The first class of TechPoint’s Indy Tech Fellowship, powered by the TechPointX talent multiplier program, will soon conclude an amazing two years. It was up to the Tech Fellows themselves to decide how to celebrate the memorable experience they have shared with each other and with the Indy tech community. After two years of planning and preparation, the Class of 2016 celebrated their hard work with a trip to one of the most notable tech and art conferences in the world, South by Southwest (SXSW).
Chaired by Tech Fellow Mateusz Kosciuk, the program’s Capstone Committee was charged with the beginning-to-end planning process. As they prepared for attending SXSW, the committee felt strongly that the passion for building that is shared by all of the Tech Fellows was incorporated into the experience.
“When planning the Capstone trip, we wanted it to be more than just a fun trip to a new city but actually serve as one of the culminating events of our two-year Tech Fellowship journey,” said Ashley Zegiestowsky, who served on the Capstone Committee. “SXSW was exactly what we were looking for — the conference itself offered a wealth of content across a variety of disciplines with some of the most innovative and influential minds in the field today.” SXSW took the Tech Fellows out of their Indy comfort zone and let them explore other fields, another city, and topics shared by world-class speakers.
SXSW began in 1987, growing to become one of the world’s largest music, film, and technology conferences over the years. With four different badges offering access to over 20 different interest tracks, the conference has something for everyone. Tech Fellows used the conference’s “Interactive” track and discovered new emerging technologies in sessions about topics ranging from 3D printing to self-driving cars. Keynotes from speakers like Bozoma Saint John (Chief Brand Officer at Uber), Melinda Gates (Operator of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), Elon Musk (CEO of SpaceX and Tesla), and many others gave the Tech Fellows a glimpse into how the technology world is changing for the better and inspired them to become a part of that change.
“She gave me goosebumps,” said Tech Fellow Chelsie Kasun of Saint John’s session. “We, as makers, are responsible for the use concepts and exposure our products give to the world, and we must be careful not to use our privileged perspective — consciously or not — in a negatively impactful way.”
Not all of the Tech Fellows made obvious choices on which sessions to attend. While many were drawn to the big names at keynote sessions and industry-relevant talks, some sought out more specialized opportunities. Sessions like “Innovate or Perish: How Tech Will Shape Fashion,” and “Trap Goes Tech: A Case Study,” or “Designers Who Broke the Internet” are just a sampling of some of the more eclectic options Fellows picked during their five-day stay.
Having the opportunity to attend sessions that applied back to each Tech Fellow’s personal, company, and civic development had a big impact on Gayle Ocampo. “I attended a panel comprised of engineers who were women, and they discussed the need to stop including gender identifiers before occupations like ‘female’ engineer. Your gender doesn’t define your career.” Many of the more popular sessions at the conference were focused on equality and diversity within the tech workspace.
While investigating how Austin positioned its own tech scene, Tech Fellows were able to compare and contrast Indy tech’s growth with Austin’s. “The time spent in Austin really helped highlight how similar some of the struggles that face both cities are,” said Tech Fellow Alex Correa. “It was clear that, similar to Indianapolis, they fight for talent and capital to support the growth of their technology industry. While SXSW was an impressive part of Austin’s strategy, it was inspiring to realize that I’m a part of some Indy solutions via TechPoint and the Indy Tech Fellowship.”
Surprise guests like Mark Hamill and Elon Musk made a number of keynote sessions especially memorable for the Tech Fellows, as well as movie premieres like The Quiet Place, film keynotes like Bill Hader’s Barry, and sneak peaks from new seasons of shows like Westworld. Aside from experiencing the glamor of the celebrities visiting for intermittent sessions, the Tech Fellows made sure to reflect on their more thought-provoking sessions afterward. Ashley found great value in hearing about important tech topics from speakers with such a variety of backgrounds.
“Within those five days that we spent in Austin, Texas, I had more powerful and inspiring conversations than I’ve had in the past five months,” she said. “I believe that innovation can begin from a single idea, and that change can start from a single conversation. Attending SXSW reminded me that it’s our job to continue to grow that kind of knowledge and insight within ourselves, our companies, and the Indy tech community as a whole.”