Review of SXSW 2012

Austin, TX
March 9 – March 11, 2012

Everyone and their grandma already knows what the conference is about. Some bits I’ve heard: “spring break for nerds”, “pure awesomeness”, “if you’re a somebody in tech industry you have to be there”. All of those are true. But the conference is VERY popular, so be prepared to navigate your way through crowds and have stamina for days of learning and socializing and nights of partying.

This is a view from a first-time attendee, so please be kind and don’t stone me for some missed facts and parties that I didn’t catch (“You didnt’ see Jay-Z?! You loser!”).

When to arrive and when to leave

I’ve arrived to the beautiful cold and rainy city of Austin on Friday afternoon. That turned out to be a good day to arrive (a lot of people did), since the evening events were starting on that day, and it preluded the fun-filled weekend. I would suggest spending 4 days (Fri – Mon), to accommodate your day job (you only need 2 days off) and also get the most out of the conference. I really wished I stayed through Monday, but damn this day job, it didn’t happen. I know people who stayed longer, 5 days to a week, and they were pretty burned out by the time they returned. You can only do so many late nights of drinking in a row (if you can do more than 3 in a row, consider yourself my new hero).

What to bring

Yourself, energetic, friendly and ready to have a great time. I was in a shitty mood when I got there (fk work), but arriving in a new place excites me beyond reason and I got over it. Austin is fun, so be ready to have fun!

Comfy shoes. A cool pair of sneaks will work just fine. Water bottle. Phone charger. I’d recommend a small camera other than the one on the phone, to save battery and get better pix. Sunscreen. 2012 attendees: an umbrella and rain poncho. Others – disregard. It never rained in Austin like it did this year and it never will.

What is not needed: tshirts and shades – plenty of that stuff going around, so if you plan to rock jeans+tshirt look, you can arrive with your toothbrush, underwear and phone charger and be all set.

What to do first

At the airport, do a quick look for sponsored free rides. Fluent had a party bus this year picking people up and driving them to downtown Austin in style, with drinks, in a comfy big coach. There’s also a $1 shuttle to the city, it runs every 30 minutes.

After arrival, leave your bags at a hotel and catch a quick break. You have an option to head to the convention center and pick up badges, but beware – due to tremendous crowds this process can take more than an hour. I recommend getting badges early in the morning instead, the lines were much much shorter on Sat morning. Rather find yourself a happy hour to go to (you should have had one lined up before you landed, if you’re a somebody). I regretfully missed a vendor event due to the badge lines. Call this an early night, grab yummy dinner and go rest and get ready for the long day tomorrow.

The best place to stay btw, is Hilton, as it’s right next to the convention center. Other good ones are Omni, W, Marriott courtyard.

Catch me if you can

Once you get your badge, you’ll also receive a handy tote bag for your swag, and a schedule with info on all panels and locations. I did not plan anything in advance, just kind of picked them the day before and circled them in the brochure. There is about 5 time slots every day, and multiple tracks. I’d say pick a 2-3 that are the most interesting, mix them up, and spend the rest of the day outdoors exploring. There is a ton of snacking, drinking and fun and play options outside of convention center.

Note: popular speaker events tend to fill up quickly, so get there early. Frank Abignale talk was all filled up, so many people were turned down and had to go to this other panel one next door and catch a quick nap.

If you are with buddies, it’s much easier to move around in small groups of 2 or 3, otherwise it’s too cumbersome, unless you have one clear leader in a bunch of followers. There are apps like Sonar and Highlight that let you stalk each other, but honestly I didn’t wanna spend precious battery juice and did not use any. Speaking of juice, there are many recharging stations around, so look out for those. I’m a big believer that by next year some genius will solve the whole battery life issue and have the phones charged by sheer brainpower. There’s plenty of that stuff at South By!

There are free shuttles going around the campus, and also some gratis rides, like Twilio did this year, in case you’re not from New York and your poor legs are tired after a couple of hours running up and down convention center and 6th street. New Yorkers – high five!

Parties

Parties are awesome. This pretty much sums it up. Go to as many as possible, drink somewhat responsibly

Highlights this year

  • Running into Guy Kawasaki! Seeing Dwight from the Office!
  • Squarespace food truck with no lines in the rain, and eating hot dogs with some cool people
  • Google village, robots and schemers
  • Power of habits talk (albeit short), the author was very engaging and entertaining
  • Seeing a huge amount of work involved in attending the event as a company and sponsoring stuff and throwing parties. Parties are a lot of work – who knew?
  • Talking to strangers is awesome
  • Salt Lick BBQ shared with a stranger at the airport – good food, great conversation
  • $1 airport rides – should be instituted everywhere
  • Sunny day in Austin, after 2 days of pouring rain
  • Half hour of shopping on 2nd street before leaving Austin
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