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March 22, 2010

South By Southwest Wrap Up

by mikediliberto

This past week I had the opportunity to travel to the South By Southwest conference, and now that I’ve had a chance to digest everything (well, mostly), I’d like to summarize my impressions here.

Overall, attending South By Southwest was one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had; not because of the panels or events, but because it really helped me look introspectively at what I want out of my life and career.  I came back from the conference more focused and energized than I have been in a long time.

Focus

During the five day conference, there were over 300 panels, speeches, round-tables, and workshops.  At any given time slot, I had a dozen or more panels that I needed to choose from. At first, I started sitting in the back of the room so I could panel-hop, but I quickly realized that my best course of action would be to choose one or two subject matter and focus on the panels that would fit in best with those subjects. I choose to focus on the two subjects that I am most passionate about, Open Source and Entrepreneurship.

At first, I simply looked at these two topics as just that;  two different topics that I have an interest in learning more about.  As time went on, I soon realized that there is significant overlap.  From a very over-simplified perspective, Open Source is based on the premise that by sharing information freely serves to benefit everyone.

As a student of global entrepreneurship, I am driven to empower entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to reality. Never before have I been in a place where so many people have so many great ideas that have the potential to change the world.  In consulting with early stage entrepreneurs, I started to see that the guiding principles of Open Source can also be of great benefit to the entrepreneurship community as well.

In this current economic climate, there is ever increasing pressure for entrepreneurs to go further on their own than they have before.  By sharing information and best practices together, everyone can benefit.

I returned from South By Southwest committing to make more of a contribution back to the entrepreneurship community;  look out world!

Energy

I said that South By Southwest energized me, and it even manifested itself in behavioral changes throughout the week.  Those of you that know me know that I love coffee, and I can easily have 2-3 double espressos in a day.  During South by Southwest my coffee intake fell dramatically, often only 1 per day, and I think I know why:

As a technical business professional, I spend a great deal of my time translating information between technical and non technical employees and clients.  This activity is very much akin to translating between two different languages, and can be, at times, equally exhausting.  Attending South by Southwest was like showing up to a conference full of people that all speak my native language, room after room of people that are just like me, people that understand technology and business;  people that “get it”, without requiring long explanations.  My theory is that being in this environment allowed me to survive on less coffee, and food for that matter, than I need in my normal day to day existence.

Connections

There were many great, great presentations that I attended at South by Southwest.  One of my favorites was a presentation by Peter Shankman titled “How Self-Promotion Will Save the World” which was a lot less cheesy than the title would lead you to believe.  One of my favorite points made during the presentation was the importance of building and maintaining strong connections among all of your contacts.  I was inspired by a lot of his points, and this one especially.  As soon as I returned home, I started emailing a few people that I know I have not spoken to in a long time, and I even have a few appointments to grab lunch or coffee with long lost classmates and business contacts.

I also had the chance to finally meet a lot of other young professionals that I have known for some time via sites like Brazen Careerist; it was awesome to meet people that I’ve know by reading their writing, and finally putting faces to a names.

The SXGenY panel was another panel that I was excited to attend. As a GenY employee, I am always looking for more input and experiences from other GenY employees in the workplace.  This panel was very active, probably the largest amount of people from the audience waiting to address the panelists;  I would say questions took up nearly half of the panel.  It is obvious that the entry of Generation Y into the workplace has created a lot of opportunity for understanding on the part of all generations.  The only other thing that I would have liked to have seen was for the panel to have had an older panelist to talk about working with GenY from the other side of the table.

Conclusions

For years, I said that I wanted to go to South By Southwest, and always found a way to not go, and regret it later.  A good friend (and SXSW veteran) told me that I needed to just stop thinking about it and go.  He was right;  I still have a hard time articulating how great of an experience this was for me, and at the same time I know that I’ll be there in 2011.

The other major take away that I gained during South By Southwest was the rekindling of my passion for entrepreneurship.  Having studied business in grad school, I found my passion for entrepreneurship came right back to the surface when I arrived in Austin.  There are some many people there in this one place, all inspired to make the world a better place. It was an inspiring feeling, and something that I miss being a part of.  I came away inspired to make a better contribution back to the world of entrepreneurship. How? Don’t know yet. My brain is still a little mushy for all of the information we crammed in last week.  But keep your eyes open, it won’t be long.

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