Trendy Techie

Fashion, Tech, and Everything in Between


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Photo Diary: Things Around Vancouver

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Wealth, health and culture. Those are the three words that come to mind when I think of Vancouver. It’s a beautiful coastal city booming with chic people who walk quickly between the skyscrapers to get to their next appointments. Walking downtown you get the feeling that it was once a quaint place in which, one day, sharp glass buildings suddenly sprouted out of the ground, bringing with them an invigorating and youthful energy. Throughout the city there are surprising pockets of the quaintness that remains; a little church here, a steam-powered clock there, and hole-in-the-wall shops that serve espresso in tin cups and banana bread made from recipes older than the people baking it. Then there are shops that curate the latest high fashion from around the world, where you can’t touch the merchandise unless it’s handed to you by the glove-handed design consultant. There’s Japadog – one of many Asian fusion food spots that blend Asian and North American cuisines – that sells hot dogs influenced by classic Japanese flavour combinations with ingredients like teriyaki, tempura, and shichimi. And there’s a neverending supply of stunning views: mountains, waterfront, and cityscapes that morph into more beautiful shapes with every change in the weather. In short, Vancouver is breathtaking. Take a look.

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Cartems Donuterie

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On my last day in Vancouver my 1pm flight was cancelled and I was put on the next flight, leaving at 4:55. That gave me a few more precious hours to discover some more of the city and, remembering a TV show I’d seen about cool donut places a few years ago, I discovered the wonderful gem that is Cartems Donuterie.

Cartems makes specialty donuts with unique, high-end flavours like Lavender Cream and Honey Parmesan. The Earl Grey donut – which is Cartem’s most popular – is surprisingly light and fragrant, with a distinct but not overpowering taste of tea. Being a tea lover myself, I indulged in the most heavenly creation: a cream-filled London Fog donut. I couldn’t resist the urge to buy a half-dozen donuts to bring back to my friends, and I’m happy to say that, though carrying a large box of donuts through the airport proved to be much more burdensome than expected, all the precious cargo made it safely to Toronto, soft and fluffy dough intact.

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So, yes, this post was dedicated entirely to donuts. Next time you’re in Vancouver, be sure to stop by Cartems for a delicious treat.

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Microsoft Empowers Youth at YouthSpark Live Vancouver

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It’s said that 50% of the job market requires basic technical proficiency, and that that number will increase to 77% in the next decade. With a shortage of qualified computer science graduates to fill these roles and the fact that computer science has not yet been recognized as a pillar of mainstream education, the income gap between entry-level employees who were exposed to technology early on and those who weren’t widens every year. YouthSpark, a global initiative dedicated to students and youth, is Microsoft’s commitment to help remedy this growing problem by providing youth with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship in technology, and providing them with a path to enter this competitive field.

As an intern at Microsoft Canada and, previously, a Microsoft Student Partner and YouthSpark Advocate, I have benefited firsthand from Microsoft’s investments in youth. I am very proud to have been able to contribute to Microsoft’s youth outreach efforts in a number of ways, including leading coding camps at the annual YouthSpark Live events two years in a row. This year YouthSpark Live took place at Robson Square in Vancouver, where 100 youth nominated by Microsoft’s citizenship partners – Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, Pathways to Education, SHAD, and Ladies Learning Code – joined us for a full day conference focused on skills and career development.youthspark_live_vancouver_2015_1

The day began with an inspiring keynote by Molly Burke, a young woman who, despite going blind at a young age, has overcome her disability and been able to reach thousands of lives through her inspiring talks and work with Me to We to provide opportunities to children in developing parts of the world. Following that, attendees participated in a “coding unplugged” session led by me, YouthSpark Advisor Genevieve L’Esperance, and two Microsoft software engineers, during which they got a feel for the way a computer processes information by applying the Bubble Sort algorithm to sort each other. During the Study Smarter session, representatives from the Microsoft Store showed students how to use OneNote to increase productivity and maximize study time, and then Genevieve and I taught the students how to code using TouchDevelop on HP Stream 7 tablets running Windows 8.1 during the coding camp. The day wrapped up with a career panel of interns from Microsoft’s Foundry program, led by Microsoft Most Valued Professional Stephen Ibaraki, followed by the exciting announcement that the tablets the students had been using throughout the day were their to keep. Many of these youth had lower than average access to technology compared to their peers, so these tablets not only enhanced the learning sessions at the conference, but will provide these students with the opportunity to apply all they learned throughout the day to their daily lives.

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YouthSpark Live was an uplifting and inspiring conference, but it doesn’t end there. YouthSpark is a fantastic initiative that encompasses over 30 major programs and opportunities for youth worldwide. You can discover these programs and opportunities on the YouthSpark Hub and access further resources for learning to code and building apps and games at imagine.microsoft.com. As a student who was once new to the tech world, I recognize how meaningful those first interactions with tech are, and I am proud to be part of a company that invests so much in youth and students. Watching the students at YouthSpark Live building games was an amazing experience. The creativity and excitement in that room was exhilarating, and if we can encourage that positive energy in more youth across the globe, we can empower a generation that will build the future.

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Photo credit: Mark Kinskofer, Vision Event Photography


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Calm Water and Peaceful Stays at the Four Seasons Vancouver

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Hello from Toronto! I’m back after a five day stay in Vancouver, during which I spoke at Microsoft’s YouthSpark Live event, swam in the west coast sunshine, and explored the beautiful city for the first time. I’ve got a lot of posts coming up about my adventures in Vancouver, but I want to start off by sharing with you my home for the week, the Four Seasons hotel. One of the most important elements of a good trip is a good home base, one with plenty of room, a good work space, and a comfy bed. The Four Seasons Vancouver was all of that and more, with an excellent indoor/outdoor pool and open space gym. Initially when I arrived they had me in the most basic room tier, but I upgraded to a suite to make sure I had a space I’d be comfortable working in during my stay. It was absolutely worth it.

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My #YouthSpark

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Before I discovered code, I wanted to be a digital artist. My dream was to be a Pixar animator and be part of bringing joy to millions through cute, quirky characters and heartfelt stories. In the summer of tenth grade I went to a computer graphics camp at University of Pennsylvania, thinking I would learn the ins and outs of digital art and kickstart my career as an animator – but when the professor showed us an animation he’d made with code, my plan for my future changed completely.

I had heard about coding, but until I saw it used to make an animation of fire, I had no idea how empowering it was. Just one line of code could change the colour, shape or direction of the fire, and it was mind-blowing to see what a big difference just a few words on the screen could make. I was amazed. Coding was like math with words, and coders were people who knew how to speak to computers and make them do amazing things.

The very first program I wrote was Turtle.vb, a simple program that made an 8-bit turtle crawl around the screen drawing shapes. It was by no means complex, but making it work was exhilarating! The great thing about coding is that anyone who tries it can make cool things right from the get-go. Learning to code is so much fun because it’s creative and very hands-on – you learn by doing, and you get instant results. When my turtle drew a triangle for the first time, I felt like I had unlocked the beginnings of a new superpower; I could now communicate with technology.

Now, six years later, I am studying computer science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, working as a Technical Evangelist at Microsoft Canada, and writing and operating Trendy Techie. In the six years that I’ve been coding I’ve learned seven programming languages and used those languages to make dozens of apps, games and websites. What I love about coding is how versatile it is – once you learn to program you can work on projects across all industries.

Today the second annual #YouthSpark Live event brings together 100 youth from around the Vancouver area for a one-day conference focused on skill development, coding, and careers in technology. YouthSpark is Microsoft’s global commitment to empowering young people with opportunities for employment, education and entrepreneurship, and it comprises over 30 major resources and programs to inspire youth around the world to explore technology. In celebration of YouthSpark Live, I encourage you to tweet and share your #YouthSpark – what was it that inspired you to start down the path to where you are today? 

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Startup Spotlight: Nymi, the Wearable that Listens to Your Heart

Apple Watch lets you send your heartbeat to your friends, but this wearable actually does something useful with it.

If you’re like me, you have more passwords and logins than you can remember. If you’re on top of things, you’ve got them written down. If you’re proactive, you’ve got them in one of the many password keepers available for purchase or download. But if you have Nymi, you don’t need any of that because Nymi uses your heartbeat to verify your credentials.

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This little band uses your ECG (electrocardiogram) to authenticate your identity through its sensor. Since everyone has a unique ECG, it can be used instead of a password to unlock, well, anything. The Nymi band sends signals to your devices via Bluetooth, opening your email, bank account, and even car door, in a heartbeat.
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Not convinced? Watch the video:

What do you think of the Nymi? Would you trust it with your security?

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3 Tricks to Get Over Your Fear of Public Speaking

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From a very young age we are taught that speaking to large groups of people is terrifying. We’re taught that people are by default judgmental and will look for any and every flaw you have before you’ve even opened your mouth. In the same breath we learn that we should look for those flaws in others, scrutinize their body language for any hint of fear or nervousness and feel a sadistic pleasure when we find those weak spots. For some people, it takes a lifetime to un-learn these rules, and some never get there. But those who manage to unlock themselves and shed these fears can skyrocket professionally and become much more influential.

As a Technical Evangelist, a large portion of my job is to speak to audiences about Microsoft’s technologies. The audience sizes vary from one to a thousand, but I’ve found a way to feel confident and steady regardless of the audience size. When I was a teenager, I was so shy and afraid of judgement that I wouldn’t even sing in the car around my family for fear of them thinking I was awful. I went to an all-girls high school to which I attribute a lot of my early professional skill development, including finding my speaking and singing voices and learning how to calm the pre-stage jitters. Now I still get a few butterflies before stepping out into the spotlight, but there are three things I remember to settle the nerves and be able to talk confidently.

1. The audience wants you to succeed.

This was something my first drama teacher taught me when I was shaking in my uniform at the thought of auditioning on stage in front of a panel of judges. The judges want you to succeed – they’re looking for the person that fits the role, and when they’re watching you perform, they want you to be that person. They want you to succeed. The same goes for speeches and presentations – the audience wants you to do well and deliver a good presentation, so they are rooting for you every step of the way. Thinking of your audience as a group of supporters is one way to boost your confidence when speaking.

2. The larger the audience, the more efficiently you can spread your message.

Think about it – would you rather give a presentation a hundred times or once? What about 100 times to small audiences of 5, or once to an audience of 500? You reach the same number of people in the end, but a hundred presentations cost you a lot more time and effort than one. The larger your audience is, the fewer times you have to say your message – so instead of wasting your time saying the same thing over and over again, why not invest some time in preparing meticulously and deliver a single well-rehearsed presentation? The reach is bigger and the mental and physical drain on you are lessened dramatically. Save the dry-runs for your home office and deliver fewer, more impactful presentations.

3. Great talks are remembered, boring ones are forgotten.

If you give a great talk, chances are people will remember it. If you give a boring talk, chances are it won’t stick around in people’s brains – which gives you the opportunity to learn from it, tweak it, and improve for the next time. Every presentation is a learning experience. I’m sure my fellow TEs would agree with me when I say that we learn something and improve our presentation styles every time we take a speaking engagement. As cliché as it is, practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to start out boring and work your way to being great.

The photo at the top of this post is of the speaker list from a session I did at the National Business and Technology Conference last year. It was one of the largest audiences I had had until that point, and I was excitedly nervous to be representing Microsoft at this conference as I was younger than some of the attendees. But when it comes down to that moment just before you step onto the stage, no matter how nervous you are you have to decide to push the butterflies down and just give it all you’ve got, remembering that your biggest and most important critic is yourself.

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