We’re constantly evaluating our conference attendance and participation, and in this industry we are endlessly flushed with opportunities to pay to attend, participate, and network our way through these events in many North American and some international cities. It can be a minefield to choose the most beneficial and insightful conferences to attend. In light of the Fyre Festival disaster, how do we validate that these events aren’t just shiny marketing wrapped around hollow agendas? How do we determine which ones to devote our time and energy to? Part of the answer lies in understanding differing experiences and perspectives of the events themselves.
Recently Brenda Campbell and Tricia Cervenan, two of our Senior Product Managers, attended Collision, one of the fastest growing tech conferences in America. It brings together, or Collides if you will, the interests of various people in technology across various roles. We asked them to reflect upon what they learned (or didn’t learn) and their evaluations of the conference experience in New Orleans as a whole. The following are their insights:
What is your approach when attending conferences to make the experience a success for yourself?
Tricia Cervenan: I’ve attended many conferences in my years in tech. I try to attend only conferences that support my interests and can help me grow as an employee at whichever company I am currently working at. My goal is always to learn.
Brenda Campbell: I often attend events for my personal growth as well as for that of the company I’m representing. I frequently explore subjects that I am not always most versed in so that I can bring as many insights back to the team. I’ve always found that you can find insight from anything when you take the good with the bad.
What were some of your key takeaways from Collision this year?
Brenda: There were some panel discussion and talks that were genuinely inspiring and reinforcing of multiple perspectives and goals we attempt to achieve in the tech industry. Talks like Unlocking Creativity, where Alicia Hatch, CMO of Deloitte Digital, put a heavy emphasis on how leaders should not only foster creativity, but should also be responsible for driving it within their organizations. By changing team structures, pushing for collaboration, and putting people in new and uncomfortable environments she found that it can encourage new approaches and bubble up new questions to be answered by employees.
Tricia: One takeaway was the idea that when startup founders are talking with their boards, the discussion is generally centered around quantitative metrics and growth potential. What isn’t discussed is how to build trust — with users, customers, and their team. As people who are building software we are asking users to bring us into their homes or onto their very personal smartphone. Whether or not a company has a capacity for trust and authenticity should be a discussed measure of success.
Brenda: Reminders to shoot for the moon! Naveen Jain, Founder of Moon Express, through his infectious enthusiasm makes us realize that companies can become superpowers beyond the states and our governments. We can create an abundance of energy, resources, and land without the bureaucracy of government. He also reminds us to never underestimate our ability to disrupt, even if you are not an expert in a field. “We choose to go to the moon, not because it’s hard, but because it’s big business.”
The best moments?
Brenda: AI, data science, machine learning, and BOTs were in full force at Collision this year. People are finally talking about the lack of security in these technologies. One specific area of focus is IoT. As more IoT devices come online in our homes, cars, and workplaces, security has been an afterthought for most manufactures and consumers. This poses a risk to people and exposes them to various ransomware tactics. We are improving these technologies and there continue to be major benefits in areas like healthcare. The use of machine learning can use massive data sets to help identify volatility in a person’s genetic makeup as compared to normal people over time. Those volatilities can identify the potential for cancer, sometimes decades before it manifests.
Tricia: New Orleans was amazing and I thank all of the remarkable chefs in the city for providing me with the most delicious food this frequent traveler has ever eaten.
Brenda: What I enjoyed the most were the conversation panels between leaders who had very different perspectives on how to “Lead from the C-Suite” or even on how “Finding space to think in an always-on world” can be achieved.
Anything you found that didn’t meet your expectations?
Tricia: The conference felt like one big sales pitch or “look at me” event. Very few speakers set out to teach something new or bring about new ideas. Granted, I may have chosen poorly in the sessions to attend as there were four or five happening at the same time. But with more than 25 sessions attended over three days, it seems rather unfortunate to have only a nugget of an idea to take home with me.
Brenda: There were a few talks about things that weren’t very inspiring, were product promotions, or didn’t teach the audience anything new. For instance, Dotdash (formally About.com) spoke more than once about how they are changing, but didn’t really explain how beyond a name change. The new CEO even went on to say that he wasn’t inspired by his new position at the company and wasn’t excited to work for them when offered the job, but that it would be challenging, which resulted in a few groans from the audience.
There were several talks on “Fake News” and how companies need to be made accountable by limiting the funding of sites that do not deserve the credibility or to receive funding for disseminating bad information. It’s understandable that this is a hot topic, but having more than one talk dedicated to this type of discussion was a bit of a waste. We should stop talking about it, and start taking accountability.
Tricia: Collision worked hard to bring women to the event. Both myself and Brenda attended under the Women in Tech umbrella. At first glance it appeared as though women were represented on stage as well. However, they were mainly in supporting roles as moderators. When they weren’t, they were often talked over or dismissed. I witnessed one very accomplished woman get completely dismissed by a founder by saying “we don’t do that, we’re different.” He then proceeded to talk about his strategies and, unsurprisingly, they matched what she said, only were not as clear and direct.
Would you recommend Collision? Will you attend again?
Tricia: Though I had some of my opinions reaffirmed and picked up a few alternative ideas than my own, I am sad to say that I didn’t learn enough at Collision to warrant attending again.
Brenda: All in all, it was a wonderful show. I enjoyed most of the talks I went to, and could glean value and bits of inspiration from several speakers. Meeting the entrepreneurs exhibiting their new products was fun and easy to navigate, where at other conferences this can sometimes be overwhelming and you can get lost. At Collision it was easy to move around — at a glance you could quickly find exhibits that you wanted to learn more about and we weren’t bombarded with unnecessary freebees. Collision attempted to get people talking, moving around, creating community through pub crawls and groups in their mobile app, and exploring the sights and sounds of New Orleans. I hope that they expand upon that in future years.