounts and found your most compatible matches based on similar tagging.
  • Safehouse: A smarthome application using facial recognition to wreak havoc on your appliances while you’re distracted.

There were 28 teams, all of whom put forward incredibly witty submissions. Needless to say, it was overwhelmingly difficult to narrow down the submission pool and decide on winners!

Through events like these, I am constantly inspired and reminded to think creatively, work diligently, and have fun. Every time I walk into a space allowing me to contribute knowledge and connect with brilliant individuals, I’m reminded why New York is known for its top-tier workforce. The fact that these opportunities were spaced within just one week’s time demonstrates the frequency and accessibility of events, which is unique to the New York lifestyle. As a proud New Yorker, that’s why I know I can be excited for what’s yet to come!