Cathy Wissink moved to Pittsburgh only four months ago but she’s already experienced the collaborative nature of the Steel City.
That’s important for Wissink, a director of technology and civic engagement for Microsoft who is leading the company’s outreach in Pittsburgh.
“Moving to Pittsburgh and knowing next to no one, it meant a lot that people were very willing to take a meeting, and pass me on to someone else in their network,” she said. “Within two weeks of landing here, I had met with leaders in the business and civic community, and been invited to participate in key projects.”
Wissink worked on Windows for nine years at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash. She became director of global government affairs in 2011 before starting her current role in 2013. Microsoft’s civic engagement team expanded from six to 13 cities last year; Pittsburgh is one of the new cities.
GeekWire interviewed Wissink for this Pittsburgh Profile, a series of Q&As with influential people and interesting characters we meet during our month-long “HQ2” project.
Continue reading for her answers to our questions, and check out all of our Pittsburgh coverage here.
What do you love about Pittsburgh and what would you change?
Wissink: “People are super helpful. When I was house hunting, I would stop on the street to look up a listing on my phone, and almost without fail, someone would stop and ask me if I was lost and if they could help. And then we’d chat for a while.
The neighborhoods are charming. The houses have incredible character, whether it’s ornate brick chimneys, sweet little porches out front, or intricate woodwork. Then you stumble across a little bakery or restaurant or park that you are compelled to visit. From the North Side to Point Breeze and all points in between, there’s good exploring in the neighborhoods.
Every week, you can find an interesting event to attend. I’ve seen a Brazilian dance troupe, listened to a holiday ‘hootenanny’ put on by local musicians, and hung out at a ‘spooky’ civic data user group.
Most of what I would change focuses on mobility. At the macro level, it’s currently way too hard to get to Seattle from Pittsburgh! Luckily that is changing in September with Alaska’s new nonstop flight. I’m still struggling with how to navigate the ‘Pittsburgh left,’ both as a driver and a pedestrian. And at the micro level, it’s a shame how inconsistently people clear their sidewalks after snow and ice storms, especially compared to what I experienced over four winters in New England.”
Favorite Pittsburgh spot?
Wissink: “I love the view heading into town as you exit the Fort Pitt tunnel (though that’s best experienced as a passenger and not a driver). A close second would be the Strip District, especially earlier in the morning when the shops are just opening up. It’s like going to Pike Place, but with easier parking!”
Favorite Pittsburgh celebrity?
Wissink: “Mr. Rogers was formative for me as a small child, and I was thrilled to learn he was from Pittsburgh.”
Best food in Pittsburgh?
Wissink: “In Seattle, you have access to incredible Asian food and you can be pretty picky about it as a result. It’s fantastic that you can get super authentic and spicy SE Asian food in Pittsburgh. Try Noodlehead in Shadyside or Nicky’s Thai on the North Side (and tread lightly with the spice)!
More authentic to Pittsburgh, but more DIY: Strip District Meats is the quintessential butcher’s shop — you can find just about anything there. It’s probably heresy for me to say this, but I’m a fan of the coffee from Prestogeorge Coffee Roasting Company, also in the Strip District.”
Best insider tip for transplants?
Wissink: “Pittsburgh is very much a city of neighborhoods. It’s pretty much one of the first questions you get when you meet someone: which neighborhood you live in?”
Favorite Pittsburgh word or phrase?
Wissink: “I haven’t come across a favorite word or phrase yet, but I smile every time I hear the audible crosswalk notifications that are done in a female voice. It sounds like a local accent to me?”
— Cathy Wissink (@cathywissink) February 14, 2018
Pittsburgh’s most important innovation or invention.
Wissink: “It’s a toss-up between the Mr. Yuk sticker and the emoticon. Both were big innovations in graphic communication.”
How would you describe the tech, innovation and startup activity taking place in Pittsburgh to an outsider who hasn’t experienced it?
Wissink: “Super networked, open to new ideas and people, and agile. Focusing on making things that matter, especially in the social impact space.”
Can you tell us about any memorable experiences you had in Pittsburgh that illustrate the character and nature of the city and its tech/startup/engineering community?
Wissink: “Moving to Pittsburgh and knowing next to no one, it meant a lot that people were very willing to take a meeting, and pass me on to someone else in their network. Within two weeks of landing here, I had met with leaders in the business and civic community, and been invited to participate in key projects. A great example of this is the CoLab 18 innovation space – someone I had met with early on connected me with the leaders heading up that project, and invited Microsoft to brainstorm how we could partner to provide training and programming in this space.
If you were parachuting into Pittsburgh as a tech/business reporter, what’s the first story you’d want to cover? Who is the first person you’d want to sit down with?
Wissink: “I’d want to focus on innovation in the civic space, where technology and data are making government work better for constituents. For example, the city is partnering with the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center on applications like Burgh’s Eye View, which provides current insights into crime incidents, 311 data, capital improvements, and other data in an interactive fashion. Or the data-driven technology work that Allegheny County is doing to protect children at risk of neglect and abuse.”