17 November 2016
I got a free ticket to attend the WebSummit conference. There were about 10k free tickets for Women in Tech. So I decided to come to Lisbon for a short holiday, and look at what a huge conference like WebSummit looks like.
I need to state at the beginning of this post that I'm not a WebSummit target. WebSummit is a business conference. Of course, there were some technical talks and some of them I liked. But still, most of the people who come there had some expectation of finding out how to run their business, how to find a new client, investors, ideas for their startups, meet new partners etc..
At WebSummit they knew that about 53k people would come to the conference so they decide to make a registration point at the airport. It's a brilliant idea. All the attendees, star-ups, sponsors don't come at the same time and arrive by the same plane - so they didn't have any problems with big queues to register.
On registration, everyone got a badge with their name, wristband and t-shirt. Unfortunately, those t-shirts are made of low quality and only have a male shape. Although they already knew how many women would come. I know that there is a problem with conferences where most of the attendees are male. So far, I only found one dev conference where they created female shape t-shirts with funny quotes. But we – geeky girls – would also like to wear some nice conference t-shirts without looking like we got them from our brother or husband.
WebSummit at Day
On Monday WebSummit decided to create an opening keynote that should start at 5 pm. During the day they change it to 6 pm. For me, it was only one big queue for nothing. I know that some people got to this opening keynote session (there was a place only for max 15k people). I don't like to stay in any queue, especially if there was more than one queue and there was no one from the organisers (volunteers) who would like to make it all easy and share some basic knowledge of how to get inside. So when we saw the queue leading to nowhere, and also the people sitting outside on a windy evening and a jumbotron to show the opening keynote - we decided to go for some WebSummit meetings at the centre of Lisbon.
On the first day, WebSummit organisers were not ready for the 53k people who just came at once. There was only one queue for the entry to the conference for all attendees (only start-ups, partners and media had a separate entrance). Could you imagine even 30k people standing in one queue? It was one hour of waiting to get inside!
On the next days, I came later so I don't know if there was a big queue again or not.
WebSummit was a three-day conference. But I will probably not describe WebSummit as a conference but more as an Expo. Of course, there was a lot of talks and discussion panels. But the main role was to meet sponsors, partners and investors who were on WebSummit.
Talks at WebSummit
There were about 7 separate stages every day. I think everyone could find something that they liked to listen to and learn from. Sometimes it was difficult to get from one stage to another. To get from the entrance to the central stage it took about 20 minutes (yes, again you go slowly because there’s a lot of people in front of and behind you)
I decided to see some technical speeches about AI, Robots and on the last day, I only attended FullStack stage. Did I learn something new? I think not. I was only enjoying some talks, get to agree or disagree with some people. Learnt that 'Open Source' community don't like and don't believe that .NET is an open-source, listened a lot about security and what hackers can do. Why it is important for a corporation to work with hackers, how it is important to teach employees to understand what security is about and how our future can change in a few years. But all of this is nothing new, that I didn't know before I came to WebSummit.
Like I mentioned above, WebSummit is not a typical conference and that's why there were no deep topics that could have a 'wow' effect on me.
Start-ups at WebSummit
At WebSummit every day there were different start-up stands. I don't know how many of them there was, but a lot for sure. There were two types of start-ups: alpha – where they had some ideas, not always working products, and beta – where they had working products that have only been on the market for a while, but they wanted for more people to know about them.
For start-ups who were only looking for investors, there was also three PITCH stages where they could talk about their products and answer all question that the investors had.
Some of these start-ups had great ideas but I thought that most of them were just copy-cats. I'm not saying that this is bad, but if you take a look at some start-ups and see the logo and description you think about an existing application that a lot of users are using right now. And when you ask what this application is doing you hear that it is the same, but with less functionality.
My thought when I saw some of those start-ups, was that a lot of people don't want to work for a corporation, they want to be a CEO or president of a small company, but at the same time, they don’t have a great deal of confidence in selling their products.
During the whole WebSummit, we used their application to find all the interesting information like talks, event maps, Night Summit maps, videos or messenger. From this app, everyone could scan the QR code from their badge and remember who they just met. What I don't really like about this QR code scan, was that when someone exported the card to email, they could get all the information like email and phone number. At such an event this is OK. This what shouldn't be done is that if person X swaps a ticket with person Y (what was allowed by WebSummit before 3 weeks conference started) than all the details from the QR code you get from person X would be that of person Y. This shouldn't happen.
Every evening/night in the centre of Lisbon there were a lot of meetups. From 6 pm to 9 pm you could join any meetup that you registered for beforehand. From 9 pm all meet-ups were open for everyone.
NightSummit was the best option to make a connection with other people. And you could better get to know who will be there because all the meetups had some leading subject, for example, Ember.JS, From TDD to Security Driven Development, Women in Tech, Data Science for Tech etc.
The hardest thing for me was to introduce myself a thousand times per evening.
Despite this all the evenings were amazing. I met a lot of people of different backgrounds, the different expectation of being at WebSummit and different views of their work life. I can only hope that this happens again at future meetings and it is not only a ‘once in a lifetime’ meeting but we will hopefully have an occasion to chat again.
If you want to visit Lisbon and see what Lisbon looks like, don't come at a time when WebSummit happens. Life in this one week looks different than other weeks. On the streets, you meet thousands of people who have come to this conference. The nightlife at this time is very intensive.
Lisbon will host WebSummit for three years. And because Lisbon was also the host this time they created a special ticket for everyone: for only 25 EUR everyone could use public transport from 5th Nov to 13th Nov.
Women in Tech
Women in Tech is not the same as Tech Women. This is what I learnt, and for a long time didn't want to accept. But it's true. Most of the women who get free tickets are Women in Tech, women who are working around new technology, who understand technology but they are not doing any tech things.
Why did WebSummit give about 10k free tickets for women? Because of previous conferences, only a few women came as attendees. And it's great that they wanted to change it. But… Why they created a Women in Tech lounge that only women with a free ticket could join? Is it not an idea to integrate all women with other attendees? On the last day, our male-friend joined us at this lounge - only after all the talks were done, all the start-ups began to pack everything away, and when no one could check what kind of ticket you got. And he got a kind reminder that this place is only for women and that he needed to go away. Really?!
I felt as though women can come to this conference, but should stay with their own. It shouldn't work like that. It shouldn’t show that any gender is better than another.
I would like to recommend this conference for anyone who wants to meet new people from around the world and from different part of the business. For sure if you know your expectation of what you want to achieve from WebSummit, join the themed events that happen at NightSummit.
I did not expect WebSummit. I only wanted to know what a huge conference like this looks like. And now I know. It's too huge for me. You meet a lot of people, and now after everything, I'm only able to remember a few. WebSummit is a business conference and I'm not a business person. That's why I will not come again next year. But if you would like to go there, tickets for WebSummit are already on sale!