This is not just about the #WebSummit
On the last day, in the middle of the chaos, there was a simple card that caught my eye. It just said, “Do you need a college degree to work in tech?”
But first, before answering this question, let me give you some background.
A few days ago, I went to a post-apocalyptic technology event — I received an invitation from Udacity to attend WebSummit 2017 in Lisbon — one of the world’s most influential and international tech events.
But how to describe it? It is a world of different people, with different mindsets, idols hated by some and loved by others. It is a place where you see everything — from platitudes to things that we would never think existed.
In a way, it is the celebration of diversity — cultural, gender, business and technological.
In the midst of 60,000 people, Web Summit is an annual technology conference which hosts attendees ranging from global Fortune 500 firms to the world’s most exciting up and coming tech companies.
This organized chaos was packed with excitement, diversity, innovative ideas and technological realities.
This year, the focus was obvious: Artificial Intelligence. There was a plethora of talks on this subject — from Stephen Hawking’s contribution (“Artificial intelligence may be the best or the worst thing for humanity.” ) to the debates on the code of ethics in technology, not to forget the striking and controversial presence of robot Sophia and even a disruptive talk by Max Tegmark about Life 3.0.
But that’s not all — from politics to economics, there has been much discussion here on universal basic income, security and even the fight for human rights — topics that I honestly did not expect to see at WebSummit. It was a pleasant surprise.
As for my role at the summit, I wore three different hats — Udacity ambassador (for the WebSummit), Google Developers Group Organizer & Women Techmakers Portugal Lead.
With all this, I found it necessary to go with defined goals — after all, everything happens at the same time and every moment of networking is precious. In addition, there were also a lot of side events taking place at the same time, outside the WebSummit.
On one of those sunny afternoons, we were even able to do a small meetup with some Udacity students and share some of our experience as students, transcending any barriers that might otherwise stand between us.
The funny thing is that while we all have different backgrounds and stories, we share something in common — a passion for education.
And it was this passion for education that led me to go to one of the side events on “The Future is Education” — a very interesting discussion on the impact of technological change and why we should embrace innovation in the fields of education, talent and technology.
The panelists discussed a topic that touches me in a very personal way: the traditional formal education is becoming obsolete for not being inclusive and, at least in IT, it’s now easy to learn anything through the Internet.
In this debate, I took the opportunity to meet the VP of Careers at Udacity, Kathleen Mullaney, who was one of the speakers.
Since these opportunities don’t always appear — it isn’t every day that you meet a high office of a great company — I invited Kathleen to an interview for a podcast (Unshift Yourself). And, I have to say, it was inspiring.
In a very informal way, we spoke a little about everything from education to values and diversity. The way she chooses to lead her career is for me an example to follow and the passion she dedicates to the Udacity project was clearly visible.
As a Women Techmaker Lead and Google Developers Group Organizer, I have organized many events for my community, both tech and non-tech. However, I always had this question in my mind: how can we better promote diversity at tech events and moreover make events more tangibly inclusive for all participants?
Increasingly, Udacity and platforms like Udacity are very close to being the perfect agnostic platforms regarding age, sex and ethnicity.
And these are the keys to education — inclusion, diversity, community.
I don’t say that universities are useless or replaceable — of course not. Research is fundamental to technological and scientific development.
But it is through communities that we can spread knowledge.
As a proud college dropout and e-learning fan, I can say for sure that an online course like a Nanodegree isn’t just a technical course. The Udacity and Google Developers communities have been important to my personal development and have also opened my horizons to greater goals.
There is no better feeling than when we can share and use what we learn with great effort and dedication. And this applies to any level of knowledge.
That’s why I do online courses. That’s why I’m a community organizer.
That’s also why I devoted part of my life to teaching others, seeking to combat info-exclusion and promoting the dissemination of knowledge.
At WebSummit I saw a little bit of everything. Knowledge has been disseminated in an almost agnostic way — regardless of gender, culture, academic degree, religion or hierarchy.
By applying these principles, we fight against the many types of prejudice that still pervade in our society and we’ll take part in building a more just and sharing world. After all, education is the future.