Highlights from the HBS Tech Conference

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Carol Lin, Contributor
Dan Moskowitz, Contributor

The Tech Club at Harvard Business School’s annual Tech Conference took place on Sunday, October 28 on the HBS campus. This event (the first of its kind in the beautiful Klarman building) brought together hundreds of the country’s brightest technologists – from executives at big tech companies, to investors at the leading venture capital firms, to startups tackling the biggest challenges, to students hungry for knowledge and new connections.

Our conference theme was “Inflection Point.” We challenged our speakers to talk about the “hard topics” that are relevant to us as future technology leaders, and we challenged the audience to approach these topics with open minds and to continue these dialogues long after the conference had ended.

Highlights included:

Keynotes: Making better decisions, tackling workplace biases, and being radically transparent (in the most productive way)

Our first keynote speaker was Andy Ellis, the Chief Security Officer at Akamai in Boston. With a self-proclaimed mission to “make the internet suck less,” Andy spends his time thinking about cybersecurity, safety, and compliance. He took the stage to deliver his thoughts on why so many people make bad decisions and how we can avoid falling into the same traps.

Our second keynote, Kim Scott, was the renowned author of Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. She was virtually beamed into Klarman Hall (the first such attempt in the new building – many thanks to the amazing HBS ops team) and moderated by HBS professor Ethan Bernstein.

For people looking to be a better boss but on the fence about the concept of “radical transparency,” Kim delivered a different way to frame the idea with practical tips for using the framework to fight organizational biases. A highlight was the open Q&A session. Props to our audience and to one attendee who displayed his own sense of radical candor with the question, “Is a hot dog a sandwich?” – to which Kim, without hesitation, responded, “No.”

The third keynote was Latoya Peterson, the owner of Racialicious.com and the former Deputy Editor of Digital Innovation for ESPN’s The Undefeated. Latoya sits at the intersection of emerging technology, race, and culture and is particularly qualified to talk to those topics. She observed the day’s events and prepared her thoughts for what we can do to foster a better ecosystem for all and to combat the insidious biases that present themselves in data and AI.

Our final keynote was a fireside chat between David Fialkow, co-founder and Managing Director of General Catalyst, and Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of Hubspot. This dynamic pair had great chemistry and energy and drew a particularly large crowd. The highlight of their far-reaching conversation may have been David passing around his Oscar, an award he won for the documentary Icarus in 2018. It’s heavy, and it’s real metal, folks.

Panels, Demos, and More

Besides the keynotes, this year’s Tech Conference also featured a whopping 21 fireside chats and panels with over 70 speakers from industry, including Ripple, Coinbase, Lightspeed Venture Partners, ElementAI, Boom, Facebook, Venrock, and more. In addition, we had live demos set up in Spangler Meredith Room. Highlights included:

  • Unity Technologies projected a beta build of their new product that will allow AR developers to use the Unity Studio to place AR objects with real-world contexts
  • Bumble was on-site to give attendees’ Bumble Bizz profiles much-needed makeovers
  • General Assembly gave advice to startups and students thinking about starting a company

A Retrospective – and Looking Ahead

When 6:30pm rolled around on Sunday, October 28, and the HBS cleanup crew began pulling the drinks from the open bar, we were left with two things. One, pounds and pounds of leftover fancy cheese (note to next year’s conference team: bring Tupperware). Two, a feeling of satisfaction that we had thrown another successful Tech Conference. We hope the attendees learned something substantial and will continue to draw on the new connections and friends they made at the conference this year.