As a professional working in tech who loves to attend conferences and workshops, Web Summit had always grabbed my attention and was on my to-visit list. With the 4-day line up full of inspiring speakers, I finally grabbed the opportunity in 2018 and bought myself a “Women in Tech” ticket.
What’s a Women in Tech Ticket?
A woman in tech ticket can be obtained by pre-registering to the conference page entering your email and the email of another female friend or colleague; once the other person registers you unlock your Woman In Tech ticket, 2 tickets for the price of 85 euros, an extremely affordable price so easy to convince anyone to join. The ticket includes full-day access for all days of the conference, as well as access to the after parties and networking events so you’re totally covered.
Web Summit is hosted every year in the beautiful city of Lisbon, at the building of Altice arena. It’s basically a big stadium with multiple event halls – when you arrive it feels like the Tomorrowland of Conferences. The multiple rooms connected through different parts of the building take quite some time to walk across – I was exceeding my daily 10.000 steps target just by walking between the different stages on the conference, so get some comfortable shoes with you.
Every day from 9 am till around 6 pm the schedule was full of inspiring talks about every aspect of life technology touches; government, health, business, retail, fashion, education, and many more. The talks were keynotes, debates or interviews and inspired interesting discussions and reflection on upcoming technology trends and how these impact human lives. Don’t expect any hands-on tutorials though; this is not the place to learn how AI works in practice. For me personally, the highest added value was the possibility to attend talks in topics I’m not actively involved in but where I was able to see how technology also impacts the rest of the world and what’s coming next.
However, with such an interesting line-up, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. On the first day, my friend and I were literally running to make it to the next talk, only to be sometimes disappointed that the stage was already full. It pays to be tactical and to be realistic about how long it takes to get from one stage to the other, so we quickly adapted our approach and selected the talks for which we could realistically make it on time. As in travelling, this allowed us to enjoy the talks we followed more and be more mindful during the talks. I strongly recommend downloading the Web Summit app and saving the talks you are the most interested in, taking into account about 10 minutes in between talks to get there or stop for water or toilet break.
In Web Summit, there are 2 main ways to network: the exhibition booths and the afterparties.
- Exhibition booths: in the different event halls, there are various exhibitors: start-ups, companies hunting for talent or wanting to promote their products and services, investors and governments looking for innovation and problem solvers. You can just walk around and see what everyone is creating, expanding thus your inspiration horizon and making new connections.
- After parties: every evening when the talks end, Web Summit becomes Night summit and gathers event participants every day in a different location. In a more informal setting, you can exchange experiences and network with the conference participants while exploring the city of Lisbon.
Key Ideas I Will Remember
After 4 days full of inspiring talks and a lot of information, what really resonates in the end? Here is my summary of key ideas I took home with me after leaving the conference:
- Governments and institutions are waking up: they realize how fast technology is evolving and that policy making is not capable of following. Governments will need to adopt digital ways of interacting with citizens and faster decision-making will be key to catch up with fast growing technologies.
- Sustainable fashion is the future: the low cost of fast fashion has a high cost on the environment and the planet. The only way forward is to invent new, more sustainable ways to produce clothing, using harmless materials that respect the environment.
- Tech for good is increasing more and more: technology has the power to change behavior and can be used to improve people’s lives and make people show good behaviors. More and more initiatives are appearing with this mission.
- AI and Blockchain are the founding blocks for new innovations: the power of personalization offered by AI and the secure transactions offered by Blockchain cover plenty of use cases which are yet to be exploited. Although Blockchain can increase trust, AI on the other hand can endanger critical thinking if humans start to fully rely on AI to make decisions (we already see this today with people searching and trusting everything in Google).
- Self-driving cars and buses are a mega mobility trend: needless to say, they are coming to stay and will revolutionize the way public transport works today.
- Technology can increase the gap between rich and poor and exclude non-tech people: even though technology has a great potential to bring positive change, there is a risk the technology elite will gather too much power and non-tech citizens and elderly risk to be marginalized.
- Technology can be used as a weapon: unfortunately the episodes of Black Mirror could also be perfectly possible in real life: surveillance drones, automated gun robots, social ranking, these are all ways technology works against people and we are all responsible to ensure they don’t happen in real life.