Tysons, VA

Tandem Product Academy is looking for 20 existing Northern Virginia technology companies to guide and help succeed in the COVID-19 economy.

Amplifier Advisors, as well as a group of university, government and community partners, helped Tandem Innovation Alliance’s Academy launch a new cohort mentoring these technology companies on Sept. 14.

The Academy will help the selected businesses find a business model that will sustain them throughout the pandemic and long after, according to a statement from the Academy. The program will commence on Oct. 21, 2020.

The program will run virtually over a four-month period, alternating between all-cohort classes and individual company mentor sessions, according to the statement.

“The post COVID-19 economy is punishing for technology businesses that do not have the right product market fit, but as we can see from regional and national successes, when a technology business has the right fit, this is a great time to be in the technology industry,” said Jonathan Aberman, the founder of Amplifier Advisors.

“We want to help a group of promising technology businesses find their best opportunities to pivot what they have built into a market that will be rewarding for the current economy and what’s next,” said Aberman.

Amplifier Advisors is an innovation business led by Aberman, George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis and Marymount University’s Marymount Intrapreneurship Initiative, according to the statement.

The cohort’s teaching team includes Marymount University faculty and technology entrepreneurs and investors; including Mark Walsh, Gene Riechers, Ben Foster, Erich Baumgarter, Tien Wong, Pat Sheridan, Elizabeth Shea and Jonathan Aberman.

Participants must be senior leaders of a business that has a technology product that has achieved some commercial adoption, according to the statement, and whose company has done any of the following over the past year:

  • Had gross revenue of $500,000;
  • Obtained at least $500,000 in capital from sources other than the founder’s immediate friends or family; or
  • Received at least $500,000 in federal research and development funding.

Those interested can view more information and apply at the Tandem Innovation Alliance website.

Photo by Alesia Kazantceva/Unsplash

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A new chief information officer will oversee Fairfax County Public Schools’s virtual learning and department of information technology.

Gautam Sethi, who currently serves as the chief technology officer for Douglas County School District in Colorado, will start Sept. 21.

The head of information technology for FCPS resigned in April following distance learning woes. Maribeth Luftglass had held the position for more than two decades. Technical and management problems haunted the beginning of remote education this year, leading the school system to temporarily cancel classes.

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said he is confident Sethi will help ensure FCPS is at “the forefront of innovation and fully supports our students, families, and employees.”

“He has administrative and management skills in K-12 education-including experience supporting remote learning-that make him uniquely qualified to oversee our IT functions,” Brabrand wrote in a statement.

Sethi built an IT security program in Colorado for the state’s third-largest district. He also modernized existing technologies and helped develop online portals to support staff and families, according to FCPS.

Here’s more from FCPS on his background:

Previously, Mr. Sethi led technology teams for Atlanta and New York City public schools.  He served as executive director of information technology for Atlanta Public Schools, where he enabled solutions for successful virtual student-teacher collaboration and human resources functions. He also served as the New York City Department of Education director of enterprise solutions architecture, working on innovative technology solutions resulting in more than 20 new systems initiatives; spearheaded a pilot cloud deployment; and directed IT for special education programs.

Sethi earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Delhi n Indian and his master’s degree in business administration from Emory University in Atlanta.

Photo via FCPS

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As the start date for Fairfax County Public Schools approaches, school officials are in the midst of developing metrics to guide how and when schools would reopen.

At a Fairfax County School Board meeting in late July, the board directed FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand to begin drafting preliminary metrics to inform decisions about school openings and closures.

School officials anticipate a spike in COVID-19 cases in the late fall during flu season. Another possibility is “recurring waves across many months until a vaccine is developed,” which could reflect a “loss of stamina” for strict social distancing precautions, according to FCPS documents.

The move comes in the absence of state or county level metrics on the issue. In a recent email, Melanie Meren, the school board member for the Hunter Mill District, said this step was taken due to lack of guidance from state officials on the issue.

“Therefore, the school board felt it was vital for FCPS to begin developing our own, because no one else was doing that for or with us,” Meren wrote.

The latest plan for reopening and closures notes that “multi-faceted metric and thresholds” will be used to guide decision-making.

School officials will take several factors into consideration based on community transmission and disease trends, which will determine if the level of community transmissions creates conditions for face-to-face transmission.

Other factors include operational metrics like the school system’s capacity to support in-person instruction, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. Finally, school officials will also consider school metrics.

Until then, FCPS students are set to return to virtual classes on Tuesday, Sept. 8, right after Labor Day.

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Fairfax County Public Schools created a technology-focused help desk to assist FCPS families starting school virtually in two weeks.

The Parent Technology Help Desk launched yesterday (Monday), FCPS announced. The school system also offers an online portal adults and older students can use to request tech help.

The help desk (833-921-3277) will be staffed between 7 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, according to FCPS. Callers can ask for an interpreters to join the call.

“If help desk staff members are unable to solve the issue, they will request help from the appropriate FCPS team,” according to FCPS.

Currently, the school system is working to distribute roughly 55,000 laptops to students. Before the first day of school (Tuesday, Sept. 8), families can expect teachers to hold virtual orientations and reach out to students.

Photo by Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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