My SXSW Experience — Convergence
This is the third year I have attended SXSW. What began as a music festival has grown into a 10-day gathering of thousands of people to discuss and see the latest in music, education, sports, film, comedy, technology and more. It has become truly massive and takes over the entire city of Austin each year.
While most of you know that I’m a cinephile, I come to SXSW for the technology conference called Interactive. It’s one of the largest in the conferences of its kind, and one of the few that brings together a diverse mix of people from the tech community. The show’s wide-ranging (lack of) focus means that developers, aficionados, entrepreneurs, advocates, and many more all come together to see and discuss the latest trends in tech.
For me, Interactive recharges my love of tech every year. I walk away from the event with my head exploding full of new ideas and energy. But my biggest takeaway grew from a completely random conversation I had with two developers from London. They mentioned this was their fourth year at SXSW, and I naturally asked them why they continue making the long trek. They replied that as developers it was important for them to understand where technology fit within the future of music, consumer and business products, social good, smart cities and so much more.
That was the lightning bolt for me. It’s what we do — and why we do it — at TechGirlz. We are not just about teaching tech for the sake of tech…it’s about understanding how it can impact and change the world around us. We show them that technology is not necessarily a skill to be learned, but a tool to be applied. And that’s reflected in what we’ve seen them produce.
For example, one team at a past TechShop outlined the concept for the Tile app a full year before that product actually came onto the market. To be fair, the technology underpinnings are different, but our girls had realized there was a problem waiting to be solved. Others have worked to apply technology to help fellow kids learn financial responsibility. One team worked on ways technology can be incorporated into clothing that will help swimmers improve their times and stroke.
Perhaps my favorite is a group that used geo-mapping to identify cafes and retails shops around the Philadelphia area that put out water for dogs. These pre-teens and teens were being tasked with walking their dogs, and wanted an easy way to make sure they stayed hydrated on their walk. I love it!
By exposing girls to these amazing innovations at a young age, we are teaching them how to be comfortable with them, how to manipulate them, and how to turn them into practical applications. What is possible as these girls grow older? One of our graduates is using her technology chops to help advance the family farming business, even selling her homemade dog treats online to raise needed revenue. Another led her high school startup team to first place in a tech pitch competition with their steering wheel designed to prevent automobile accidents caused by drowsy drivers. What other problems will they see in the world around them that can be addressed through tech?
So I hope that as I keep coming back to SXSW, I’ll meet even more people that think about tech in relation to the world around them. That’s the mantra I’m going to continue preaching. And I hope that our girls will do the same. Ask yourself — and those around you — the “why”of technology. Then maybe we can better execute the “how”of technology.
By adopting that approach, I’m certain that one day soon I’ll see one of our very own TechGirlz on stage at SXSW sharing her vision for using technology to improve the world around here.