Community, Leadership, Technology

Hacking MasterCard (Culture)

It was a cold afternoon in January. Six small teams of MasterCard employees gathered together in the company’s NYC Tech Hub for the first internal hackathon focused on building innovative applications using MasterCard APIs. We had yet to receive a budget allocation for these types of events but were able to scrap together funds from different groups across the company in order to host the event. It turned out to be excellent and resulted in a wide range of technology solutions being created.

As we reviewed feedback from participants, we started to think of what the next iteration of the event would look like. Initially, the idea was to stream the NYC event presentations to corporate offices around the world so that the entire company could be involved. Very quickly, however, we realized that this was an event that needed to be experienced and not just watched, so we decided the best option would be to engage our MasterCard Labs unit with a proposition: work with us to take what we did in NYC and make it global and institutional. Fast forward, and the company’s first global internal hackathon was created.

Creating a global standard for local office facilitators and organizers to use and leverage, we created a fantastic platform for the event now and moving forward. Incredibly, we were able to host approximately 5% of the company’s employee base in the Tech Hubs of Dublin, New York City, St. Louis, San Carlos, Baroda, Pune and Singapore. Yes, nearly 5% of the entire company participated in this event. Teams of up to five individuals competed over the course of two days (many slept in the office, if at all) to build the best prototype focused on payments, security, and data solutions. Of course, we had a lot of fun throughout!

It was truly inspiring to see the excitement and solutions come out of this two day event from employees around the world. Not only were highly executable solutions created for the company, but we inspired employees to work together on projects they were personally passionate about. Embracing the identity of a technology company has to come at all levels of the organization, and this (now institutional) event has certainly helped MasterCard achieve that goal.

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Community, Leadership, Technology

Introducing the Commerce Forum

I am very excited to announce the launch and first event of the Commerce Forum. I am very thankful for MasterCard’s willingness to support this initiative.

There are many events in NYC that focus on products, often in demo day fashion. There are a few events with panel discussions focusing on general topics such as data or NoSQL. There are very few meetups, if any, that focus on individuals. My hope is that during these events, we will better understand the people who work in the wide field of commerce. It’s time for a different type of meetup – I hope you will join me for it.

The first event is planned for mid-January. Be sure to join the group to be eligible for a ticket!

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Community, Leadership

Remember to Change the World

Remember when you were in elementary school and wanted to be President, a firefighter, or in a similar public-serving profession? How good-willed, we were… So what changes as we get older? Or does it? I’m not talking about the effect of disappointed parents whose children did not become doctors or lawyers or scientists (though I am sure that this has an impact) – more so the result of the introspection one goes through thinking about one’s “purpose in life” (not to be confused with the question of the meaning of life).

Similar to the argument that Sir Ken Robinson gave with regard to creativity, this type of altruistic mentality seems to be pressured out of us as we get older. In our careers, it becomes all too easy to slip into the mindset of promotions, raises, and position as well as the power, prestige, or utility that comes with them. But these two goals need not be mutually exclusive, even (and I would argue especially) in a for-profit environment.

Consider the example of Apple (a previous employer of mine). Built very early into Apple’s OS were accessibility features that enabled individuals with special needs to use Apple products (later iOS, as well). These core features help break down societal barriers for certain individuals. Coca-Cola, a company that produces relatively simple products, completed a project in Dubai and in Pakistan and India focused on helping cultures and families connect. MasterCard (my current employer) leverages technology to open financial accessibility to those who previously had none or little, helping individuals and families do things that many (but not all) westerners take for granted. No doubt these projects and associated stories were beneficial to the core business of these organizations, as well.

All of these projects, technologies, and initiatives were not made in some corporate vacuum – they were done by individuals who realized that there were opportunities for corporate and social good. It can be easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks, but from time-to-time it is important to remember and imagine the possibility of doing more for the greater benefit. Ample opportunities exist to make lives and societies better, but success requires people with the will to pursue them. Be one of those people.

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Community, Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Building a Corporate Culture

IMG_1249MasterCard opened an office in Manhattan this year. It’s not a bad space for a reinventing tech company. Right now we are in a temporary space which offers terrific views of downtown and both sides of the island (see pictures courtesy of my iPhone). The office is software and “innovation” focused – the teams in this office are working on cutting edge and/or high priority products and platforms, identical in mission to the final office that is scheduled to open before the end of the year.

One of the neat things about helping open a new space is that I have the opportunity to help shape the culture of the office. It is a unique opportunity normally reserved for organization founders or early members/employees. It is slightly different from a startup in that we are not just creating something from scratch or from previous experiences – we are creating a branch of an existing corporate culture. So how have we begun to do this? Two simple changes have made a significant difference:

IMG_1273The permanent space is open desk style, but even our temporary space is more open and clustered. This has lead to more conversations among employees in the office, which has helped break down any barriers that may have existed between technology and product teams. Collaboration has greatly increased among employees, even for projects not included in core responsibilities.

The office dress code is startup casual, though we certainly have some stragglers from headquarters who work in dress pants. For the most part, casual dress has lead to a less stressful environment. My hypothesis is that employees are more efficient if they are as comfortable as possible in their work environment. Anecdotally, the results in the office seem to support this.

We are in phase one of this cultural transformation, and I will certainly be writing more about it as we continue to build this office. Any tips or tricks to building a great work culture? Tweet at me with #culture, and let me know!

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Community, Entrepreneurship, Technology

Technology / Government / Data

No, not that kind of technology. This week, the legislative committee I chair in Stamford kicked off what I hope will be an ongoing conversation about the use of technology and data in our government. It is very exciting to think about the opportunities that are available to not only improve the quality of life for many in the city, but also increase the operational efficiency of how the city operates. Stamford also has the potential to be on the leading edge of not just opening up data for viewing, but enabling the use of data through APIs. Our ability to make these long-term investments takes more than just a wish, and I look forward to working with local, state, and private officials to see Stamford become a true “smart city.”

It has been fantastic for me to view these opportunities from both a government and private sector perspective. I am very thankful for the opportunities I have been given to learn as much as I have. I hope it will serve me well in the future, as AOL co-founder Steve Case predicts. Too often, we see governments in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) trying to shape technological solutions to their purported needs rather than being adaptive to the rapid evolution of available solutions. Part of the reason for this is the embedded process of these types of institutions (ie bureaucracy), but that doesn’t mean our governments can’t be a little more agile; it just takes some evolving of their own.

How would you like to see cities effectively use technology and data? Tweet at me with #SmartCity to let me know!

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Community, Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Inverse(STEM) – What Happened to Well-Rounded?

For a few years now, some of the most notable technology executives have impressed upon today’s youth the importance of learning to code and the importance of STEM. Even President Obama jumped on the bandwagon in 2013. When I served on the board of the University of Connecticut, we worked with our Governor to launch a new operational and capital investment initiative by the state called NextGen Connecticut. The focus of this initiative, as you can read about, was additional STEM faculty, facilities and programs. STEM initiatives, in general, are good for the long-term health of our businesses and society as long as they are not created through or with the debilitation of other initiatives. It is that last part I’m a little worried about.

Dave McClure and the 500 Startups team, who are doing tremendous work globally in entrepreneurship communities, focus on finding great companies that have three key team ingredients, succinctly called “H2D”: a hacker (software developer), a hustler (sales/business development), and a designer (product architect/humanist). This team formula can create fantastic results, as we’ve seen from many of their portfolio companies. Yet STEM only focuses on one or two of these three legs, those being hacker and (maybe) designer. Not even discussing the broader needs of society, have we become to narrowly focused on STEM while forgetting other important fields?

Fortunately, I have been able to become somewhat fluent in particular programming languages, enough to have a certain level of conversation with software developers. As a kid, I went to a computer science camp and learned some game design (yes, I was/am a nerd, let’s move on). Later, I took courses on Codecademy and I continue to work with many of our product groups at MasterCard who were building APIs. I never have any intention of being a developer, but a certain level of fluency has been useful. My job at Apple was sales and marketing focused, so that box has certainly been checked. You could say I have filled in two parts of Dave’s formula so far, which just leaves some design experience. I’ve been able to take on some prototyping projects, but I am sure I will lean on resources like GA to help fill the gap.

So while the President, industry leaders, and many individuals are correct in suggesting that individuals learn to code (or more specifically, gain some level of fluency in coding as one might learn a spoken language in school), it is also important that our leaders recognize, even from an economic development persecutive, the importance of other skills and fields.

Thoughts on educational investment for the next generation? Tweet at me with #edu, and let me know!

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