This past Thursday and Friday I attended Webstock 2018 with Caitlin Weich. It was my first Webstock and, well, my first conference really, so unsurprisingly it was not what I had expected. I’m still on the fence as to whether this was a good surprise or not, so let’s just say it was interestingly different. What I was expecting was a series of talks by leading developers and designers showcasing new technologies, information, tips and tricks in their respective fields. What I got was experts from varying fields talking at a more conceptual level about issues that currently burden the tech industry, and some free socks. Can’t forget the really awesome socks. The talks ranged from a Black Mirror-esque example about how AI and data are being abused and exploited, to why it’s not always appropriate to ask for a first name and last name in a contact form when they aren’t really relevant, to monitoring type 1 diabetes with a simulated pancreas.
Just as I learned to do throughout university, I took a book (which was also awesome and free) with me to take down important notes and names. At the end of the conference, however, I found I hadn’t written much of anything in my book. This wasn’t because nothing was worth remembering, but rather I didn’t know what to write down. While the talks were very well presented and engaging, I didn’t feel there were there many ‘this is a thing to remember’ moments, but rather a lot of broad concepts spread across anecdotes that were at times hard to relate to. I guess this is my fault for potentially missing the point of Webstock all together. I narrowly missed the opportunity to attend a workshop. Maybe they would’ve been more information-rich and technical, while the talks were there to tie this information back to a larger concept.
Before I start sounding too negative, I truly did enjoy Webstock and its free socks. The topics discussed held information which I think everyone should at least be aware of. Data is powerful (occasionally even dangerous), people are unique, everyone should have their own website, AI is as racist as humans are (or at least the information they learn from), type 1 diabetes sucks, and manager-employee communication is hard. Outside of the content of the guest speakers, Webstock was a very well organised and smoothly run even. The volunteers and staff were all polite and focused on keeping the even moving at a good pace, the food and drinks were delicious and plentiful, and the speakers were right on schedule. Not to mention the venue was fantastic and perfectly sized. The seating and common areas were full enough to feel vibrant and energetic, yet not full enough to feel overcrowded or claustrophobic. The people who attended were all polite and approachable, as were the speakers.
Overall I would say Webstock 2018 was a very good event, even though it was not what I expected. The information I took home with me, while not tied directly to the work I do, is still very important to be aware of. I would definitely go back if given the chance, and maybe next time I would benefit even more, now that I know what to expect.