South By…A First Timers Perspective

Last weekend I got to attend SXSW for the Interactive portion of the conference/festival (SXSWi).  It was also my first time staying at an AirBnB.  I can say both experiences were very memorable and awesome.

Every programmer/software engineer/coder/developer should go to South By at least once because it is truly a unique experience.  I haven’t been to many conferences but this one straddles the line very well between party/festival and conference.  There are probably 100 sessions a day, including lectures, panels, meetups, hackathons, Q&A and competitions.  For the interactive portion, there is a healthy mix of developers, graphic designers, UX people and app developers.  There are so many sessions that looking at the schedule feels like drinking from a fire hose.  Since there are so many sessions, you are free to choose your own adventure.  Don’t like the talk you are at, leave for another session.  Met some cool people after a talk, join them for a drink or at their next session!  There will be many sessions that you will want to attend that are going on concurrently.  Most venues are within a 10 minute walk of the Austin Convention Center which makes it very walkable and easy to get around.

Everyone from the speakers to the volunteers to the organizers, preach about the “hallway magic” that occurs at South By.  They encourage you to leave your friends and try to meet new people.  They encourage you to note the sessions you’d like to attend but to embrace the serendipity of South By – you never know who you will meet and when you will meet them.  At the start of the festival I was a bit timid in meeting people, but by the last day I was arriving at the convention center with nothing to do for 2 hours and just heading to a phone/laptop recharge lounge to chat with random people.  I was even going to the parties at night by myself (first time going to the bar by myself) and trying to meet as many new people as I could.

SXSW is really what you make of it.  You can party from 11am to 1am every day.  Or you can attend sessions from 9am – 6pm and not party at all.  You could even arrive without a official badge and enjoy all the free stuff and network.

My favourite sessions I attended:

  • Hackathon for Social Good – got to meet some cool people and do some work!
  • Elon Musk Keynote – loved his no bullshit attitude, his humility and bravery
  • 100 Mistakes from contributor to CEOMeebo cofounder Elaine Wherry – so engaging and learned a ton!
  • Next Gen Entertainment,, – Panel discussion on breaking through Hollywoods barriers

I know I did it right because I wouldn’t really change anything about my trip.  I had a great time.  Now for a list of tips:

  1. Don’t hang out with your friends – put yourself in a situation where you have to meet new people
  2. Know that you can’t get to everything and be okay with that
  3. Drink lots of water because you will be consuming more alcohol than you think
  4. For most parties RSVP doesn’t get you anything – I used rsvpster but I didn’t use it once to get in….I still don’t get why they make you rsvp. (I still will probably RSVP next year just in case)
  5. You will be disappointed by how bad (or not what you expected) some sessions are and surprised by how good some other ones are – be flexible with your schedule

See you in SXSW next year!