James Mayes

Closing post on SXSW

In Personal Development, Recruitment, Software Development, Start-ups, SXSWi, Twitter on March 18, 2010 at 8:31 pm

So South by SouthWest is over.  I’ve packed up and I’m writing this on the plane out of Houston. Just starting to contemplate all the work to catch up on and new ideas to discuss. Some sleep would be good sometime too!  This will be my final post on the SXSW topic for now. I may do a retrospective in a few months when I’ve been able to evaluate the deeper impact, but now, I need to brain-dump!  This may be the longest post I write this year…

Firstly, don’t underestimate how much walking you’ll do – and how informal the event is. The combination of these two things will be your guiding light when sorting your luggage. Forget business shoes – everyone else does and your feet will be murder by day three if you try to buck the trend. Same goes for suits, ties, etc. Bring a few smart shirts if you want – but don’t feel you have to. Mostly it’s polo shirts, or the free t-shirts handed out in abundance.

Secondly (and the specifics will no doubt change next year) get on top of locational services software. Whether you’re a Gowalla fan, a FourSquare fan, or maybe experimenting with something new –  figure out what your associates are using. Austin is incredibly busy, the convention centre is huge. On top of this, you’ll have more opportunities for meetings, lunch, drinks than almost any other time of the year, so use what tools you can to track trends. I want to assume it goes without saying Twitter is THE tool of SXSW – but if you’re sceptical, go check out the tweets for the back channel of Evan Williams keynote. Tweets during the interview pushed him into some immediate online responses straight after the session.

Third – power. Yes, there are sockets everywhere at the convention centre, likewise many with multi-blocks plugged in. There are also 15,000 people loaded with technology.  Keep it in mind, especially towards the end of the day. If your phone/device dies as the convention centre closes, you face some downtime as you head back to your hotel to recharge while everyone else is taking informal pre-dinner drinks – which is one of the best conversation time slots. Dinner plans are made on the fly here and if you’re not around, you can really miss out.  If you want a green earth recommendation – I used a FreeLoader. Disclosure: no association.

Finally – schedules and panels.  The schedules continue to change right up to the event and the panels aren’t exactly published early. It doesn’t matter. Sure, you should check the schedule and try to pick out the discussions you think you’ll benefit from. But there’s more than that. Not all events are official (the best one for me was an unofficial SXSW HR TweetUp). You should know who the thought leaders in your industry are, so follow them closely in the run up, figure out when and where they’ll be and don’t miss out on the chance to talk with your heroes, professional or otherwise. They will never be more approachable than here.

Moving from next year’s planning to another point about this year, I read an excellent post earlier from @Blogging4Jobs; she hit on a great point about the blatant absence of the HR industry. There were some attendees, certainly, but based on how much this event focusses on tools for engagement, she’s got a seriously good point.  This got me thinking about whether anyone else was noticeable for the absence.  Yep. The finance people.  Not those with money to spend or M&A interests to progress, but the operational ones.  Those who have to try to manage the finances of a company in times of recession, those looking for ways to cut costs, automate or scale processes.  There was a lot here for those professionals too, but I think there were even less from that set than from HR.

Final lighter points – I’d give the best party award to uStream for their event at Phoenix, with second place a tie between the Rackspace guys at Maggie May’s and UKTI for the British Bands night at Latitude. It’s purely personal choice; I’m not going to justify, I just want to offer credit where it’s due. With that in mind, I also want to offer my thanks to Chinwag. They’ve been running the UK’s Digital Mission to SXSW in conjunction with UKTI for some time now and their experience really shows.  Kudos to Sam, Emily, Ed and Juliet – you guys did a great job and deserve some recognition. Same goes Barry & Danvers at Bootlaw, who contributed heavily to a first class opening day, acclimatising Brits to US industry. Invaluable stuff.

OK, done for now. If you’re reading this, thanks for sticking with me right through. I hope it was useful and that maybe you find someone in here worth following in future!

  1. James,

    It was a pleasure meeting you. I had a great time and can’t wait to hang with and talk to you again.



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