This past week, I attended the 5th GeekWire Summit and have a report for you. First, this is an interesting diverse crowd. You can’t pin it down to just one audience (e.g. a security conference has IT security professionals). Rather it was venture capitalists, start-up entrepreneurs, white collar professionals and technical geeks. The format was typically a single room format with a start-up or established executive speaking to the audience. I’d rank this a “roadmap” conference with high-level speeches. There was minimal technical content and no hands-on labs.
It goes without saying the evening parties where great as usual, so I don’t need to give you a TMZ buzzfeed here. Rather I want to give a shout out to two sessions.
Nick Huzar, OfferUp. Yet another dashing relatively young CEO took the stage for the lunch keynote on day one. This was interesting because OfferUp has become a “unicorn” with a valuation of over $1B. His speech was high-level about reimaging local commerce. For me, it was a chance to learn about this mobile buy/sell marketplace that competes with Craigslist directly and to a lesser extent eBay. I learned more about this service and will use it in the future however there is not an OfferUp app for my beloved Nokia Windows Phone LOL. Seriously – the use cases presented made it clear what the value proposition is and why it’s grown so fast. One notable interchange with an audience member concerned buying and selling drugs and other illicit activities (think Silk Road). Turns out OfferUp has a large compliance staff to hit this matter head on and uses photo recognition technologies to identify naughty stuff! I give this session an A- as more depth beyond hero photos would have been nice.
Education Reboot: How Higher-Ed Can Help Solve the Tech Talent Gap. This was an early breakfast session right in the heart of my EDU niche. It was billed as a “…An informative discussion on one of the tech industry’s most pressing issues: How to educate the future workforce. Panelists include Redfin CTO Bridget Frey; Galvanize Chief Legal and People Officer Stephanie Donner; Microsoft General Manager of Talent, Learning and Insights Joe Whittinghill; and OfferUp Vice President of Engineering Peter Wilson. Moderated by Scott McKinley, the Dean and CEO of Northeastern University-Seattle.” I give passing marks to the session as it was held together by the audience questions more than the panelists presentations. Here is what I mean. The prepared statements from the panelist defaulted to the need for more engineers. Understood. But the audience, comprised of senior professionals, had questions about ageism in technology sector hiring (yes – clearly exists), getting a job in an existing company and starting up a company. I offered to the audience that there is no ageism in entrepreneurship. You create your own opportunity.
Bottom Line: It’s hard to label this broad conference and the trade show hall support reflected the diversity of the audience ranging from Zillow recruiters to car share program sign-ups to banking services. I will repeat but I’d like to see this show find a more common theme next year. Great energy but kinda going in ten directions.
PS – I put this in the start-up category as GeekWire was, at the end of the day, a conference more about start-ups.