SXSW: A software engineer’s guide to this year’s digital gathering
By Brittany Anas for Hack Reactor
After being canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, SXSW is making a mighty comeback in 2021, charging forward in a digital format. The conference—a confluence of music, film, and technology—will virtually take place from March 16-20. Timely tech-centric panels and spotlights on startups pioneering cutting-edge technology are sure to pique the interest of software engineers and those enrolled in a coding bootcamp.
SXSW attendees this year can choose from more than 230 sessions, and tune into the panel discussions via a laptop, smart TV, or other streaming devices. Sessions this year are clustered around seven themes. One of the themes that is particularly relevant to up-and-coming software engineers is “Challenging Tech’s Path Forward,” which includes a slate of sessions focused on how tech can be leveraged to improve lives. As a part of this curated series, panels explore everything from coding literacy to how tech has helped keep the events industry afloat during COVID-19. These relevant topics provide valuable clues to what coding jobs of the future will look like.
In addition to the panels, the conference also hosts SXSW Pitch, which showcases some of the most innovative startups from around the world that are pioneering cutting-edge technology to improve workplaces and cities; health and society. SXSW Pitch, which is in its 13th year, will take place March 17-18 as part of the conference’s digital experience.
Here is a software engineer’s all-encompassing guide to the 2021 SXSW digital conference, including start-ups to follow as well as some can’t-miss sessions.
Up-and-Coming Start-Ups to Follow
This year’s SXSW Pitch will feature 40 interactive tech companies from eight different categories (i.e. categories span from Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Voice; Health, Wearables and Wellbeing; Social and Culture and more). These companies will virtually pitch and participate in a 5-minute question-and-answer session with three judges.
Curious why this pitch event is such a big deal?
To date, 553 companies have participated in SXSW Pitch with more than 80 percent receiving funding and acquisitions totaling more than $7.6 billion. Of these startup companies, 18 percent have been acquired by the likes of Google, Twitter, Apple, OpenTable, and more. Some SXSW pitch albums include Siri, Tango, Klout, and Hipmunk.
Here are 6 start-up companies to watch this year. Who knows? Some could become household names in the coming years.
Cradlewise: This smart crib learns a baby’s sleep patterns and rocks them automatically, playing soothing music to help lull them back to sleep.
DanceFight App: Viral TikTok dance challenges are all the rage. Now, this competition platform allows users to challenge each other to virtual dance-offs. Users record their dance, challenge friends (or anyone), and the crowd votes on their favorites. It gamifies dance.
Clair: What if you didn’t have to wait two weeks to get a paycheck? Clair is a fintech that helps America’s workers get paid as soon as they clock out of work.
AlphaBeats: This app uses an algorithm to help the user relax with music. Your smartphone or wearable becomes a biosensor that can register your brainwaves and play music to help manage your stress levels.
Dimer: The start-up’s mission is to make hospital-grade UV disinfection available in all work environments.
Refiberd: A lot of fast-fashion clothes get trashed every year, creating millions of tons of textile waste. This start-up is developing a textile recycling system that combines AI and a patent-pending green chemical recycling process to convert used textiles into reusable threads.
Tech Sessions for Software Engineers at SXSW
Centered around the theme of “Challenging Tech’s Path Forward,” the curated tech sessions at SXSW will explore how society can use tech to build a better tomorrow and drill into the lessons that can be learned from its current failings.
While there are tech sessions every day of the conference, software engineers should carve out some extra time on Day 1 of SXSW (Tuesday, March 16) to attend discussions. (There’s a lot of panels centered on tech that day).
In advance of the conference, we’re highlighting some of the sessions that may be of interest to coders who could help play a role in solving problems via tech. We’re also providing some related reading so that you can brush up on these topics before tuning into the sessions.
Here’s a highlight of the “Challenging Tech’s Path Forward” sessions:
Wildlife Rangers Armed with AI
Tuesday, March 16, 2021 9:15 AM to 10:10 AM
Poaching is a mounting threat to species and ecosystems worldwide and hundreds of rangers have been killed in the line of duty around the world. To thwart crimes and keep rangers safe, cutting-edge AI and behavior modeling could predict where and when wildlife crimes occur. (Related reading: Artificial intelligence helps rangers protect wildlife)
Future Hybrid: How Virtuality Changes Live Music
Tuesday, March 16, 2021 9:15 AM to 10:10 AM
Live concerts were canceled in 2020. Taking over in their place were virtual concerts and live-streamed rap battles. The panelists will make a case that as concerts begin to make a comeback, there’s potential for innovation at the crossroads of virtual and live music. (Related reading: Livestream concerts boomed during lockdown. Are they music’s future or just a pandemic fad?)
Taking the Bias Out of VC InvestingTuesday
March 16, 2021 9:15 AM to 10:10 AM
Only 3 percent of venture capital goes to companies with a woman CEO and less than 1 percent goes to BIPOC founders. Speakers on the panel will discuss how they’re tackling bias and how venture capital funding can be reworked. (Related reading: How to fix a racially biased venture capital model and commit to diversity in entrepreneurship).
The Business Case for No Code
Friday, March 19, 2021 4:00 PM to 4:55 PM
Less than 1 percent of the world’s population knows how to code. Fortune 500 companies and startups alike are looking to no-code tools to help democratize the web and empower their teams. What does this mean for up-and-coming software engineers? (Related reading: What is low-code and no code? A guide to development platforms)
Every Company Needs to Become a Software Company
Tuesday, March 16, 2021 9:30 AM to 9:55 AM
The pandemic pushed many businesses into a full-on digital business transformation, making a case that every company needs to be a software company to survive. Amazon.com VP & CTO Werner Vogels and Twilio CEO and Cofounder Jeff Lawson will lead a discussion about how companies need to bridge the divide between their tech teams and business leaders. (Related reading: Every company is a tech company)
Find the full schedule of “Challenging Tech’s Path Forward” here.
Which SXSW sessions or events are you looking forward to the most?