5. The Gender Gap and Misogyny—Taking the Offensive.
Women currently make up about 25% of the technical workforce and earn around 18% of computer science degrees—a far cry from the mid ‘80s when women earned nearly 40% of computer science degrees. In addition, the 2015 Interactive festival was, for the most part, still fresh on the heels of #GamerGate. But from the pointedly titled “Why Does the Internet Hate Women?” to the solemnity of “Women in Tech Can’t Be Our Next Endangered Species,” it was clear that this year’s SXSW participants look forward to a time when misogyny in tech feels like ancient history.
It was refreshing that women led three of the five keynotes:
• Princess Reema Bandar Al-Saud’s “Mission to Empower Saudi Women”
• Paula Antonelli’s “Curious Bridges: How Designers Grow the Future”
• Martine Rothblatt’s “AI, Immortality and the Future of Selves”
Martine Rothblatt—lawyer, entrepreneur, author, film producer and the highest-paid female executive in the US—spoke about the future of artificial intelligence, transhumanism and robotic clones, topics that continue to percolate through our office. (Perhaps soon we’ll be able to send our robot doubles to the office to create VR websites while we lay around at home with our goggles on, pretending to be somewhere else.)
Sure, this year’s SXSW sessions offered no pure solution for still-rampant misogyny, but smart people are talking about it and seeking solutions. That’s a solid start.
6. Culture Is Still King—But It Isn’t What You Think It Is.
Too often, culture is touted as a set of perks: free beer, nap rooms or foosball tournaments. However, these benefits, though indicative of an organization’s values and personality, are arbitrary without deliberate reasons for them to exist, and those reasons are a company’s true culture.
In the session, “Culture Trumps Advertising Every Time,” Chris Kneeland of Calgary’s Cult Collective highlighted Nokia’s market-share fall—from nearly 50% in 2007 to less than 3% today—as an example of the power of culture. CEO Stephen Elop candidly blamed a “fiercely insular culture”—one of complacency—for the company’s downfall.
Nokia’s culture was one of saunas, which served such a fundamental role in the company’s operation that many of its offices—“from Afghanistan to Zambia”—had saunas installed. According to a BBC report, it was within the cedar walls of those saunas that every Nokia deal was made. However, the company failed to export that intimate and relaxed deal brokerage the saunas symbolized, and so they fell behind Apple and Android.
Kneeland views culture as an alchemy of HR and marketing, where culture serves as internal branding and can lead to a company full of brand ambassadors. For example, a janitor at Mayo Clinic described his job this way: “I’m saving people’s lives.” It’s because of this personal investment in Mayo’s mission statement—“to save lives”—that Mayo staff enjoys the benefits that they do.
A company’s culture is their everyday commitment to a set of values. It’s the way things are done—the behaviors, attitudes and initiatives that are rewarded and those that are denounced. These values attract and reward the talent and shape the processes that lead to a company’s success. And it’s that success that pays for the perks—be it hefty annual bonuses or waffles every Wednesday.
7. Our Austin Takeaway—So Much More than Head Knowledge and Whirring Ideas.
Although in recent years Portland, OR has designated itself the keepers of weirdness, it was Austin that established its culture and values with the catchy tagline: “Keep Austin Weird.” Have they been successful? We declare yes. Here are some of our team’s favorite Austin finds:
Best meal: La Barbecue
Best tacos: East Side Kings taco truck
Best drinks: Tekila’s
Best beer: Lone Pint Brewery’s Yellow Rose IPA
Best district: The Rainey Street Historic District
Wearable swag approximation: 33 shirts
Free stuff: 8 tote bags full of swag
Number of times Austin kept it weird: ∞