It makes a lot of sense for me to visit conferences like Web Summit, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. I’ve visited plenty of events like this over the years, and have started to see a shift from “Here’s a cool product, it’s going to be good” to “Here’s the future, and it’s going to be great.”
As an engineer, I still get excited about emerging tools, hardware and programming languages. But with the tech world shifting so drastically over the last few years, accelerated by the global acceptance of hybrid working, I find myself looking at generational shifts rather than individual products. So in many ways, Web Summit and its impressive lineup of future-thinking speakers came along at just the right time.
I was looking forward to anything covering dApps, Web3, NFT and blockchain. My interests really are vested in the future of the web and how we use it to do various things like exchange funds, goods or information. So not only was it great to be at a conference with an impressive lineup of speakers covering these individual topics, but it was also hugely beneficial to experience it all in one place. These new technologies are interconnected in many ways, so almost all of the talks complemented one another in some way. And as a group, we were able to fill any gaps that we had in our knowledge fairly easily.
Blockchain, NFTs, dApps, and a funky tie
I find blockchain fascinating, not least because I believe in the decentralisation of the web, but because of its strong links to crypto, and how crypto itself can give all of us the freedom that we perhaps take for granted here in the UK. When was the last time you thought about transaction fees?
In parts of the world (generally some of the poorest regions), the cost of sending money home or abroad can be abnormally high, sometimes prohibitively so. I strongly believe that you should have the freedom to send money to whomever you want, whenever you want, without being penalised where it hurts you the most. Blockchain and crypto has the power to break down these borders, remove the middleman and not only give us control of our money, but our data too.
Two standout talks here for me were ‘The crypto uprising most didn’t see coming’, which was a panel discussion, and ‘Can blockchain disrupt payments?’ with Utrust CEO, Sanja Kon. Spoiler alert: yes it can.
I also enjoyed the coverage granted to NFTs, a fascinating ‘proof of ownership’ methodology that has moved from concept to widespread reality in a matter of months. The new digital approach to contracts is taking digital art in particular by storm, but we are yet to see just how secure it is for the owners themselves. For many, the idea of owning a digital version (and in many ways, the original version) of a piece of digital art seems strange when you can simply copy and paste the file, or just take a screenshot. What is reassuring is that social media platforms are working on ways to better protect these tokens, but it remains to be seen if these will win the sceptical of us over to the idea of digital ownership.
I also found the conversations around dApps, or decentralised applications, really interesting. I particularly support the idea of decentralised peer-to-peer search engines, completely doing away with the huge corporations holding bodies of search data, and using a framework to decentralise data across millions of computers around the world. There is huge potential here for the future of how we build applications.
The F word
Finally, Frances Haugen, the unwitting star of the show. There’s not much I can say about Frances that hasn’t been said already, but what I did find curious were her deep-rooted views that Facebook can and should be a place for good, and is, fundamentally, a good company who should be able to put things right. Her arguments were measured and unbiased, simply asking the platform to clean itself up, instead of using customer data to promote extremist views or pushing the agendas of those who pay the most. Whilst she is not anti-Facebook, she is calling for Zuckerberg, the company’s majority shareholder, to step down.
Bringing it home
I’ve been at Kyan for almost 18 years now, steadily progressing to where I am today; Head of Engineering. Despite this, my role has changed more in the last year than it has in the entire 17 years prior. As you can guess, this is partly due to the pandemic, and Kyan’s move to a hybrid working model. On any one day, I may speak to up to 15 of our developers. But the other shift has been in tandem with Kyan’s growth. The rapid growth of our engineering team means that I spend more time managing, supporting, talking and listening than I do programming.
Many engineering managers find themselves in this position, and whilst there are a number of routes for progression (many senior programmers just want to keep on programming, and rightly so), this is where I’ve chosen to be. Because of that, I feel it’s vitally important that I not only have a strong and focused understanding of where the company is going, but also of where technology and the wider industry is going too.
At Kyan, we are all free to do our own research, invest in our own hobbies and interests, and talk about just about any technology that we find interesting. But as an agency, we must be unified in our offering and clear in our thinking when it comes to what we sell, market and deliver as a technology company.
Exposing myself to new movements such as NFTs, dApps, and blockchain keeps me on my toes, keeps me learning and also means that I can talk to the team not necessarily about tomorrow’s products, but tomorrow’s technology.
I’ll wrap up by thanking my Web Summit colleagues for making the trip so enjoyable. As Rebecca said in her blog, spending time with those who you don’t usually work with is hugely beneficial to us all. Being able to share knowledge and learn from one another just makes me realise how lucky I am to work with such inspiring and intelligent people.
We are Kyan, a technology agency powered by people.
Still thinking about that tie...