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Web Summit as a First Timer: How to make the most out of it

Earlier this month I attended my very first Web Summit. Here are the three things I would advise to anyone else going as a first timer for next year…

Luke Hennerley, Principal Engineer at Sidetrade

Image by author

What is Web Summit?

Web Summit has come to be known as one of the world’s biggest and best tech conferences. Their other events across the year take place in Rio de Janeiro, Toronto (Collision), Hong Kong, and of course Lisbon ; where Sidetrade’s CTO, Mark Sheldon, and I have just attended.

Over 70,000 attendees flock this conference each year and the audience spans tech start-ups, investors, media, and the tech community.

People come to network, to learn from the very best in the industry, and to come away inspired and ready for action. It really is a fantastic conference, and one I have coveted for many years.

However, it is also a mammoth event and one that on reflection, is important to prepare for, to make sure you’re making the most of it.

It’s difficult to get this into a concise list because as we have mentioned, there is just so much to do and to see at the event that the reality is we probably only saw 25–30% of the event (if that) but I have tried to get our recommendations after our first Web Summit into three points.

Tip 1: Get your hands on a free (or heavily discounted!) ticket

We must shout out the amazing initiatives from the organisers of Web Summit who are clearly committed to ensuring the event is accessible as possible to coders, builders and programmers.

Ahead of this year’s event, I took advantage of the Developer Program where you can claim free tickets as a developer through your Github. There’s others too including the women in tech track which I came across that also offers heavily discounted tickets for the event.

With that, our first recommendation is to look at the different options you have available when getting a ticket. You might not need to pay the full whack for Europe’s biggest tech conference (which ranges anywhere up to €1,000). There are options to get heavily discounted or even free tickets like we did!

Tip 2: Be well-prepared with your travel and accommodation

Getting there

The event is held at the Altice Arena which is towards the airport and the closest metro station, Oriente.

If you are staying in Lisbon’s city centre, there is a little bit of a journey, and the traffic can be chaotic at times — remember that there are over 70,000 people descending onto the venue and peak times are between 9am and 10am.

So, my advice to minimise travel stress is to pick up your accreditation from the airport. With this, you can go through the second entrance at the top end of the site rather than the through the main entrance and this might be seen as a faster way to get in.

At the event

In terms of the structure of the site, when you look at the map it’s quite daunting how big the event is. As well as the huge arena holding thousands of people at the main stage, between the “food summit” of food trucks there are six pavilions, with some homing multiple stages including the likes of Google Cloud running workshops and masterclasses from SRE related topics to using their start-up program. Some of the side talks were amazing and our favourite stage across our time there was the “FullSTK” stage which delved into some cool topics that resonated with us at Sidetrade.

In and around Lisbon

In terms of where we stayed, Marques de Pombal in the centre of Lisbon was a great base for a couple of days. Anywhere that’s close to the main metro line will be good though if you can’t stay there.

During Web Summit, there are loads of different fringe events taking place in Lisbon, so it’s important to invest your spare time outside the event wisely. And there’s really something for everyone, from chilled networking drinks, to appearances from the likes of David Guetta. And if you don’t fancy any of this, you can just go out and explore the wonderful city of Lisbon.

It all depends on what you want to get out of your time but one things for sure, Lisbon’s red hot tech scene really flexes it’s muscles during this week of the year gathering the best in tech, so do your research before you go and make sure to save time for getting out and exploring beyond just the conference.

Image by author

Tip 3: Define clear goals for what you want to get out of the event

Because the scale of this event is monstrous, inspiring and overwhelming all at the same time, if you want to make the most of your time there, it’s important to define your “why” and keep reminding yourself of it.

Before you even get to Lisbon, make sure to define some clear goals that you want to get out of the event and outline how they’re going to be of benefit to you further down the line.

As Sidetrade is an AI firm, for us we were specifically focused on hearing the latest trends in the world of data, AI/ML and find some inspiring words on the future of the market which we could bring back to Sidetrade’s superhero R&D team, feed into our roadmaps, and identify development opportunities.

With your goals defined, make sure to check out the conference’s agenda ahead of time. Study the event to find relevant topics to your own track, but also make sure to look at the where the stages for these talks are. You need to be realistic with your time and recognise that because of the size of the conference, you simply won’t be able to see everything, even within your own defined focus area.

Try to keep the talks you attend as close together as you can. Otherwise, you’ll exhaust yourself running back and forth across the venue, and are likely to miss important stuff! We stayed on the FullSTK stage for 3–4 talks on day two!

Bonus content: My top three highlights of Web Summit Lisbon 2022…

The array and variation of keynote talks were incredible. From big-hitting founders of tech behemoths like:

· Revolut’s Nikolay Storonsky

· Vercel’s Guillermo Rauch

· Monte Carlo’s Barr Moses

… to inspirational talks from speakers outside of the world of tech including:

· Mercedes F1’s Toto Wolff about their season’s challenges and how they’re looking to gain the edge

· A heavy-hitting speech in Ukrainian from the World Heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk on a platform that reminded us of the troubles he faced in his homeland.

World Heavyweight champion, Oleksandr Usyk — Image by author

For me, my three top highlight talks were:

1) Monte Carlo (a unicorn in the self-made data observability market) spoke about how data quality is eating into the time of data centric companies and the issues it causes, referencing a story around how a simple data quality issue bought down Netflix for hours and cost them millions. We at Sidetrade are really on the cusp of this emerging data infrastructure market in terms of building out our data lake, which you can check out through our data lake explorer and we are putting a huge emphasis on the quality of our data here, hearing such validation from a company in the space was really cool.

2) I was also impressed by the wide variety of AI/ML and analytical topics, such as one from Florian Douetteau, founder and CEO of Dataiku with a talk titled “Time to define AI”. We are on our own journey here at Sidetrade, and hearing some of the references here and the alignment with our own internal discussions around topics such as MLOps really resonated with us.

3) But the one talk that really stood out to us came from our favourite stage, FullSTK from Dr Ilana Wisby from Oxford Quantum Circuits talking about a “Quantum enabled future”. This one really did blow our minds, particularly how Dr Wisby managed to deliver such a complicated topic in a way all members of the audience could understand. It was pretty captivating and we came away from her talk excited and inspired about the possible future intersection that the world of data and quantum computing may have in the future.

In a time of market turmoil and negativity, the event full of over 70,000 tech enthusiasts shone a light on the fact that we as techies are as innovative and determined as ever.

Many brave builders are still building and to one of the points raised on the main stage by the “father of the iPhone”, Tony Fadell, the best companies build and are born during market turmoil, providing the examples of Airbnb and Uber in 2008… The best time to build is now, he said.

So as you can see, there is so much to get from attending Web Summit. I hope these tips were helpful, and make sure to share any other tips you have in the comments below.

Hope to see you there next year, and in the meantime, give us a follow to keep up with what we’re up to at Sidetrade’s Tech Hub!

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Views from the software developers, data scientists and other tech experts at Sidetrade — the global AI-powered Order-To-Cash platform: www.sidetrade.com