In 2018, participants in TechPoint’s Indy Tech Fellowship program used their trip to SXSW (pronounced South by Southwest) as the capstone to their two-year program. The second cohort of Indy Tech Fellows did the same this year, accompanied by most of the TechPoint team—including several new hires.
Held in March every year in Austin, Tex., SXSW is a nine-day suite of conference and festivals that draws more than 70,000 attendees from around the world. SXSW is made up of several tracks focusing on film, music and interactive elements, all with the goal of inspiring conversations between people from various walks of life. There’s always an active presence from the global tech community at this annual event, so naturally, it made sense that TechPoint and the Indy Tech Fellows chose this opportunity to engage with.
“Tech Fellows and TechPoint staff were fortunate to immerse themselves in the SXSW experience,” said Merillat Flowers, Senior Director of College to Career Programs. “The conference afforded us the opportunity to gain knowledge for our individual roles, explore fresh and provocative ideas from around the globe, and brainstorm how we can collectively support Indy tech’s momentum.”
From Friday, March 8, through Monday, March 11, TechPoint explored everything the world had to offer in SXSW’s Interactive track.
Sessions held during the Interactive track explored topics that are on the tongues of most people today: technology, politics, business and intersections between all of these. The sessions were spread out across the city, allowing for attendees to experience more of the spaces in which technology has embedded itself in Austin.
Among many celebrities and high-profile individuals who participated in panels and featured talks, CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker had an interview with Vanity Fair senior media correspondent Joe Pompeo on journalism today and how technologies like mobile video will propel the future. CNN also hosted a presidential candidate town hall at SXSW, where TechPoint’s own Al Carroll had the opportunity to ask a question to one of the candidates on live television.
“With 2020 elections coming up, I found it interesting to hear different politicians’ opinions on hot topics like data privacy, social media, and the tech industry,” said Indy Tech Fellow Luke Zhang, machine learning engineer at DemandJump. “As a data scientist who works in tech, it’s even more interesting to hear how tech entrepreneurs respond to those policymakers’ ideas.”
Other sessions covered technology and the ecosystems that generate around it, hosted by the people who are creating it. Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger talked about how Instagram brought on the best talent to keep evolving its product and what they think of the current state of tech. At the Capital One-sponsored “Making an Entrepreneur: The Ecosystem of Innovation” panel, representatives from the Cincinnati and Virginia tech ecosystems shared what policies and development tactics are working well in their home regions.
Still other sessions were intriguing from a broader perspective. “When I went, I wanted to focus on journalism, advertising, and technology, because these topics are relevant to me in my day-to-day life,” said Kunal Agarwal, Indy Tech Fellowship Capstone Experience Chair. “A couple thought-provoking talks I attended include ‘How the Media Covers Suicide,’ which talked about the negative impact sensationalizing suicides has on society, and the ‘Psychology Behind Ad Campaigns,’ which revealed some of the ways in which marketers try to appeal to their audience. With this experience, I brought back a fresh perspective on how tech affects the world around us, and how it’s our duty to create responsible tech to better the world around us.”
For Indy Tech Fellow Kyle Fischer, software engineer at Renaissance Electronic Systems, it was an eye-opening and fresh experience. “I had no clue what to expect there; I had only heard it’s a place where they show the latest technologies and have lots of panels over everything you can imagine,” he said. His favorite panel dealt with the future of self-driving cars. He learned many new concepts that he hadn’t considered before about the technology, such as how it will impact parking, traffic congestion, the data storage/networking that will have to take place, and how it will change driver’s education.
TechPoint also had the special opportunity to meet with Hugh Forrest, SXSW’s chief programming officer. Hugh shared the ins and outs of running a major endeavor like SXSW, something he’s done for more than two decades. Indy Tech Fellows had the chance to ask him questions about what’s in store for SXSW’s future and more of the details of what goes on behind-the-scenes.
Traveling to Austin and experiencing the festival was a chance to better understand our collective impact in Indiana’s tech ecosystem. “After seeing the huge success of SXSW and Austin’s tech community, I’m so optimistic for Indy tech,” said Zhang. “However, Rome wasn’t built in a day. The booming Indy tech ecosystem needs all of us, especially young talent like the kind that stems from TechPoint programs.”
“From my first engineering class in 9th grade, to crafting apps as a software engineer today — SXSW was a culmination of the last decade of my career journey into tech and countless intersecting fields,” said Indy Tech Fellow Erik Mudrak, software engineer at TechniPhi. “The grand variety of conversation abound in Austin represented the values and responsibilities key to leading Indianapolis forward.”