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In the pause: Cornell Tech campus opens on New York City’s Roosevelt Island

Yesterday’s event at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island filled me with inspiration and possibility. It was quite a testament to what can be achieved through private – public partnerships with tech CEOs from IBM, Qualcomm, Verizon, and startups, investors, journalists, Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, Mike Bloomberg, and the President of Cornell all in attendance.

The spaces, indoors and out, are incredibly thoughtful and stunning. Best of all, it’s been built as an inviting setting for the public. Bring your laptop, book, or sketch pad, grab a coffee at the cafe, and take it all in with plenty of wi-fi and collaborative space. This is a place of community, and the hope is that companies and projects started by students and incubator sponsors (yes, your company can get space here!) will diversify and grow the NYC economy. Already, Cornell Tech has spun out 38 companies, 94% of which are based in NYC.

Graduate and doctoral studies as well as Executive Education courses comprise the student body here and it will also be a stage for events at the cross-section of tech, business, art, and social impact.

Grab the F train, bus, ferry, or tram, and go check it out!

In the pause: The power of thinking small

One of the main tenants of business and new product development is to develop the least expensive, least time intensive version of your product to test with exactly the people you hope to become your customers. You want to put in just enough money and effort so that the idea of what you’re trying to do is clear and the experience is positive. And you want to keep from putting in too much money and effort on an idea that just doesn’t work. It’s all about using resources wisely and conserving as much as you can while also still giving the idea a fighting chance to show its value. It’s a tricky balancing act, but it has to be done.

With A Can of Coke, my online platform to provide college- and career-readiness counseling for high school students, I can use an easy, light-weight combination of Google Calendar and Google Hangout with a small handful of students to help them in the evening and weekend hours for a couple of months. This way I can see if the idea works and what needs to be improved without incurring a lot of cost.

Fast, simple, small. It’s how all great ideas start.

In the pause: My new business idea and passion project to help kids make their way in the world

F*ck it. I’m going for it. I’ve been kicking around the idea for a new business I’d like to start, and after several months of gnashing my teeth and wringing my hands, I decided I’m just going to do it. As I’ve mentioned several times, I was lucky to have an amazing guidance counselor, Jim Wherry, when I was in high school. I’ve learned over the last few months that I was luckier than I thought. In some schools, the ratio of guidance counselors to students is 1:500. And though we spend thousands of dollars every year per student on educating them, we spend the equivalent of a can of Coke per student on guidance counselors. A can of Coke. Bill Symonds, Director of the Global Pathways Institute, calls this “the black hole in the American education system.” I can’t get that idea out of my mind so I decided to embrace it and do something about it.

My therapist, Brian, once said to me that the best way for me to make my past mean something is to pay it forward. I think about how hard I worked and how much I struggled as a student and as a young adult. I think about the free lunch program that I was simultaneously grateful for and embarrassed by. I worked, and worked, and worked so that my life as an adult could be more secure than my life as a child. I think about the fact that despite my many hardships, there are far too many kids today who are in the same boat or even worse off. The boy I met on the streets of D.C. a few nights ago is a prime example of the people who need me to make this business a reality. Every student deserves to have a Jim Wherry. And I’m going to find a way to make that possible while also creating a company that creates jobs and has the kindest, bravest, most passionate, and most respectful culture imaginable because our work is something we should love to do. Our kids all across this country need us to stand up for them and support them as they make their way in a world that is becoming an increasingly difficult place. This is my act of resistance.

That’s my side hustle for now that I hope becomes a full-time venture over time. I’ll still need to work full-time in another job I enjoy (and let’s face it, the world is now full of opportunities for me to do good work) so that I don’t have to worry about money while I build this new idea. And that’s A-OK with me because I want to do what’s right for our kids without making choices based on my own personal finances.

So here we go back into the world of entrepreneurship, and this time a little older, hopefully a little wiser, and just as determined to use my business skills to build a passion project that builds a better world.

If you’d like to offer advice, help, ideas, or encouragement, I’ll take them.

In the pause: My Facebook feed was filled with these inspiring stories

On Saturday morning, my friends filled my Facebook feed with these inspiring, empowering, beautiful stories. If you need a boost, here are a set of links to lift your spirit. It reminded me that sharing good news is needed now more than ever:
 
Detroit health director set to make bid for governor
 
Sammy Irssak’s video “I’m Muslim and people call me a terrorist. Do you trust me? If yes, hug me.”
 
A sleeping hedgehog wakes up when he smells food
 
Artist Jason deCaires Taylor creates underwater sculptures as makeshift coral reefs to replaces the ones we’ve lost to climate change
 
The Dodo’s post about a bird who got sick, lost all her feathers and her home, and then got adopted by a kind human
 
San Francisco is the first city in the US to make college free for all residents who have lived there for a year or longer
 
A wheelchair that helps people who can’t walk stand upright increasing mobility, independence, and health
 
And an idea to make a donation to the International Rescue Committee this Valentine’s Day in honor of your love
 
And I love Ruah Bhay Yoga – Healthy Mind, Body & Spirit‘s sweet video of arm balances with her daughter riding piggyback

In the pause: Reflecting on Hidden Figures

I went to see Hidden Figures on Thursday night. I felt uplifted right after seeing it and then all weekend felt sad and frustrated by it. Don’t get me wrong; I love seeing stellar performances from three female women of color portraying real women who are intelligent, courageous, and determined. And let’s face it – the BS that the women portrayed in the film faced still runs rampant in the American workplace and society at-large, especially for women of color.

This is absolutely true in technology, science, and business. I have lost track of the number of times in my career that I was and am expected to keep my head down, my mouth shut, and my smile wide so that I don’t seem threatening to others by questioning assumptions and points-of-view, no matter how respectful and professional my comments are. And here’s the worst part: if I were to tally the worst bullying I’ve received in the workplace, it’s come from an equal number of women and men. It’s unfortunate, and it’s my truth. Women still fight for equal pay, respect, and promotions, and far too often we’re fighting one another.

So this is what I’m going to do about it: I’m going to work on making the workplace, wherever I work, a kinder, more collaborative, diverse, accepting place. There are too many hidden figures in the world today, and I intend to spend my time bringing them into the light and celebrating them.

 

 

Wonder: A new kind of artificial intelligence

Can we build algorithms for compassion, empathy, kindness, understanding, and love? We build all kinds of algorithms to process enormous data sets and to cull through endless masses of information in a variety of formats in a variety of fields. Can we also build them to help us become better people and make choices that improve our sense of humanity?

In other words, does artificial intelligence only apply to IQ or can it also extend to EQ (emotional quotient)? What about the lesser known Understanding Quotient (UQ), Passion Quotient (PQ), Courage quotient (CQ), Communication Quotient (COMQ), and Spiritual Quotient (SQ)?

We know they can be used to guide weapons. Can they be used to stop war and violence? Could they make our neighborhoods safer and more efficient? What kind of data would they need to do that, and what kind of output would help us achieve these goals?

These are some questions I’m thinking about as I consider my next career move. Comments, ideas, and suggestions welcome.

Wonder: Once an entrepreneur…

As much as the security of a full-time job is comforting and the angst of being an entrepreneur is anything but, I’ve begun to think about striking out on my own again. This next leap is likely at least a year away as I start small, test ideas, ask for feedback, and develop a solid plan. I just know in my gut that I’m meant to do my own thing, to use opportunity to its full advantage where and when and how I see it, not how it’s defined by others. I’m only at the very, very early stages of this process and the lessons (tough and otherwise) of my last independent venture are looming large in my mind, and I plan to take all that wisdom and reinvest it in this new venture.

Last week I went to the U.S. News & World Report Healthcare of Tomorrow conference here in D.C. and I left every panel inspired, energized, and hopeful. There is such an immense amount of innovation happening and we are just beginning a new era of medicine in which we’re literally outpacing science fiction. From genomic and precision medicine, to transplants and prosthetics, to life-saving nanotechnologies and artificial intelligence paired with human creativity, there is so much possibility. I want to do my part to usher that possibility into reality.

I’m just now floating early ideas by some trusted people who aren’t shy with their critique and also unfailingly supportive of my dreams. It is a fine line to walk and they do that with grace and intelligence. I can see the future now, out there on the horizon, and I’m taking steps toward it every day. Like all things, it’s a journey and just knowing where I’m going has given me a lot of peace in the pursuit of the next adventure.

Wonder: How can technology help those with mental illness?

This week I’m in Arizona immersed in the innovative work they do in this state to help those with mental illness and their caregivers. It’s an incredibly eye-opening experience. There are so many people out there who need community, support, and hope—people struggling with mental health issues and the people who love and care for them. Their issues are chronic and intense, and yet so many of them could be healed with proper care.

My job is to think about how technology could help them and the people who care for them—whether those caregivers are family, friends, teachers, community members, or clinicians. And then I need to go build those solutions. I look forward to digging in further and finding opportunities where technology can help all of us be better together.

Pickling, a random forest, elastic stories, and the importance of stretching your mind

When we started talking about pickling, a random forest, and elastic stories at work, it wasn’t a conversation about life off-the-grid; it was about writing code. My brain was stretched, expanded, and twisted over the next 2 hours as I furiously scribbled notes and googled terms I didn’t know so as not to disrupt the flow of the conversation. When it was all over, I felt like I’d taken a ride on the Kingda Ka rollercoaster at Great Adventure. Where were my land legs safely rooted in the world of design thinking, ROI, and NPV analysis?

This kind of experience, as confusing as it may be, is so critical for business and product people because we have to understand the underlying work that brings our ideas and decisions to life. Programmers are wizards of the humblest order. I marvel at what they do, and when I say that out loud, they say anyone could do what they do. That’s simply not true; they are talented beyond words.

This is exactly the world I love—drop me off in a foreign land where I don’t speak the language, and give me a deadline and a limited budget that I have to use to get back home to the world of designing something that delights a customer. And that’s exactly where I am right now. Home is on the horizon, and until I get there, I’m going to enjoy the journey and learn, learn, learn.

Wonder: And today, a new career chapter begins

I got up this morning and pinched myself. Today, I’m starting my new job as a Director of Product Development in the healthcare technology space. In many ways, this job is bringing my life full-circle and uniting so many disparate points of life together to build something meaningful with a team as passionate about healthy living as I am. I’ve been immersing myself in the design and business of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality as applied to the physical world.

When I was in high school, I thought about becoming a doctor. In college at Penn, I thought about going into the healthcare field as a psychiatrist or an administrator. After I left Broadway theater, I explored the idea of becoming a physical therapist. When I was at American Express, I looked into technology product development applied to areas such as prosthetics and the artificial heart. My yoga and meditation teaching was largely an outgrowth of my passion for health and helping people feel better. I now write for The Washington Post, and most of my stories are about healthcare, medicine, stories of survival from disease, and the technologies and innovations that make that survival possible.

Now I’m pulling together my experience in and passion for product development, business, health, writing, and improving the human condition into one full-time job, in a city I love, with people who are going to be such incredible role models and mentors to me. My whole life has been preparing me for this, and I am excited to begin.

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