On Friday and yesterday I have attended a tech careers festival. Not only am I interested in tech and what the future may bring in this area, I am also interested in meeting the people and companies behind the UX-designed websites and corporate brochures. If culture is such a hot topic and concern, for as much as technologies have advanced, there is nothing like a face-to face conversation to (start to) really understand what companies are all about under the hood or, in this case, under the hoodies.
Skills under the hoodie
One of the last sessions of the first day of the festival was presented by 361degreeslab, a consultancy focused on the skills for the future. It was not long until a slide read — as the second must have skill related to jobs in the future — “Career and job hacking”. While career hacking relates to the capacity to transition between careers, job hacking relates to the capacity to hack your job to make it better, to turn it into something closer to your dream job (although the presenter promptly reckoned that there is no such thing as dream job). It was also mentioned that in the future, on average, people will be expected to have 7 different careers, so it is understandable the prominent place given to that skill.
The slide (and skill) mentioned before that had been “Resilience” or the capacity to surpass obstacles, and now, faced with the second, I was to the point of concluding that those where not the trends I was expecting. I was expecting to hear that technical skills would become a must, or even that a certain programming language would become omnipresent and absolutely necessary for someone interested in any career, for that matter. Instead I got that career and job hacking are a must have skill for the future.
Not long ago career shifts were frowned upon, and now, I was just seeing the capacity to perform them, promoted as one of the most relevant skills.
Another skill read “transdisciplinarity” — the capacity to have knowledge in different disciplines, some times considered as unrelated. This had good timing, as in the morning I had attended a TEDx talk on Creativity organized and hosted by a science school (Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologias da Universidade Nova de Lisboa), where people from different backgrounds (artists, scientists, journalists) linked creativity to the capacity to transpose solutions from one field to other field of knowledge .
Just two years before I had launched a project aimed at mixing people with background in the Humanities with people with background in Sciences, hoping that people in both fields realized the century-long artificiality of this division. In fact, there are countless cases of scientists that contributed to the arts and humanities, and artists that contributed to science. Making this separation is not only artificial but also inhuman, as in these cases it requires almost that you split a person in two 😯
These trends left me with the somewhat optimistic feeling about the future, that perhaps it is just a matter of time until other things you believe in will fall into place too 🤞
In any case, I am pretty well aware that the discussions about the future that happen in rooms at festivals like these, are quite far from the current understanding of these topics for the other spectrum of society— and that nobody really knows how much time it will take for them to materialize and to be true for everybody (if at all).
Another topic trending among the participants and speakers was the push for remote and distributed teams. This is also quite far from being discussed in many non-tech areas, but here it lends itself to heated discussion. The founder of Buffer was explaining how a fully distributed team of 75 people is a core trait of its culture and how it was a key decision to be made early on. That has allowed him to live, for example, between Hawaii and the US, while always working in the development and growth of the same company, i.e. Buffer. When asked how someone could convince their boss to allow them to do their job remotely, he confessed that it can be difficult, when the boss doesn’t share the same mindset.
Buffer is also known by its full transparency premise, that it puts into practice by publishing the salaries of all of its employees and the relevant figures associated with the business online. This is also something barely unheard of outside these shielded conference rooms. Sadly, in many other areas, companies and countries, transparency is not exactly the buzzword of the moment (for that matter, also for some players inside the tech world).
But not all is butterflies. Since my previous article on the experience at Web Summit last year, when I was clearly excited with the novelty and many of the positive things these kinds of events and conferences bring about, I realized that there are also some less interesting things.
For instance, they tend to be full of here-you-will-find-the-meaning-of-your life propaganda. Apparently one person can have as many meanings for their lives as the number of companies exhibiting in a tech fair; just notice the sentences on some of the fliers in my goodies bag. While Diconium, a consultancy in digital products claims that you will “Do epic things!” (against a strong orange background), Trivago seems to claim that there you will “Get more of life!”. Don’t get me wrong, those slogans do express many things I believe anyone should aim for when choosing a career (and more than that) life direction, but hardly will a company or a job by itself give you all that, and even in those rare cases it does, since everybody is claiming to be that rare beast, everyone loses credibility in the claims. Rather, it seems one would have better chances of standing out by having claims such has “Here you can find a reasonable work life balance, and not-too-bad bureaucracy” or “Do more great things than boring ones, most of the time”.
In one of the workshops entitled “How to Land your Dream Job”, the speaker — a recruiter at Lyst.com — showed this video from Twitter, that clearly illustrates the hyperbolic nature of some claims companies are making (hey, kudos to to the self-mocking capacity in the tech culture 😅).
People and companies under the hoodies
It is indeed quite different to speculate what companies are really about by reading the things they publish online and being face-to-face with their representatives; paying attention, more than to the content of their presentation, to the way they present their companies, and the way they answer your questions.
I guess that like with candidates to recruiters, some companies that look great on paper, can look less interesting when in-person and vice-versa.
One thing that could be potentially misleading though is when the representatives are people from HR and not people that you would actually work with (unless you are from HR). But even so, the way they behave and how they handle your questions, may not be a reflection of the work itself or the specific team you would work with, but it is, to some extent, always a reflection of the company (that has chosen them as their representatives).
In this respect there were people that were quite informed about the positions available, others that didn’t have a clue and directed potential candidates to the website immediately, and others that gave blunt answers such as “We are only recruiting German speaking people” while seemingly annoyed to be disturbed from the beer-fueled conversation with their colleagues.
It was claimed that there were around 60 companies represented in the booths displayed on the top-floor. That gave it a chaotic appearance and also incentives for people to go to all of them (also to collect the shining goodies displayed on the tables).
While that works for curious people that like to talk to as much people as they can or that are building a collection of corporate merchandising (both perfectly valid situations 😎) think that a better approach would be for candidates and companies to pre-select a handful people they would more interested in talking to and have one-one-ones between candidates and companies — a Tinder mechanism for meeting companies of sorts. That would curb the temptation to go to each and single booth and would more effective in creating potential good matches.
Expert conversation under the hoodie
In this specific careers festival there were the so-called expert sessions, some one-on-one, some in group.
I have booked one expert session one-on-one, although I ended up having two (because the group members of the other group session didn’t show up) and a group session.
While I think that the one-on-one sessions worked well, because the “expert” was provided with individual context and tried to adapt the insight to the individual, the group sessions didn’t work as well (and perhaps don’t work at all in this kind of experience). On the individual sessions the insights where fully customized and since it was more of a conversation, there was lots of back and forth to ensure the insights were rightly adjusted.
Conversely, on the group sessions, although it was interesting to see the goals, backgrounds and aspirations of other people, it seemed that generic conclusions where being cast in search of a contender to whom they would fit, since the time constraints didn’t allow to go much in-depth for each individual. Think this approach doesn’t work for such a topic, unless the time is extended for the group sessions, to allow for the same depth as the one-on-ones. For the same duration, I would obviously choose individual instead of the group sessions, as it can be specially hazardous or non-beneficial, to be generic on these topics.
Hackaton under the hoodie
A brief note about the hackathon, and to this respect maybe this headline is misleading, as I did not follow it closely and only saw some of the final results. A shout out to pickit, one of the winners of the night, an app to help you pick movies to watch with friends. It is always good to see what can be made in 24h and it always serves as a great motivator to learn to build products too.
In reality, I think I didn’t see anyone wearing hoodies (OK, maybe one or two people, that were doing the hackathon) and that serves well as a metaphor. More than anything else, festivals like these can be used to dispel some biases and prejudices about future trends, companies and people working in those companies — to take a peek under the hoodie. The caveat is that although these events are much better to identify culture traits than just browsing corporate websites, they are based in words, talks, more than anything else.
It would be really great if someone invented a technology that allowed companies to showcase their real culture to the people attending these festivals.
That I think would be worthy of multiple well-funded hackathons.
PS: I never got to go on the boat trip, although I signed up two times. Maybe I would have some other points to add, if inspired by he breeze. Next time.