Every once in a while, we event organizers are fortunate to get the opportunity to be on the other end of the events spectrum - becoming attendees instead! As an attendee at industry conferences, we get to fully experience the event, get a pulse on what's important to #HumansofIT and learn best practices that we can potentially apply at our own events.
October has certainly been a bumper month for events, and I had the opportunity to attend not one but THREE events of different scales and in various cities. It's fascinating to see that many of these events had common themes, and focused on core areas of sustainability and practicing kindness.
Grace Hopper Celebration 2019 | October 1-4, 2019 in Orlando, FL
The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC for short) is arguably one of the most well-known industry events for women technologists. Tickets often sell out in mere minutes (rumor has it that this year it was completely sold out within 50 minutes!). Over 20,000 attendees gather in Orlando to delve into topics that range from the technical to the human-focused, but my favorite sessions are the ones that explore the unique intersection between the two.
Featured speakers include Dr Fei-Fei Li - this year's GHC Technical Leadership Abie Award winner and co-Director of Stanford University's Human-Centered AI Institute. She is also the co-founder and board chair of the nonprofit AI4All dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion in AI educate, research, development and policy.
For Dr Fei-Fei Li, a deep curiosity in nature was what inspired her to begin her journey. While working simultaneously in both a neuroscience and computer science lab, she discovered the value of interdisciplinary research and that eventually led her to focus on the power - and vast potential - of human-centered AI. Dr Li also shared about how there is tremendous value in academic institutions serving as a neutral and open platform of discussion for core stakeholders including corporations and policymakers, thereby enabling a positive influence on technology. She also talked about drawing a connection between a dystopian future and fear, and how the critical connection comes down to people - "We need humanity to be at the steering wheel of this technology."
The subject of bias is another topic to comes up regularly in GHC sessions - take for example loan decisions made by banks. If data is not carefully curated and triple checked for accuracy, it can affect and carry through the entire machine learning system which then compares it to what it knows, and subsequently makes a decision that carries the bias embedded in the data. This is highly detrimental to the people who are dependent on the accuracy of these decisions, and can have far-reaching effects. To quote Dr Li, "If you don't know how to use that output, the human action continues to carry the bias and negatively impacts the person at the receiving end of the system". The good news is, the industry and academics are "feverishly working" on a solution, tirelessly striving to de-bias data sets and algorithms. That said, the bad news is that we are still far from a full waterproof solution, and this topic is embedded in a bigger conversation of responsible AI where we need to bring all these core stakeholders together.
Aside from topics on responsible usage of technology and cutting-edge systems, another big topic at GHC 2019 centered around self-advocacy (i.e how do you speak up and respond to biased/judgmental/insensitive comments? How do you keep calm in the face of these situations?).
Here were some tips from speakers:
The topic of mental health continues to be a hot topic as well - we first saw strong interest and demand for a greater focus on this important topic at Microsoft Ignite 2018. This momentum has clearly continued into GHC 2019 as well. There were several panel sessions on this topic, focusing on discussions around how to tell your manager about your neurodiversity or mental health condition, advice on self-care, and how to ask for help from coworkers or peers.
Other speakers focused on topics around gender expectations, breaking glass ceilings and pushing to reach your full potential. Here are some key advice from speakers (there were too many to list individually, but they include Morgan DeBaun, CEO of Blavity, Aisha Evans, CEO of Zoox amongst others):
Some of my favorite moments during GHC 2019 are the moments where they feature #FutureTechnologists such as Jhillika Kumar, a bright young woman who created a brilliant startup that enabled her to combine her love for technology with her passion for service.
How I Built This Summit 2019 | October 22-23, 2019 in San Francisco, CA
Most of you already know that I am a huge fan of NPR's How I Built This podcast series, hosted by Guy Raz. So when I saw that they were hosting their second HIBT Summit, I knew I had to be there. I've been tremendously inspired by the journeys of founders - especially women founders! - such as Sara Blakely (founder of Spanx), Stacy Brown (founder of Chicken Salad Chick), Jen Rubio (co-founder of Away), Curt Jones (Dippin' Dots) etc and more. What does innovation and entrepreneurship have to do with big tech companies, you might ask?
As community leaders, we're continually striving to transform users' experience, build community, grow fans, expand our program offerings and hopefully create something magical that people love and want to contribute to.
Attending HIBT Summit was like walking into a mecca of creativity and innovation. You can feel a palpable sense of excitement, energy and hunger for success in the air. It's refreshing to see this in a conference, and motivating as well. You feel like you're part of a collective hive mind, everyone with ideas and experiences to share.
The theme of this year's summit was "Kindness and Collaboration" - a clear nod to the importance of social good, and practicing kindness in the industry. Speakers reflected on moments of kindness they've experienced in their founder journey, and why it's important to pass it on.
Quotable quotes from successful founders:
Marcia Kilgore, founder of Bliss, FitFlop, Soap & Glory, Soaper Duper, BeautyPie
Katia Beauchamp, co-founder of Birchbox
Stewart Butterfield, Slack CEO and co-founder of Flickr
Guy Raz, host of the How I Built This Podcast
In all, it was a great learning opportunity to truly dig into the concept of innovation, tips on overcoming adversity and bouncing back from rejection. If you're not already tuning in to the podcast series, be sure to check it out - you won't regret it.
5 top lessons and takeaways:
What are your favorite industry conferences to attend? Let us know in the comments below.
As for us, we'll see you at Microsoft Ignite in Orlando, FL next week!
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