WebSummit 2018 – what an experience! I’ve been to (what I thought were) large events before, but nothing prepared me for the WebSummit experience – which ended up being equal parts exhilarating, inspiring and super-exhausting!

WebSummit in figures.

For those of you who need the figures to get the picture, the WebSummit’s got its place firmly secured in the ‘major events’ hall of fame, with its 70.000 participants, 1.200 speakers, 24  conference tracks, hundreds of startups presenting their work… Ah, and my favourite stats: 363.900 coffees! Adding to that my personal ‘best’ – 60.000 steps (some 35 to 40 km) walked during the 4 days, just on the venue location!

Name-dropping alert.

Or maybe you’re more into the big names? We had the chance to hear from some of the biggest names in tech and business. Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the WWW spoke about a new social contract #ForTheWeb, a contract that’s particularly relevant now, at a time when half the world is still waiting to be connected to the internet. Lisa Jackons, Apple’s VP for Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, who announced they have reached their goal of powering its global operations with 100% renewable energy and called for a deeper involvement of women in tech. Or countless others – Mozilla, Tripadvisor, Slack, Pinterest, Moz etc. who discussed the need to halt fake news, privacy in the GDPR era, the need to combat online extremism etc. Of course, all this on top of the ‘meat’ of the conference – that included full stack, devops, artificial intelligence, machine learning and so on.

Naturally, there were world leaders – such as UN Secretary Général, António Guterres who shared his thoughts on harnessing the promise of new technologies while safeguarding against their perils; Portuguese officials – President, Prime minister and Mayor of Lisbon – who collectively called for more involvement of tech in solving today’s problems and in particular aiming to reap benefits for the less privileged. And EU officials who, alongside other European officials, called for countries to embrace innovation. (One person who notably wasn NOT there though was Marine Le Pen whose invite was, thankfully, withdrawn by the organisers following a solid and determined grass-roots reaction by the paying participants who felt it was inappropriate to give center-stage to hate speech.)

But that was not all – the tech stars and the world leaders were happy to share the spotlight with inspirational artists and athletes: Ronaldinho, Darren Aronofsky, Major Lazer and other who talked about what it takes to succeed and lots of other interesting topics. And last but not least, we had Sofia and Han, the robots, who had an eye opening conversation on stage about whether or not robots were ready to rule the world – complete with eye rolling and mhmmmms!

And then, there was the content. My top 5 takeaways:

  • ‘Tech’ is no longer disconnected from the world; it was heartening to see that serious societal issues were on the table in the major keynote speeches but also trickled down to almost each workshop. The role of tech in tackling climate change, the need to increase the presence of women not just in tech positions in general, but also in leadership roles; the importance of education and particularly of educating young girls and women and so much more. In brief, the Tech for Good trend at its peak; loved that!
  • ‘Tech’ is also no longer understood narrowly; this year’s WebSummit catered for what seemed an endless line of interest: from developers to bloggers, from social media specialists to those interested in the newest trends such as AI and machine learning, from virtual reality to security and cryptocurrency, from branding to meditation, from story telling to social change, from SEO to the entrepreneurship to robots to fashion and wearables – there was literally something for EVERYONE!
  • In the world of tech, there are literally new things to learn everyday, even in a very small niche that you might think you have mastered. I’ve seen CEOs of major companies jot down ideas, startuppers scribble a line or two in their palm, people sitting down in the most unusual places with their laptops trying to capture their thoughts. The one thing everyone seemed to be on the same page on was that the moment you stop learning, you become obsolète. Irrelevant.
  • You may believe in and practice networking or not but know that if you don’t, someone else does. In fact, EVERYBODY does. That’s how contracts are signed. How jobs are filled. How needs are sourced. It’s literally the DNA of progress. It was all the buzz at the WebSummit – with people getting together as soon as 7.30 in the morning and parting ways in the wee hours of the following one.
  • Finally, a bit of a reality check. It’s not all rosy – and we all need to think hard about how we use technology, both as individuals and as professionals. One person that says it way better than I ever could – see Christopher Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower’s intervention (normally the link should take you directly to his intervention, but if it doesn’t you can find it at 4h13m06s).

A quick note for the Caweb students

  • At a first glance, the WebSummit seems out of reach for just about everyone, with ticket prices ranging from 850 to 1500+. However, if you’re motivated enough – where there’s a will, there’s a way. Even the most expensive events can be affordable, if you make an effort. At this year’s WebSummit, tickets for women in tech were heavily discounted (10% of the original price – so 85 euros for 2 participants. AMAZING opportunity which I didn’t hesitate one bit to take on!). Just tune into the event and look for the opportunities. Even if the wonderfully generous Women in tech initiative hadn’t existed, most large events, including the WebSummit, offer volunteer opportunities. This year, over 1000 volunteers had signed up to help out – and some could finish their shifts before the conference even started so they can enjoy the full experience for free.
  • If you do decide to attend one of these events – be sure to plan it all. Know what events you plan to attend, read up on the speakers and on the topic, be ready to network to reap the most benefits off your participation. And then once each day is done, take the time structure your notes right away, and define action points for yourself while you’ré enthusiastically engaged.
  • The other important good news is that you don’t even have to travel to enjoy the riches of the conference. Sure, the networking is best done on-site (though there are options even there) – but content-wise the organisers have outdone themselves and published all content on their Yotube channel – and also in podcast format. So head on over to https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJtkHqH4Qof97TSx7BzE5IQ/playlists or https://www.podcastone.com/network/Web-Summit, load up on notebooks and pencils – and coffee, you’re going to need coffee!!! – and enjoy. As for the networking, LinkedIn offers a world of opportunity, with the right address book in hand.

I’ve been back for 3 days now, and my head is still spinning with information, ideas, opportunities (cider and fado too, if I’m being truthful!), but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Hopefully you’ll join in the fun in future years, as WebSummit has just signed with Lisbon an agreement for the next 10 years. See you in Lisbon 2019?

Read more about the WebSummit on Twitter  and Linkedin

By Ioana Muresan, see Linkedin profile