AfroTech, an annual technology conference hosted by Blavity, brings together Black technology enthusiasts from coast to coast for a great meeting and networking event. It was my first rodeo at this four-day tech fest in Austin, Texas, and the excitement was through the roof as I stood in line waiting for my badge.
The conference took place at Austin Downtown convention center, with additional events at venues such as the Hilton and Fairmont. The atmosphere was conducive to a mix of connections, knowledge absorption and all the surprises the conference had up its sleeve.
AfroTech is a real game changer, according to participants
As soon as you enter the conference, a wave of well-being washes over you, almost like an instant recognition that you have entered the safe space of a community that feels like you. I sat down with Chinonso Onyechi, a participant, to expand on this sentiment, and here’s what he had to share:
“Technology conferences like AfroTech are a real game changer for us. AfroTech provides a unique platform for Black professionals to connect, network and support each other as we strive to reach new heights in the technology space. I firmly believe that proximity is everything, and AfroTech offers this dual objective: not only proximity to some of the biggest technology companies, but also to individuals who share common aspirations and struggles. Additionally, the representation of Black entrepreneurs on the panels is incredibly inspiring and pushes us all to improve. It is a dynamic space where we can find our community and boost our ambitions.
The launch days were dedicated to diving into the workshops and visiting the company exhibition, laying the foundation for a busy schedule. As the event progressed, the mood shifted to musical performances and networking sessions.
The conference had its own app, which was another game changer. It gave us an overview of the entire program and allowed us to bookmark our favorite events, making it easy for us to choose workshops that fit our industry or career path. What I loved were the real-time updates, the workshops that started immediately and the app that kept us informed.
Additionally, a live stream and chat feature allowed us to connect with other attendees, drop LinkedIn profiles, and get information about different events.
Blockchain, AI, NFT and ETH were all on the table
Judging by the conference lineup, it was clear that the buzz has shifted from blockchain to AI technology. This wasn’t a big surprise given the current bear market mood and NFT roller coaster ride – although, thanks to ETH for coming back, woohoo!
Despite this, I managed to attend the career panel hosted by Metaverse employees at Meta. They gave an overview of diving into the Metaverse industry, shared pro tips on networking, staying up to date with the latest industry happenings, and explained how their unique experiences paved the way for their successes.
Another highlight was a panel by Trey McDonald, co-founder of Lockverse, a Web3 platform for athletes and creatives. Lockverse aims to empower creatives and athletes to connect with their audiences while profiting from the action. The panel explored how blockchain technology is reshaping gaming, enabling athletes and creators to craft their narratives, build thriving online communities, and earn income that is truly theirs.
AI takes center stage
The rest of the workshops that caught my attention focused on the impact of AI in various sectors, ranging from healthcare to sports and fitness. A remarkable session was hosted by renowned super-producer Timbaland. He cleared away the prevailing fears surrounding AI technology and emphasized that it is simply a tool – its effectiveness relies on the quality of the data provided and the person using it.
Another captivating workshop highlighted the looming role of AI in the film industry. I had the chance to communicate directly with the speaker, Anatola Araba, whose film delves into the biases inherent in AI. I took the opportunity to ask her for strategies to combat these biases, and she shared her ideas, saying: “We need so many voices and perspectives in the data used to train data systems. ‘AI, but we also need all of us. being behind the systems, understanding how they work and creating them, so that it is not in the hands of a few elites.
I was also able to ask him about the status of Web3. She said: “There has been so much in the news regarding the rise and lack of mention of NFT, but I think what will remain is the idea of decentralization and ownership. People are wondering what impact AI will have on artists and actors, and what will help us is if we can take ownership of our image… so decentralization and AI should go hand in hand.
My goal for the conference was to dive into workshops on Web3, AI, and the latest technology trends, hoping to gain insight into the trajectory of these technologies. To my surprise, the experience exceeded my expectations.
Companies are looking for black talent
Not only were the workshops informative and engaging, but there was also an entire exhibit hall filled with companies actively looking to connect with and hire Black talent. Adding to the excitement was the launch of their cutting-edge platform, Talent Infusion, where participants could submit their resumes and be matched with companies matching their skills and interests.
Curious about the importance of corporate participation in such events, I met Zuri Godfrey of Google and had his views on the matter.
“AfroTech and similar conferences are extremely important for employing Black talent in the technology industry, as they provide a melting pot of diverse, non-technical and technical trendsetters who can move technology companies forward. Without these conferences, technology companies would not be able to engage with a wide variety of talent, at scale, quickly and in person.
There is a huge barrier that many black people face when it comes to getting into tech and moving up the ranks. So it is important to have these spaces where we are allowed to connect directly with the recruiter.
Issa Rae to lead the Women’s Summit at AfroTech
The headliner of the conference? Nothing else than Issa Rae, and let me tell you, the room was full of enthusiasm as everyone eagerly awaited his wisdom. Now, some people were scratching their heads, wondering why they brought in an entertainment powerhouse for a tech gig. You know, the usual suspicion that high-profile speakers are only there to draw crowds.
But Issa’s journey as a business owner speaks volumes and then some. She had a standout moment when she dropped truth bombs about always questioning your path — why you’re in it, why you were chosen for it, and what you would do if it wasn’t your thing. This nugget inspired a group of us to take a serious dive into our purpose and plan the next steps.
And then there’s the discussion of ownership, a hot topic during tech weekend. Issa laid it out and admitted that working with HBO isn’t giving her the property she dreams of. She’s on a mission to reach the next level and figure out how to truly own her work moving forward.
Rick Ross, Saweetie and DJ Spinderella take the stage
Once the educational portion of the conference was over, we moved on to the official music party on stage, and let me tell you, it took place in a local park. It was like the biggest backyard barbecue ever, with all the good things – activations, food trucks, drinks, and a ton of line dancing action.
Heavyweight cinematic performances like Saweetie and Rick Ross with beats presented by none other than DJ Spinderella. And they didn’t stop there; they hosted brunches, happy hours and late night jams to celebrate 50 years of hip hop with the one and only Jadakiss.
What I like most is how the conference doesn’t just stay serious in terms of learning and networking. It brings a good dose of our culture.
What’s next for AfroTech 2024?
Since the conclusion of the conference, there has been much debate around the value and configuration of experience. Attendee Ashley Evangelista said, “I wish there was more emphasis on learning, hands-on workshops, or in-depth panels discussing the nuances of AI. »
Another attendee, Gabe Williams, said: “There have been some negative comments about the conference, but I think that’s what people think about it. Do you have direct connections with recruiters and companies interested in hiring Black talent? You can’t beat these connections.
Blavity has heard all of these complaints, and their founder Morgan DeBaun released a statement: “As we look ahead to next year, just know that we heard you! In 2024, expect bigger stages, more founder conversations, tech deep dives, and a lower price of entry starting at $250. We’re moving quickly with feedback, and new growth always presents new opportunities! » I like that the company is not only open to criticism, but is moving quickly to make these changes.
The conference matched the investment based on the connections you were able to make in the room. I’m excited to see more of the educational workshops they plan to implement, and I look forward to attending them next year in Houston.