I've been to one other conference before - a "web 2.0" type thing in Boston focusing on collaborative and open work. I went alone, met some interesting people, attended a few thought provoking sessions, but overall embraced my inner introvert and went all wallflower.
So my expectations for SXSWedu were all over the map. I knew it was going to be different - I was traveling with a group of folks from the NYCDOE and that companionship alone would make a big difference. I had an opportunity to meet up with friends and former colleagues who I hadn't seen in years - some in over a decade. There were workshops that provided an antidote to wallflowerism and truly engaging sessions on race and equity that by far bested more traditional panels.
But I also knew that it could be completely overwhelming.
In the end, it was all about the people. There were courageous conversations on race and identity, practical workshops on making design thinking less racist and more oppression-aware. There were early morning taco runs and late night food truck jaunts with friends new and old. There was Chris Emdin who spoke truth to power and, at the opening event of the conference, called out over half the audience as frenemies. Yea, he did that.
Sure, there was also Tim Ferris doing a great job of showing what a frenemy looks like while espousing the values of Japanese Horseback Archery that you can learn in a week.
The most valuable time was what happened in-between and after though. That's where conversations went from abstract to personal, flush with emotions, rants, raves, and everything in between. I met with a group of past and present data fellows who were working across the country to help districts and schools do better for kids. I connected with local entrepreneurs who are helping teachers innovate in their classroom and others who are providing coaching and funding for entrepreneurs of color to address a systemic gap in venture capital.
And then there were the pedi cab drivers. I'm not sure what drew me to them, but their stories were illuminating. From the Golden Lion, an aspiring ukulele player, to Yaw, a music producer from Nashville who comes down to Austin during the festival to make some extra coin. Their stories brought home the changes and challenges that the rapidly gentrifying and changing Austin is feeling and I'm grateful for the time they spent to chat with me and share some of their story.