In ITKAN’s previous dicussion with Adam Hecktman, Hsuan-Min Chou spoke to Adam about social media. This time, Adam speaks about his new position, Microsoft’s view on accessibility and his views on ITKAN’s past, present and future.
Adam, as always, thanks for your time. Although we talked a while back, can you tell us about your new position at Microsoft and your responsibilities? Your new title, “Director of Technology and Civic Engagement”, was so intriguing to your fellow ITKAN members. What’s the scoop, my friend?
I’m really excited about this move in my career. As you know first-hand, Microsoft is firm in our belief of the empowering potential of technology. As you also know, we live in this rapidly emerging world of devices and services. With those two things as a back drop, we built a new team committed to partnering and helping civic leaders in large urban centers like ours to use technology to solve our biggest challenges and capitalize on the most impacting and inclusive opportunities.
My job is to advise our civic and policy leaders on how technology can be applied to the challenges of a large city, and how it can be used to get our citizens engaged and included. For example, the city faces a demand for efficient and economical services, more engagement with our citizens (especially online), and the cultivation of these great high-tech ecosystems we’ve built in our local economy. So there are many opportunities here. You and I are both passionate and lifelong Chicagoans, so we know that Chicagoans are not content to sit on a challenge. And I’m not going to! 🙂
The Microsoft Technology Center has been working at creating solutions for its clients. How does your title “Civic Engagement” come into play?
While I no longer run the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago, it does have a central role here, both in terms of Civic Engagement and Civic Technology.
Remember, the Microsoft Technology Center (MTC) is all about helping people envision and architect solutions to challenges and opportunities. Yes, we are working most of the time with large companies, as they have interesting problems to solve and prospects to go after. But a city also has much of both, just at a different scale.
Also, what really makes the MTC stand out is that the people who work there are both passionate technologists and passionate Chicagoans as well. So I plan on leveraging them a great deal, both for their creativity as well as their technical acumen.
Microsoft has developed thousands of information technology concepts. One of the hot buttons in IT design right now is web accessibility solutions for people with disabilities. How has Microsoft developed in this sector proactively and reactively? They definitely have a strong pedigree throughout their history in regards to the importance of accessibility to its customers and users.
I think Microsoft “came of age” in terms of accessibility far before many high tech companies did. In fact, the work started more than two decades ago. I mentioned earlier that we are all about the empowering potential of technology. Microsoft’s mission is to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential. To really do that, you need to create technology that is accessible to everyone—regardless of age or ability.
To that end, we think about accessibility early on in the software development process when we create new products and services. Accessibility, as part of overall usability, is a fundamental consideration for Microsoft during product design, development, evaluation, and release.
When I speak of this type of technology, I am thinking in terms of many types of challenges. We make accessible technology with features that are helpful for individuals who experience visual difficulties, pain in the hands or arms, hearing loss, speech or cognitive challenges; and individuals seeking to customize their computing experience to meet their situations,l needs and preferences. So it is very broad. In the end, we think early on about accessibility that enables people of all abilities and ages to realize their full potential.
How has ITKAN changed since your initial involvement, and what’s your view on the road ahead?
For one thing, I think we have gotten far more serious in terms of using ITKAN as a forum for professional development. ITKAN members are not shy about saying what works and what doesn’t. From this open and collaborative environment, we’ve spawned some great sessions in which everyone has something to take away. And that certainly includes the technology topics we discuss, but it also includes the less tangible benefits. I’m thinking in terms of things like sessions that improve our professionalism, our job hunting portfolio, and the relationships that build and networking that takes place.
For another, I think that as a group we have grown to know and learn from one another in a very deep and meaningful way. We have built friendships and we take care of one another. My favorite story is how two of our members who live in the same building really got to know each other here at the ITKAN meetings!
I’ve seen so many good things come about from this group, from learning about Socrata’s data transparency for citizens to beehives falling from the sky.
From your perspective, Adam, what true success stories have you seen with ITKAN?
Everyone in this group is a success story. Everyone in this group has benefited from knowing ITKAN and participating. So I can only speak with authority for myself. I am fortunate in that I am not managing a disability. Yet I think that I have gotten the most out of this group. I have learned new perspectives.
I’ve come away with a multi-dimensional way of thinking through a problem – through the eyes of smart, compassionate people who manage their way around the city in ways that are different from mine. And I have built friendships that will last a lifetime. That is my success. What is yours, Bill?
Well, mine has been taking a concept that was far away from me to standing right next to it in my career. I have learned so much from all facets of what makes our networking group unique to anywhere in this country. It truly revitalized my thoughts and made me realize that there is so much tapped and untapped talent in the information technology/disability partnership.
Organic career paths usually lead to successful career paths, and because of Patrick Maher’s mentorship and your insight, time and providing the best playing field any IT networking group in Chicago can have, I think ITKAN will continue to grow in unexpected and very positive directions. Thanks again, Adam!