Tysons, VA

Though the prospect of looking for a career might be daunting during a pandemic, a Falls Church-based group is hosting a virtual job fair this week to help people looking for jobs in STEM.

Women in Technology, a group that aims to get women “from the classroom to the board room,” invites anyone seeking a job in the science, technology, engineering or math fields to an online event on Thursday (June 25) where they can network with hiring managers at various companies.

Registration is free for job seekers, the site said. The event will be held from 4-7 p.m. and people can register online.

All ages and experience levels, including students, are welcome, the page said, adding there will be roughly 15 exhibitors at the event.

Throughout the year, the organization will also host various awards ceremonies and training opportunities for women in the STEM field, the website said.

“The great thing is we can reach more people with this being virtual and additionally, no traffic nor weather to affect the participation numbers,” WIT member Cristine Gollayan said. “Many have lost jobs due to COVID and we are hoping that this fair will assist those in the community.”

Photo courtesy Cristine Gollayan

0 Comments

Tysons-based company hatchIT launched a new site in February to connect independent engineers, developers and entrepreneurs in the D.C. area.

Called Hatchpad, the site allows users to create a social media-type account to talk with people working on new projects, seeking jobs, hiring or simply wishing to network in their field, according to the website.

People can sort through posts and project collaborations based on tech stack (a.k.a. coding language), region or work location — at home, part-time or in an office.

Hatchpad founder Tim Winkler said that the idea came to the team after realizing talent recruitment in the area was difficult for startups and product designers. “It’s often hard to cut through the noise of government contracting,” he told Tysons Reporter.

The site only caters to people in the D.C., Virginia, Maryland and Baltimore areas, but Winkler said there are plans in the works to expand the site’s capabilities — both geographically and feature-wise.

Though there isn’t a way for people to chat on the site just yet, startups and engineers are encouraged to post a blog or video interview showcasing their projects, according to Winkler. From there, people can get in contact with one another by finding contact information online.

Roughly 450 people have accounts on the site, Winkler said, adding that more than 1500 people are on their listserv for a weekly email update.

For example, Reston-based startup Hawkeye360 uses the site to advertise job listings and talk about its product.

Like almost every other company, Hatchpad adapted to changing norms prompted by COVID-19 within the last few months.

“There is a push for us to bring a new line of virtual events during this time,” Winkler said, adding that engagement with digital events can be more difficult than with in-person events.   

Before the pandemic hit, according to Winkler, people were more likely to attend in-person events since it was easier to gather and organically network over food and drink.

“Folks seek that social interaction and that’s why they enjoy physical events,” he said. 

To solve this problem, hatchIT and Hatchpad are considering putting together invite-only, “round table” digital events where roughly 10 industry professionals would come together over a specific topic.

These events, potentially called “Hatchpad Huddles,” would be around 30-45 minutes in length and give people the opportunity to speak up and stay engaged, according to Winkler.

Though a lot of companies are experiencing hiring freezes, Hatchpad is encouraging the use of its platform by offering fun ambassador perks for current members.

People who bring new users onboard may score prizes like Hatchpad socks or free tuition to certain online workshops, much like the podcast Morning Brew does, Winkler said. “We really want the site to grow organically.” 

Photo courtesy hatchIT

0 Comments

Fairfax County school board members expressed major dismay over the botched rollout of the school system’s first week of distance learning, including security issues and technical problems with Blackboard’s system.

At an online meeting today (Thursday), school officials acknowledged the school’s leadership failed to ensure adequate security measures were in place when students and teachers logged on to online sessions.

Teacher-led distance learning was canceled this week due to technical issues the school system is working to resolve.

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board today that the issues have been two-fold: capacity and load issues on Blackboard’s end and failures to implement and monitor security protocol by FCPS.

Security Issues

Sloan Presidio, the school system’s assistant superintendent for instructional services, described security issues as a “leadership failure.”

“We failed to properly train the staff,” Presidio said, adding that the school’s leadership did not communicate how teachers should properly set up online sessions and make sure security settings were in place.

In some cases, students were able to set up and run unmonitored chat sessions that were not seen by moderators. Some students were able to log on with fake names and upload inappropriate photos.

“We absolutely share the concern and the dismay at some of the behavior that was reported,” Tim Tomlinson, Blackboard’s chief product officer, said. “It’s unconscionable.”

Although instructors were given guidance on how to maintain security and set up online sessions, school officials said the information was not properly disseminated. Once school officials were made aware of security issues, additional guidance on security was provided.

School board member Megan McLaughlin said she was “shocked” the 10th largest school system in the country did not conduct load testing prior to the launch of the system.

“There is no getting around it,” McLaughlin said.

Blackboard Problems 

In addition to security challenges, the system experience log-in issues on the first day of learning, following by problems associated with Blackboard’s servers. The Reston-based company is working on upgrades to the system to resolve ongoing issues.

Tomlinson said that Blackboard “had no indication that these problems would occur” and shared a statement from the company apologizing for the disruption.

“We are working with FCPS to require students to log in to the FCPS 24-7 site and authenticate their identity before they are permitted to join a virtual classroom,” according to the Blackboard statement.

Tomlinson also noted that FCPS chose not to update its software for three years to the latest system. Seven updates were publicly available but not applied, he said.

But Maribeth Luftglass, assistant superintendent of the school system’s department of information technology, noted that the school system was never told those upgrades were required for performance purposes, especially prior to the launch of distance learning. She also added that the system was due for a planned upgrade this June.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hit locally, the school system had plans in place to replace Blackboard Learn, a virtual learning environment, with Schoology, another distance learning tool operated by PowerSchool Unified Classroom, over the next two years.

The school system hopes to pilot the system in the fall.

School Board Responds   

School board members also questioned why distance learning proceeded if there was indication there were technical problems prior the launch. Several of the members urged FCPS to consider learning alternatives, like resources from Google.

“If Blackboard can’t handle this, lets try Google” Laura Jane Cohen, who represents the Springfield District. “Everyone has worked too hard to make this happen.”

According to the presentation, less than half of the teachers have Google Classroom sites, which could be used as a learning supplement.

“There would be significant teacher training required and additional workload on teachers to create these sites,” the presentation said. “Additionally, Google Classroom is not linked to the student information system and teachers would have to manually create courses.”

The presentation notes that students and teachers have equal permissions on Google Meet, which could let students override teacher content, and that guest access is allowed.

“Additionally, Google engineers expressed concern about handling the volume of FCPS users,” the presentation said.

Other school board members said a two-hour delay in instructor-led learning on Wednesday was not communicated effectively to the school community.

Brabrand apologized for not making the “right call” when he called for the two-hour delay.

“We could have communicated it better,” Brabrand said, adding that his mistake “caused undue confusion for our teachers and our principals.”

Next Steps 

Blackboard is currently working on software patches this week to address the capacity issues behind the login difficulties, Luftglass said.

On April 14, Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, a real-time video conferencing tool, were linked with a new feature that will only allow students enrolled in a class to join the class session and ban guest access, school officials said. Additionally, a back-up plan is being developed using Collaborate Ultra, they said.

FCPS aims to resume its synchronous learning on April 20.

Catherine Douglas Moran contributed reporting

Image via FCPS

0 Comments

The first week of distance learning for roughly 189,000 Fairfax County Public School students has been off to a rough start.

Technical issues with the Blackboard 24/7 system prompted FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand to cancel the online learning through tomorrow (Friday). The system encountered log-in problems and other issues since distance learning kicked off on Tuesday (April 14).

Brabrand made the decision after hiccups on Wednesday morning prompted a two-hour delay in teacher-led instruction. Online learning was later canceled due to ongoing technical issues that day.

“We sincerely appreciate your patience and share your frustration related to our distance learning challenges this week. FCPS had worked closely with Blackboard’s technical team for several weeks prior to the launch of distance learning and there was no indication that the system would be unable to handle the volume of participating users or would be susceptible to the security issues that many of our schools encountered,” Brabrand wrote.

Blackboard Inc., a Reston-based company that contracts with school systems nationwide, says it believes it has identified the root cause of connectivity problems. The company expects updates to the system will take until at least Friday to complete.

“As a Fairfax County-based company, we are deeply committed to providing Fairfax students and parents the robust and secure learning environment that they want and need. We apologize for the disruption this has caused to instruction and we appreciate patience as we all work together as an education community to ensure continuity of learning for students.”

Brabrand noted that the school system will provide an update on the status of distance learning tomorrow (Friday).

Teachers will contact students over the email and phone to make sure third-quarter work assigned before March 13 is submitted. Students can live stream instructional programs on local cable channels and other resources are available on the school’s website.

The school system’s distance learning plan is scheduled to run through June 8. High school and middle school students will receive no marks for the fourth quarter, although fourth-quarter assignments can be used to lift a student’s final grade. Elementary school students will not receive any fourth-quarter grades.

0 Comments

Three McLean teenagers decided to leave behind the minimum wage grind and embark on their own entrepreneurial journey.

TeenServ is an online platform that connects students to adults who need short-term jobs done, like pulling weeds, cleaning or other types of housework. It began in 2018 under Ben Jeannot, Jack Lannin and Quin Frew, a group of friends who are still in charge of the service’s development and outreach.

The idea quickly spread after the boys decided to promote the service within their own friend groups, according to Lannin.

Since September, the team said they managed to recruit around 200 teenagers from eight area schools including Falls Church, Herndon, Marshall, McLean and Oakton. 

Teens who sign up for the app can accept jobs they are most interested in and make about $17 per hour, according to the founders.

“Because it’s pretty much a free market system, it allows teens to choose jobs they want and think are fair,” one of the members told Tysons Reporter. 

Another group member added that all of the jobs are screened by the founders before being added to the list of available opportunities. This way, they can ensure the jobs are safe and within limits of the site user agreements.

“We tend to stay away from animals or babysitting,” a group member said, adding that any job that involves the liability of a living thing, besides plants, is also off the table. 

Twice a week, the boys said they will meet to discuss goals and next steps.

Currently, Lannin said the majority of their marketing is done through word of mouth and social media presence — including  Instagram and Facebook. The group’s Instagram account has more than 800 followers as of Monday (Feb. 3).

Two promotions were recently announced on the company’s Instagram. The first promotion offers workers an extra 12 percent on top of the listed rate for a job if they bring along a friend, according to TeenServ’s Instagram.

There is also a job lottery that automatically enters students in a giveaway for every job they complete within a certain month.

Photo courtesy TeenServ

0 Comments

A group headquartered in Falls Church aims to get women “from the classroom to the board room” by offering developmental resources and networking opportunities.

With more than 1,000 members, the Women in Technology group (200 Little Falls Street) operates around the D.C. area and works with a large variety of age groups — including young girls and women at the height of their careers, according to its website.

“Our scope is to really network and support the advancement of women and girls in this specific area to enter STEM fields,” recently elected Board Member Cristine Gollayan said. “It’s for girls and women at any stage of their life.”

Gollayan’s own story with the group began around 2013 when she said she attended an event and eventually worked her way up the group’s leadership ladder.

Since then, she also served on the job fair committee board and was eventually elected into the WIT’s Board of Directors in 2018.

Gollayan currently works in Herndon as a senior manager for Sony’s Global Information Security team and said events hosted by WIT take place throughout the area, including Tysons — a central location for many of the organization’s volunteers.

WIT has several representatives, who happen to be women of color, on both its board of directors and the executive committee. But, the group doesn’t offer specific programs targeting women of color or transgender women.

Gollayan also said anyone who identifies as a woman is more than welcome to join.

“Anything we promote, we try to ensure that diversity and inclusion is an important piece,” she said.

Two of Gollayan’s favorite events include the leadership awards ceremony and STEM for Her Gala, which Gollayan also said she helps to plan, because the women at both of the events are “so poised and ready to rock and rule the world,” she said.

Other events run by the group include two seasonal job fairs a year, the Leadership Foundry and Girls in Technology. A full list of offerings can be found online.

For example, the Leadership Foundry is a nine-month-long program that teaches women to run board meetings and take on positions of power within their own companies. So far, 20 alumnae from the program have ended up on boards within a corporation, according to Gollayan.

Meanwhile, Girls in Technology is a subgroup within WIT that targets young girls considering careers in STEM.

The CyberPatriot Girls is a program through Girls in Technology that takes 6th-12th-grade girls and challenges them to participate in a “fast-paced and high-pressure” simulation that resembles a mock cyber-attack, according to Gollayan. It is hosted in partnership with the Air Force and the University of Maryland. In the activity, girls form teams and are expected to “protect national infrastructure” while learning technical skills, she said.

For people interested in the group, the next upcoming event, WIT.Connect, is coming up.

On Feb. 20 from 6 to 8:30 p.m., people will gather at Valo Park (7950 Jones Branch Drive) to network and learn about upcoming technological trends in healthcare. Attendees will have the chance to hear from speakers and WIT members.

Registration is $45 for WIT members or $55 for non-members.

Photo courtesy Cristine Gollayan

0 Comments

A store where shoppers can try out the latest tech products is coming to Tysons Corner Center.

Signs indicate that B8TA will open a store at the mall. The retail-as-a-service company has chains that present various consumer electronics and devices.

The store is coming to the first level of the mall near Bloomingdales. The wrap-around at the storefront says that B8TA is hiring.

Shoppers can find a B8TA kiosk with about 30 products on the second level by Bloomingdales.

0 Comments

Tysons company Urgent.ly has scored a high spot on Deloitte’s new list highlighting the fastest-growing tech companies in North America this year.

The roadside assistance company nabbed the #6 spot on the “2019 Technology Fast 500 Ranking.”

Earlier this year, the company gained national attention for its partnerships with Uber, Volvo and Amazon.

In total, five Tysons-based companies made the list.

The other Tysons companies on the list are:

The list “provides a ranking of the fastest-growing technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences, and energy tech companies — both public and private — in North America,” according to Deloitte.

The companies on the list were chosen based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth from 2015 to 2018.

Image courtesy Urgent.ly 

0 Comments

A Tysons tech company wants to boost fundraising, sales and marketing efficiency for both non-profits and businesses by using artificial intelligence.

BoodleAI (1751 Pinnacle Drive), which eventually branched out to also create guidonAI, began as a small startup roughly three years ago and managed to expand its client base to include around 30 non-profit groups and businesses once product development was complete.

BoodleAI works with non-profits to expand their donor bases, while guidonAI exclusively works with businesses to boost marketing strategies and sales, France Hoang, the chief strategy officer and co-founder, told Tysons Reporter.

Both companies offer predictive analytics to help organizations by taking the clients’ pre-existing data and cross-referencing it with more than 500 other data points on each person, using only names and email. All of the data sets are then analyzed by AI to come up with a predictive model that will be tested for power and reliability, according to the company’s website.

Hoang began the company because he felt that non-profits are an “underserved market.”

“I know the pain non-profits go through trying to raise funds for their mission,” Hoang said.

The company names were inspired by Hoang’s time at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated before serving time as Special Forces in Afghanistan, moved onto law school at Georgetown University and eventually become an entrepreneur.

Everything had its place at the academy, he said, adding that all of the cadets were expected to keep things extremely organized.

“The one exception to that is that you are allowed one exception of cookies, candy and things sent to you by your friends and family back home,” he said, adding that things come in a box and the contents are referred to as “boodle.”

GuidonAI was inspired by the flag that represents a unit. “If you want to know where to go, you look towards the guideon,” Hoang said.

The company offers decreased pricing options for non-profits but the cost will ultimately depend on variables including the size of the organization, the amount of help they need and the size of the problem, Hoang said.

“We would like to be the prime, dominant builder of people-focused, predictive applications,” Hoang said after being asked where he wants to see the company in five years.

Unlike competitors, boodleAI focuses on the fit of a person’s needs rather than on their online behavior, Hoang said, adding that their algorithms can pick out the target market four out of five times.

Hoang said that he loves connecting the world with issues they care about through outreach and the company’s work with non-profits.

“I’m passionate about solving problems in new ways. It’s in my blood.”

Photo via BoodleAI

0 Comments

The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve scoured the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Tuesday (Nov. 12)

  • Mayor @ Your Service — 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall (127 S. Center Street) — Mayor Laurie DiRocco is set to chat with Victor Hoskins, the president of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, tonight about the future of Fairfax County economic development.

Wednesday (Nov. 13)

Thursday (Nov. 14)

  • Women in Technology Job Fair — 4 to 7 p.m. at Sheraton Tysons Hotel (8661 Leesburg Pike) — Women in the STEM industry are invited to attend this free event if they are currently seeking a job. Registration is still open for applicants and hiring companies.
  • Professional Networking Night — 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tea with Mrs. B (136 W Jefferson Street) — This event allows people across the community to network and meet new people. Tickets are $10 and include drinks and appetizers.
  • Trace Bundy — 6:30 p.m. at Wolf Trap (1635 Trap Road) — Folk singer and guitarist Trace Bundy will take the stage for a performance. He is known for his harmonics, looping and multiple caps, according to the event website. Tickets start at $27.

Friday (Nov. 15)

  • Tree Lighting — 6 to 9 p.m. at The Plaza (1961 Chain Bridge Road) — The public is welcome to watch as the Christmas tree at Tysons Corner Center be decorated with lights. There will be live music from Kris Allen at this free event.
  • Bright Lights in the Little City Community Celebration — 7 to 10:30 p.m. at The State Theatre (220 N. Washington Street) —  The Falls Church event will include food and dessert, live music by The Grandsons and an online auction. Tickets are $85.
  • Improvicon — 7:30 p.m. at 1st Stage  Tysons (1524 Spring Hill Road) — This event will feature several improv groups throughout Northern Virginia. General admission tickets can be purchased for $15.

Sunday (Nov.17)

  • 5K Turkey Trot — 8 a.m. Central Park (Tysons Blvd and Galleria Drive) — This 5K, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Tysons Corner, invites community members to participate to raise money for local charities. Until Nov. 15, tickets are $35 and will go up to $40 after that. Tickets include food and swag. The first three women and men to place will receive cash prizes.

Photo via Tysons Corner Center/Facebook

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list