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WebSummit 2022: the Diary


The Journey Begins

A few weeks ago, the WebSummit 2022 event took place in Lisbon, and the Bitrock Team was there! The party was assembled and the mission clear: we left Milan last 30th October, early in the morning, and reached our destination a few hours later.

We landed and, after leaving the terminal, we realized how important this event was. A huge WebSummit logo was there, beside one of the entrances, waiting for us, as if it was saying: “Hello guys, you’re in the right place, welcome! It’s going to be a great time”. It wasn’t over: outside, a nice WebSummit pavilion had been set up.

After registration and check-in, we got our badges and bought some tickets for public transportation at a great discount! After dropping luggage at our place, we were free to visit the city as we had some time to spend just as tourists. 

After a quick round-trip of the city, it’s now time for the event and its rich schedule!

Day 1

The day one schedule started late in the afternoon. The event took place at the Altice Arena

whilst on the next days the activities were scattered among different pavilions in the same area.

When we arrived, the view was astounding: a lot of people, from all around the world, were waiting to be allowed in. Journalists, entrepreneurs, sponsors, developers, speakers: everyone was there, waiting for the main show to begin. 

For the day, the organization had invited few important personalities that were going to 

give their speech to the audience. 

The stage was spectacular and colorful, and everyone was ready. After a quick introduction by Paddy Cosgrave (founder) the real show began!

Then, Carlos Moedas, Mayor of the city, was introduced to the stage: he warmly welcomed the audience to Lisbon and to the event itself. His speech was interesting and inspiring: he told us how surrounding himself with the right people allowed him to accomplish great things for the city, even though many others were thinking that those things were impossible to do. He also presented Lisbon’s UnicornFactory, an organization boosting startups to scale and learn how to innovate. 

As the Mayor claimed, “innovation is not an idea but is the process that turns that idea into jobs, growth and prosperity”. Therefore, UnicornFactory helps startups begin their journey and turn their ideas into a tangible reality, something that is beneficial for as many people as possible!

Afterwards, it was time for another politician to make his appearance to the stage: Antonio Costa, Portugal’s Minister of Economy, who told us how the Country is investing into technology and innovation with a big plan, spanning over the next four years, about attracting startups with the goal to become an international hub for such companies. 

He promoted Portugal as the right place to be for the tech business, as a steady stream of money is going to be invested, and a dedicated set of laws is about to be passed to ease this process. It seems his claims are for a good reason, as Lisbon has been chosen to host the European Startups Nations Alliance! 

In his speech, he also mentioned how technology and innovation are much needed to help us find solutions to some of the biggest problems of our times (such as the threats caused by climate change, pollution, resources over-consumption), and how Portugal wants to be a leader in helping with solving those problems.

Then it was the time for Lisa Jackson, Apple’s VP of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, and Changpeng Zhao, Binance’s Co-founder and CEO, to take their place on the stage. They both were interviewed, describing their business to the audience, and providing their point of view on different topics.

Finally, the stage’s lights changed into two colors that all of us have seen many times on the news during the last months: blue and yellow, the Ukrainian flag’s colors. It was time for Olena Zelensky to enter the stage and tell the audience about the dramatic times her country and its people are living in. She shared with us the technological effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: “The dystopias we read about in science fiction novels and all the threats of destroying life are much closer than you think. We heard it in Ukraine because of Russian terror, because Russia puts technology in the service of terror.” Zelensky said the technology is now a “battleground” in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and she described how drones and missiles are killing families. 

She wanted to give the same message to everyone who was there – from founders to 

startups, executives, engineers, and journalists: technology should be used to save people rather than destroy them: “I believe in technologies that save, not destroy. I believe that such technologies are the future. Because otherwise there is simply no future in the whole world. You are the powerful intellectual force that moves the world. The potential and technology that can help, not destroy are in your hands. And it is with Ukraine and right now that you can move the world in the right direction”.

With her powerful message, day one came to an end: WebSummit was officially opened!

Day 2

From day two, the event entered the heart of its agenda, and each pavilion was in turmoil: the booths of companies, large and small, attracted the participants with their lights and sets, gadgets, prize games, and the possibility of speaking with their staff and discovering their products and solutions.

Over the entire event, hundreds – if not thousands – of companies showed up: from small startups striving to find a place in the IT market (ALPHA), to the ones that already made their name known and received additional funds (BETA), to those that have grown larger and larger and are now established realities (GROWTH).

Among the latter ones, we were happy and proud to see Amity, an IaaS startup that enables companies to increase engagement in their apps or website by adding pre-built social features: chat, profiles, fortunes, feed, video stories and all. There’s quite a bit of Italy in the company, as their face-person at the event was Francesca Gargaglia, and they also have an office in Milan, our city!

Of course, WebSummit is not only about companies, but mainly people, as Paddy Cosgrave made clear during day one, when he asked everyone in the audience to stand up and get to know the two or three fellow attendees that were around them.

Being about people also means sharing ideas, which is something they did well: indeed, a lot of speeches and seminaries took place during the event. Honestly, it was impossible to attend all of them, even if we tried to split up.

Here’s a short list of the speeches we enjoyed the most, and that we would like to share:

  • Chris Anderson, TED curator, with his mantra Ideas worth sharing, gave an interesting speech about “reflection on how the internet should be incentivizing constructive behavior other than only focusing on monetization”.
  • In UI/UX trends in 2023 and beyond, various speakers discussed the key ingredients in creating a seamless, intuitive customer experience. They also explored anticipated UI and UX trends for 2023.
  • Alexa’s next AI trick: Disappearing: in this session, Rohit Prasad, Alexa’s head scientist, explains how a philosophy of ‘ambient intelligence’ is driving the development of AI that blends invisibly into our environment, helping you when you need it and disappearing when you don’t.

Day 3

The sun was up again, and a brand-new day could start. We got up, prepared, and dressed for 

the occasion: day 3 was about to begin! After a delicious breakfast (thanks pasteis de nata) we were back to the Altice Arena and its surroundings. 

Pretty much as day 2, the place was crowded, full of voices speaking languages from all over the world, and the atmosphere was joyful. People were running to get their seat for the next speech. Occasionally, people wearing the Ukrainian flag could be seen, supporting their loved ones in these hard times.

More companies were showing up as a rotation happened, and their employees now took place in the stands that were assigned to others the day before.

Again, here’s a short list of speeches we would like to mention:

  • Hiring and retaining talent in a remote world: one of the hottest subjects for companies nowadays was covered by Matias Roca, Founder of Kuorum, who talked about how to find, hire, and retain talents.
  • Edge-first: Decentralize the web!: Guillermo Rauch, Vercel’s founder and CEO, told us about how few locations are responsible of the availability of digital services all around the world, and what are the reasons and ways to move out of the situation by removing this huge bottleneck.
  • Rethinking how the internet is built: the internet was designed as a democratic platform to facilitate the free exchange of information, open communication, and privacy. Clearly the actual reality is not meeting expectations that well! Andy Yen and Brendan Eich share their ideas on how to try and break the circle.
  • Nations need digital sovereignty: after leaping into digital, nations face unprecedented complexity from cyber threats, surveillance and uncertainty in their software supply chains. Ian Tien, Mattermost’s Co-Founder and CEO, told us about the key risks, the principles of defense, and how open-source communities are innovating to create robust new solutions for digital sovereignty.
  • The Language Roast: this one was great, perfect for developers like us! Every programming language has its pros and cons: with the right mix of coding science and jokes, Gautam Rege talked about what he feels about a few languages out there. Let the roast begin! 
  • The Power of Geolocation: in this session, Anna Sainsbury shared insights on the threat of fraud, on digital identity in the multibillion-dollar gaming industry, and on how geolocation and advanced machine learning are setting the new standard in establishing true digital identity and trust.

Day 4

As all things, even good ones come to an end. Our last day at the WebSummit began.

Less people seemed to be around: most likely, many had already packed their stuff and got back home. However, the pavilions were still in motion and there were plenty of things to do and see.

Here’s a quick summary of what we found interesting on the last day:

  • MongoDB Stand, the guys at this stand were simply amazing! Passion spilled from their eyes as they engaged us by telling stories of what working at MongoDB and working with their product looks like. We also had the chance to attend a couple lectures hosted at their stand and held by engineers working for them. We enjoyed a lesson about the advanced usage of the browser console as well as a very nice, humorous, and brilliant story of many programming languages and tools and how their story ended or continues up to these days. Congrats Jesse Hall and Joe Drumgoole for their noteworthy speeches, and a special thanks to Diego Freniche Brito and Jorge Ortiz for their availability and friendliness.
  • How to play games and save the world: saving the world from the climate crisis is not a game, but sometimes playing games can help us achieve our goals. This one makes no exception! In this discussion, we heard about how the games industry can help solve the challenge.
  • The metaverse and the future of the internet: will we exit the internet and enter the metaverse? Or will the two exist, side by side, in a more immersive, symbiotic, 3D-experience? Naomi Gleit, Meta’s head of product, shared her thoughts on what the future has in store for us.
  • Debunking the great AI lie: even if the event was about to end, surprises were not over. In this speech, we had the chance to listen to the voice of a great personality: Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics, who joined Gary Marcus (scientist, author, and entrepreneur) for a wide-ranging discussion on why the myths surrounding AI are so dangerous, the inadvisability of relying on artificial intelligence tech as a world-saver, and where it all went wrong. Clearly, not the typical conversation a person is used to: we were very lucky to be there!

One more thing worth a mention was the final “speech” of the event. Indeed, the final greeting to all those who attended WebSummit was given by an incredible person: a guy full of energy and positive thoughts that made everyone laugh. A comedian? Absolutely not! We are talking about Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal’s President.

What a surprise this 74-year-old man has been: not the typical politician with the usual bla bla. He was brilliant and perfectly fitting among all the other event’s attendees. He showed great enthusiasm about WebSummit, reaching the seventh edition (despite the pandemic and the war), with more than 70k attendees (42% women)!

In the wake of this enthusiasm and energy, he set a few goals for the next year (and for the years to come) for all of us: stop the war, contribute to Ukraine’s reconstruction, fight inflation and the economic crisis that is threatening many countries and, most important, try and solve climate change.

After this speech, WebSummit 2022 closed its doors. For us, and the rest of the audience, it was time to go back to our homes, bringing back a bunch of new ideas, inspirations, connections and start building the future.

As Mr. President wants ????

Goodbye WebSummit, goodbye Lisbon… thanks for everything!

Author: Daniele Chiarello, Team Lead User-experience & Front-end Engineering @ Bitrock

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