What started as a pretty small, niche digital and startup event a few years ago has expanded into a beast of an event in a relatively small amount of time. About 5 years ago I attended the first PauseFest which catered to only a few hundred attendees. 2016 saw more than 15,000 people attend the various Pause events. With the popularity of events like Pause and Above all Human growing, the tech crowd certainly does seem hungry for more events catered to their particular interests.
Held at Federation Square, with the speakers presenting at the stunning Deakin Edge Stage, Pausefest managed to draw some huge names in the Tech scene, like the team from ‘This American Life’ in 2015 to Adriana Gascoigne CEO and Founder of ‘Girls in Tech’ in 2016. The format was altered this year, broken down into different streams across different days, like Creative, Tech and Business Day. We sent some of the BugHerd team to the Creative and Tech days.
It’s always difficult to decide what you’re going to watch simply based off a title on a speaking schedule. We marked down what we thought would be the most interesting and what we’d get the most value out of attending and geared ourselves up for a long day of learning. Free coffee on the balcony was an excellent start to the day. Thank god for Melbourne expectations!
It was pretty quickly apparent that the audience were mainly from Creative and Tech agencies. The majority of the audience appeared more senior than we had expected, more Directors and Creative Leads than junior Designers. Perhaps the ticket prices at $350 a day mean that more senior people get access to the tickets, or that the reputation of Pausefest precedes itself as a conference that discusses high level concepts?
The theme of Creative Day leaned very much towards the notion that Designers need to take charge, they need to adapt to stay relevant or disrupt to become relevant. In fact ‘disruption’ is one buzzword of Pausefest 2016. Rhys Hayes, CEO of I.E Agency said that “The industry is learning to work closely with startups to face up to the disruption that happens in the digital world.” Disruption by startups, new technology, new ideas and breaking out of the typical mould were common themes.
It was interesting to learn about the creative process behind agencies such as Motherbird. Learning how they solve their problems or push past creative blocks (for example, stepping away from the conventional word association and brainstorming). The notion that the best ideas come from experience and not from sitting at the desk was touched on multiple times, another concept explored by Above all Human last month. James Bush, Co-founder & Creative Technology Director at Streaker touched on the human challenges they face using interactive technology, he stated “We are always looking for ways to tell stories within different mediums. Not just using technology for technologies’ sake, we are looking for how can we solve real world problems.”
— BugHerd (@bugherd) February 9, 2016
The almost dystopian idea and discussion that robots would be taking over with AI in the near future was a popular thread across both days. The idea that if you have a repetitive or manual type job your job could well be automated seemed to be commonly accepted. An almost audible sigh of relief could be heard when it was commented that creativity and social interaction isn’t something that can be learned by robots, yet. They are still in the consultant/assistant rather than the decision maker stage. As Jon Gold from The Grid put it, “AI won’t take away the jobs of designers, but what it will do is move designers up to the next level.” In other words, most people in the auditorium could keep their jobs … for now. Chris Panzetta, co-founder and Managing Director of S1T2 summed up well by saying, “It’s really easy to predict where things are going, it’s really hard to predict how long it will take.”
Though we found the topics very interesting and the speakers highly engaging, it did feel like the day wasn’t strictly focused to the Creative theme, perhaps being more Business and Tech oriented. The crowd certainly enjoyed the topics and there was plenty of discussion on twitter and live questions, so it was a valuable day nonetheless.
Celebrating females in tech and their success, something that seems to be harped on at almost any tech event you can poke a stick at lately. My hope above hope is that one day soon we can simply say experts in tech without the “women” part. But I digress.
Tech day opened up with a panel titled “Tech Talk with Top Women.” Coming off the back of Creative Day’s discussion by Alice Kimberley from Vice Media, where she pointed out that “Advertising culture overseas has moved ahead and Australia is being left behind”, in regards to powerful female influencers. We wondered what sort of discussions we were in for regarding the gender agenda in tech.
Refreshingly, the panel discussed technology and apps to assist in making people’s lives easier and the use of social media analytics to help address customer satisfaction. In fact, the entire day was a little surprising in it’s lack of predictability. Some good and some bad. As one of our team members mused, “the quality of speakers was amazing, yet the event seemed to downplay some of them. It felt like the talks were something that was happening on the side, rather than THE thing that was happening. I feel like the day could have had more structure.” Generally, we felt that the different day streams were a little unfocused to the topic of the day, though entertaining and informative.
Tech day followed on with a tech startup theme, with a discussion by Ian Nealie from Google who had some great advice for startups, “You want to talk to the people who actually build a product, find out if something is possible before getting too far down the tunnel. There will always be problems along the way, but this way you can make sure expectations are managed.”
— BugHerd (@bugherd) February 10, 2016
This looked like it would set the vibe for the day, however topics swung from a very interesting panel on Smart Cities, to a heated discussion on Artificial Intelligence and a VERY entertaining plug for new transport method “the Hyperloop” by Bibop Gresta. Seriously this guy was so entertaining he was worth the ticket price alone.
Startup Alley in the foyer gave an excellent opportunity for local startups to get their wares and ideas in front of potential clients. There were lots of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality companies, which appears to be the hot new technology for 2016. Many speakers touched on the tech involved and it’s opportunities, but it still seems to be a topic hanging around the edges, rather than being the star conversation piece.
One incredible opportunity that Pausefest provided, was to be able to book a 10 minute 1 on 1 chat with an expert. Naturally, Adriana Gascoigne from Girls in Tech, an inspirational founder who decided that the machismo and patriarchy of the tech industry demanded she take a stand, and create a space for women to succeed in tech, was a popular choice and I was lucky enough to have the time with her.
In our 10 minutes we discussed how great it would be to have a topic of a talk at a conference being “Experts of tech” instead of “Female experts of tech”. Adriana was realistic in her expectations that “it should be like that, but we won’t see it in our lifetime, we can’t reverse hundreds of years of patriarchy in a few years.” We discussed that Girls in Tech will have a chapter starting up in Melbourne this year, bringing everything over from Silicon Valley (I may have squealed with excitement at the thought).
I asked for some advice on how to get more girls and women into Tech, to which Adriana replied, “we’re reinventing the wheel right now and trying to bring our femininity into a society where we have to work harder than our male counterparts. We’re trained to keep working harder and that’s why we’ll succeed. We don’t quit easily, we bring lots of different things to the table, like our empathy, listening ability, and rationalisation.” I could have chatted for more than an hour on any of these topics but am grateful for the time Pausefest allowed. That’s a pretty cool experience.
— Chanie (@thehungryginge) February 11, 2016
Overall there was a very futuristic outlook and positive gaze forward at the event, such as how the use of AI will help improve the design process, as well as VR becoming a part of our daily lives. Though the content streams were less focused than expected, it was certainly a popular and varied event with plenty of innovation and inspiration to be found.