For the fifth year in a row, a group of Comm Leaders will head down to the Lone Star State to report their findings from one of the largest, most well-known technology conferences in the world. They’ll likely indulge in more than a few breakfast burritos, too.
This year the annual South by Southwest conference (SXSW) takes place from Friday, March 11 through Tuesday, March 15, 2016. The conference is world renowned, and it’s one of the best places to learn about new and emerging technologies. Just like in previous years, our team looks forward to bringing you top notch coverage, analysis and insight through daily posts. If there’s something you’d like to see us cover, please leave a comment, send us a tweet or comment on our Facebook page. We want to hear from you!
Every conference is different, and each year big themes emerge. Last year was all about dreaming, doing, and thinking big. Astro Teller spoke about bringing the Internet to developing countries through projects like Google Loon, and live streaming video platforms like Meerkat were hailed as the next big thing. Some even believed the expansion of the Internet of Things and better use of data would create whole “smart” cities.
This year promises to be just as exciting. Here are just a few of things we’re looking forward to as we head down to Austin:
Listening to the President and the First Lady speak live
Without a doubt, President Obama opening SXSW Interactive with a keynote speech on Friday, March 11 is No. 1 on our list. This marks the first time in the conference’s 30-year history a sitting president will speak, and the fact that it’s an election year makes his presence all the more interesting.
Evan Smith, CEO and editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune will interview the President, and the public can be part of the conversation by sending in questions to the Tribune. According to an announcement about the keynote, the President and Smith will discuss civic engagement in the 21st century, and how those at the forefront of the technological revolution can tackle big issues such as climate change and how to increase engagement in the political process. Of course, we’ll also be looking for any off-the-cuff thoughts on the presidential candidates and this year’s election cycle.
On Wednesday, March 16, First Lady Michelle Obama will speak at SXSW Music to discuss Let Girls Learn. The program is a White House-affiliated program that seeks to empower girls around the world by opening doors to education. It encourages community members to lead the way from the ground-up, ensuring the solutions come from within to reduce barriers that prevent adolescent girls from completing their education.
Both interviews will be live-streamed on sxsw.com/live.
For the most part, there are three main arms of SXSW: Interactive, Music and Film. But SXSW Convergence seeks to explore the spaces where all three of those tracks intersect.
This year’s Convergence offers 10 different tracks. In the comedy track, Chris Hardwick will host an episode of “@midnight with Chris Hardwick,” his nightly comedy-game show series on Comedy Central. There will also be collaborations between comedic powerhouses the Upright Citizens Brigade and Earwolf, the podcast network home to the likes of Comedy Bang Bang, the Cracked Podcast, and Yo, Is This Racist?
Meanwhile, the AR/VR track will offer opportunities to explore where many believe we’re headed: a virtually augmented future. Notable panelists and speakers include Max Planck, CTO and co-founder of the Oculus Story Studio, John Gaeta, executive creative director of Lucasfilm’s immersive entertainment lab and Hayley Pappas, head of films at Ryot. One of the most exciting sessions? VR Porn: Future Is Upon Us, What’s Next?, of course.
Other bright spots include Nathan Thornburgh interviewing Anthony Bourdain as part of Southbites; a presentation from Diversity Programs Specialist at Pinterest, Abby Maldonado as part of SXgood; and a SXsports opening session including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, UFC star Ronda Rousey and ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.
Focus on diversity and access
The lack of diversity in the tech workforce and issues surrounding accessibility in tech are always big themes. This year many sessions concerning these issues are scattered in the Work and Career and Government and Policy tracks. The Government and Policy track focuses on how big data can help inform everything from policy formation to civic engagement, as well as issues with government surveillance (think the NSA) and privacy. Notable sessions include Putting the Public back into Public Policy with U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, Tale of Two Cities: Challenging Urban Disparity with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and We the People: Using Tech to Solve Big Challenges featuring Aden Van Noppen, advisor to the U.S. CTO and Clarence Wardell, a member U.S. Digital Service at the White House.
The Work and Career side focuses on work-life balance and career development, and includes sessions geared toward those who are not middle age, straight and white trying to navigate the tech world. Highlight sessions include Diversity and Tech: Breaking Down Unconscious Bias, Unapologetic Women Win Meetings in Jeans and How to Recruit for Diversity and Achieve Inclusion.
Remember those breakfast burritos we mentioned at the beginning? We’re really, really excited about them. We can only hope at least one us will be lucky enough to stumble upon a panel that serves them. If you know of any good brunch joints in Austin, be sure to let us know.
We’re going to do our best to take in all the sights, sounds and information SXSW has to offer. And we can’t reiterate this enough: if there’s something you think we should cover, we want to hear about it. There are hundreds of sessions, events, panels, speakers and parties, and we can’t possibly cover them all. Make sure you’re following us on Facebook and Twitter, and we can’t wait to have you along for the ride!