The Heavy-Hitting Utah Tech Summit by@rhettrites

The Heavy-Hitting Utah Tech Summit

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Stewart Butterfield, Steve Young and Mitt Romney were among the speakers.

“Avatar.” “Man of Steel.” “The Avengers.”

Jarom Sidwell worked on digital visuals for each of those blockbusters and others.

But he was far — far — from the only biggie to speak at the Silicon Slopes Summit 2018 in Salt Lake City, “the largest tech event in Utah history,” SS Executive Director Clint Betts said.

Among others, the summit saw Ryan Smith, the CEO of Qualtrics, whose clients (numbering more than 8,500) include Microsoft,, CBS, Yahoo!, and The Washington Post; Todd Pedersen, Vivint CEO; Omar Johnson, former Beats by Dre chief marketing officer; Dave Elkington, founder; Josh James, Domo CEO; Aaron Skonnard, Pluralsight CEO; and Jim Swartz and David Fialkow, investors in documentaries, including one that showed at the conference to make for the most-viewed Sundance premiere of all-time, Smith said.

There was also Stewart Butterfield, Steve Young and Mitt Romney.

Stewart Butterfield


Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s CEO, conducted a major advertising campaign in Utah. (Creative Commons)

Smith started his interview of Butterfield, the Flickr and Slack co-founder, by saying that Butterfield “likes to start gaming companies, but he’s not very good at it” before getting nicer, noting that Yahoo! bought Flickr from Butterfield.

Butterfield then said that in college, “(his) mind was just blown by the internet” as he enjoyed communicating with friends at different colleges. He then described Slack as “human interaction, but this time, in the context of business” and a “giant flow of information,” saying that “tens of millions” of folks use Slack today. However, he doesn’t think that email will go away, though he said that Slack can achieve many goals of email, but more effectively. He also advised business owners in appropriate fields “to find engineers who are interested in user experience.”

“Time is finite; resources are finite,” he added. “The role of constraints and creatively is always fascinating to me … with poetry, the whole thing is constraints … music has the time signature, the key, the mode.”

Butterfield then cited “the 48-hour filmmaking competition” as an example as to how time constraints can result in productivity.

“The idea of a limitless infinity of possibilities actually makes creative thinking a lot harder,” he added.

He also compared dying “over and over” in video games but still having chances to advance to repeated failures at work that can lead to an optimization of a product relative to what it could have been.

Butterfield also spoke to doing a major advertising campaign in Utah, saying that much of the focus was in the morning because he “didn’t want to interfere with family evening.” Nearly two-thirds of Utah is comprised of Mormons, who practice a function called Family Home Evening on Monday nights.

“Wow, man,” Smith replied before pivoting, finishing the interview by asking what Butterfield’s selling to Yahoo! felt like.

“I don’t want to do that again,” Smith said.

Steve Young


Steve Young said that his NFL coach in San Francisco, Bill Walsh, created a guide for conducting the West Coast offense when Walsh filmed his coaching it in practices. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Young, who retired as the highest-rated quarterback in NFL history, reminded the crowd that he was an eighth-string quarterback at Brigham Young University — Young wore the number eight throughout his playing career — where he was meant to represent an opposing team’s quarterback.

Emphasis on “represent.”

“The defense thought I was actually the (opposing) quarterback,” Young remarked.

That hurt Young, so he planned on quitting the team.

“You can quit, but you can’t come home,” Young’s father, Grit, said.

Young then called Grit and his mother, Sherry, one of the “150 angels in (his) life.”

After signing a $40 million contract, the most lucrative sports contract at the time, Young cried after seeing a headline in the Deseret News, a Utah newspaper, that Young said read “Steve Young, what’s wrong with sports?”

Young also said that Bill Walsh, who Young played for while quarterbacking for the San Francisco 49ers, made Young a backup to Joe Montana for “creative tension.”

“I’m really grateful I had to go through that tension,” said Young, who as a starter, won two MVP awards and three Super Bowls.

Being asked for advice for those who think they should have a better job, Young said to avoid “zero-sum-game thinking” and admired Walsh for having videos made of Walsh’s instruction concerning his West Coast offense, a new NFL development at the time.

“Bill Walsh was the first CEO of Silicon Valley,” Young said. “He was putting together a toolkit … of everything that he had, of all the knowledge that he had gained.”

Young said that there was really a genius for Walsh to promote as his assistants Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan, both earned head coaching jobs.

“He says on (their) way out, ‘I’ll see you in the championship,’” Young reported.

Both coaches, who Young said were part of the “first generation” of the West Coast offense, won Super Bowls also.

Young got blamed for the 49ers’ shortcomings in the wake of legend Joe Montana’s play to the point that a San Francisco headline read “The Gulf War: It’s Steve Young’s Fault.”

It was in jest. But Young said “I tear up now thinking about it.”

Young complained to his brother. “I’m not going to make it,” Young told him.

But the brother responded by saying “what are you thinking? I have three kids and am in medical school.”

Young also remarked that his response is “holy crap” to “all the stories I hear out of Washington.”

“What’s the legacy of that?” he said. “We might win … but what’s the legacy? … if you know what I’m talking about, it’s not happening.”

Mitt Romney


Mitt Romney said “it’s thrilling to know you could be in the setting where you could fail or fall.” (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Romney was asked if he had “ever been truly scared of failing along the way” to his “accomplishments.”

“You may not know this, but I actually ran for president of the United States and lost,” he replied. **“**I love what Walter Mondale said. It’s been reported he said he wanted for run for president in the worst way, and that’s what happened.”

After recounting his work including leading the 2002 Winter Olympics and being governor of Massachusetts, he said “it’s thrilling to know you could be in the setting where you could fail or fall.”

He said he learned from his father George Romney first to not “just muddle along. Have a vision of where you want to go.” George Romney was a chairman and president of American Motors Corporation and a governor of Michigan.

When asked about his wife, Ann, having multiple sclerosis, Romney said “virtually everybody you meet has some … burden … the life experience that we enjoy has challenges.”

Romney also spoke about being a Republican governor with a legislature that was 87 percent Democrat, remarking that he would go to dinner on the north end of Boston and have dinner of spaghetti and “other Italian delicacies” with the Democratic leadership.

“Just on a social basis,” he said.

He said he spoke with former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who led Romney’s White House transition team. Leavitt told him that “having an opposition party isn’t necessarily bad for getting things done.”

“I agree,” Romney claimed.

Being asked about “anxiety” about the future in Utah, the United States and the world, Romney said “we will probably have a recession at some point.”

“It’s hard to predict irrational behavior,” Romney then said.

He later said that “the economy looks good in the immediate future.”

He also remarked that was “encouraging” that Japan was doing better economically.

He also brought back the word “geopolitical” when talking about Russia; Romney said in 2012 that Russia is the United States’ “number one geopolitical foe.”

“In some respects, they are making an effort to show they are a big player, a superpower,” Romney said. “John McCain thinks they are a gas station rather than a country.”

Romney also doesn’t think that Kim Jong-un, the dictator of North Korea, would not launch a nuclear strike because “things would happen that would spiral out of control.” He also said that China is “very serious about dominating the world economically” and that’s why they are building relationships “in Africa, in Pakistan.”

“They are playing the long game to be the powerful economic engine of the world,” Romney said.

“I’m so excited to see … the next 50 years as much as I can on this side of the dirt,” he added.

Romney also claimed that “half of American jobs over the next couple of decades will disappear.”

“These are exciting, thrilling times and I want to see it all,” he remarked.

Romney concluded by saying that “where innovation drives the future, America wins because America is the innovator of the world, saying that “America … is (key) for liberty on the planet.”

Romney started his interview by saying he didn’t have an announcement about running for the U.S. Senate in Utah, though many expect him to make that declaration Thursday.

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