Thursday, 5 November 2015

Disrupted Development: Memories of WebSummit 2015

"Let's do this!" I knew that I needed to make this year count. For weeks there have been loud rumblings of a disagreement between the Web Summit organisers and the Irish government. The result of those very public childish spats was that this was the last year the Web Summit was planned to be in Ireland, so I had to make every second count.
I arrived early for the opening address on Tuesday, ready to network with some similarly minded people, shift social dynamics, disrupt social convention, all the things these types of gatherings entail. It's hard standing out at these things, so you really need to use all of your energy all of the time; almost without trying people were looking at me as soon as I entered the room.

"Interesting choice." said a man nearby me, but he turned away before I even had a chance to respond.
"Are you sure you're in the right place?" a woman asked me, and for the first time I had doubts.
RDS, check. 3rd November, check. All of the pieces were in place, but looking around at the other people gathering I couldn't help but notice everyone else looked a little different.
"I'm very sure that I am." I slowly replied. Get confident, Dave, I screamed internally. Network, diversify your social portfolio.
I took a deep breath. "My costume is a gender-swapped Gwen Stacey as Spider-Gwen, so I'm like Spider-Man but my costume is a little cooler. Do you like it?" I pulled up the hood to made it look a little sharper.
"Uhhhmm," she appeared nervous.
"Is it too on the nose? I know it's a WEB Summit, so I didn't want to go as the obvious Peter Parker Spider-Man but this Halloween costume was all I had, then I thought a lot of the other cosplayers here would do that too, so I improvised! My friend John came as Sailor Moon."
I should point out that he did not dress as a gender-swapped version.

I think she only then noticed the man with the ornate white and blue costume, behind the chest ribbon was a hairy chest in a stuffed bra. John was standing behind me, pulling down his obscenely short skirt.
"Howaya!" he bellowed.
"Is there an app or something here or are you just doing this?" a man turned to speak to me. I didn't understand a thing he was saying, but cosplayers are like that sometimes, they can have their own language based on their source material. Fandom can sound like a different language to some people. I tried to figure out what costume he was wearing.
"Um, thanks...." I was was blanking completely, looking at his smug stubbled face with a slightly heavier 'stache, his jeans, blazer. He was too young to have naturally cultivated that dense a sense of self-importance, I doubted he was even very far into his 20s, so he was definitely trying to look waaaaaay older. "Thanks, dad."
His face turned from welcoming to complete bafflement. Just like my dad when I wear these costumes, I must be right.
"Cool costume too. I like how you nailed his Sunday shirt, he always wears that blue shirt when he heads out on Sunday, your jacket's a little too clean though. Nice."
He shifted awkwardly, then without saying another word he turned and left to return to his group.

Holy sh*t, the penny dropped. All of this friends are dressed like different versions of my dad too. A lot of different variants of my dad's Sunday outfit of shirt and jeans with a suit jacket. One guy wearing those salmon polo shirts my mam got my dad for Christmas one year, I'd never seen my dad wear it but if he had he would have looked like that guy.
It's only when I stepped back that I realised how many people there were dressed like my dad. Some were dressed more like Alan Partridge, gold buttons awash on their jackets, that vacant yet vaguely satisfied look on their faces.

I stepped back and took a picture with my phone. Dad would really get a kick out of this, even the Partridges.

Opening Address/ Can of Worms
Myself and John found a seat in the main presentation area, and took in the opening address. We got there early, but still ended up missing most of it since I got into an argument with the guy sitting on front of me when one of my web-shooters misfired onto the back of his head. Then it happened again onto his glasses when he turned around.
"Sorry, dad!" I whispered. He barely looked at me twice before turning back.

"Keep it down, I'm trying to listen!" John whispered at me surprisingly loudly.
"This is boring, John. I'm bored. When do we get to disrupt shit up?" I was reading my cue cards. "These paradigms won't shift themselves, you know! Wait, what? 'Paradigms'?" I flicked through more of the cards.
"'Push the envelope'? 'Proactive'? 'SYNERGY'?! F**kin' SYNERGY, John?"
He looked at me, as did several others, obviously their attention had been caught for the same reasons as mine. "What lukewarm newspeak is this, John? This is 90s corporate bullsh*t AT BEST! There's not even a footnote of 'indexing the cloud' or 'lendership' or even f**kin' 'gamification'! What sort of conversation am I supposed to make with 'herding cats' as a talking point?!"
"Sorry, I'm going to have to ask you to step outside the auditorium." a voice urgently called from beside us.
"What? Both us us?! I'm not the *ssh*le who wrote 'core competencies' as if it was a thing! Where's the 'service oriented architecture', John?!"

Lunchtime Networking
After being escorted out of the opening address we just sort of wandered around for a bit trying to get our bearings of the heavy schedule of events ahead. We were highlighting talks, and checking timetables to make sure we wouldn't miss the big ones. I checked the time on my phone, looked for what was next.

"€20 for lunch?!" I exclaimed while doing a quick browse on Twitter to see what the vibe of the crowd was.
"No," John explained to me, "That's just for suckers who pre-booked lunch. You can get cheaper stuff at all of the food stalls, or you can run across the road?"
"Doesn't really matter what the price is," I assured him "I didn't really have room to pack my wallet in this outfit. Can you spot me?"
John's eyes swelled, I could tell his heart was breaking and the liquid flowing out was washing upwards. "I'm one of the suckers who pre-booked lunch." he squeaked.
"And you've nothing else?"
"I could share it with ya?"
"I don't want half a soggy burger."
"I'm getting a hotdog."
"I don't want half of your flacid-dick-dog either!"

"I'll have to network up myself a lunch. Wingman me." I moved towards a tight group of people.
They looked familiar, but everyone here looked so similar I was having a hard time telling if the 'Dad' costumes were really similar or if I'd met them already.
"Hi." one of them said with the tone of surprise that let me know my costume was new to him. It wasn't welcoming, but it wasn't dismissive, it was a hollow empty rehearsed sense of familiarity that conferences were known for.
"What're you guys talking about?" I asked them, playing it cool.
"We're talking about streamlining user interface and harnessing familiarity across unrelated apps in a seamless web environment." Dad #1 said.
"Oh," they had me caught off guard, my dad was a carpenter, they'd gone off-script for character, but I had to play along. I couldn't give up on looking for a free meal this quick. "The only thing I know how to capture in a web environment is criminals." I gestured towards my empty web-slinger.
They all laughed, "That's really funny! So you're in cyber security? That's what this is! A friend of mine works as an engineer providing risk evaluation in darknet connected systems. You guys should talk!"
"Yes, uh, we should." I could feel beads of sweat forming on my head. I was sure they couldn't see them yet, because I still had my mask on, but it was only a matter of time before the liquid absorbed into the material and they could all see.

Another man came across, Dad #1 made some introductions while Dad #2 held his phone at an outward angle so he could dart his eyes between the phone, me, and Dad #1.
"Sounds really good, and I like your pitch." Dad #2 said. "Tell you what, I'll earmark €20,000 of my investment fund for you, put something a little more comprehensive together and I can fit you in between one of the round table discussions. 3:35 sound good? Gotta dash."
With that he was gone, so were the gathered group, wandering off distracted and hungry to nearby food stalls. From the emptiness John returned, "Did you manage to get any money for lunch?"
"Uuhhmm, I think someone said they were gonna give me €20,000."
"Yeah, but, like, not now now. I have to talk to him later."
"Well, what are you gonna do now?"

I looked around confused, I was getting cranky hungry, no doubt about it. Then I remembered where I was. "John, do you remember the last time we saw someone turn a quite buck when we were in the RDS? Remember when we were working at the Christmas on Ice ice-skating thing, there was that woman giving out blowjobs and handjobs at the back behind the main backdrop? Like, a tenner each! Sure, we got her kicked out, but I'm pretty sure that means this is our turf now. If anyone is backstage so much as being digitally enabled on his own privates network IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, then we are owed a licensing fee!"
"Looks like this start up is about to be shut down!" John yelled, pulling down his skirt once again, turning towards the crowd.
We rushed back to the main stage area,

Closing Summary
Quicker than you could say "Is anyone giving Dan Brown a blowie back there?" we were turfed out. Sat outside, the relatively cold November air cooling us down, the soft breeze whispering calm thoughts to us, we took inventory of our day.

"They definitely won't let us back in tomorrow. With or without costumes." I reminded John. "We can say goodbye to that €20,000, that's for sure."
John lit a cigarette. "On the plus side, look at those coloured sheep." he gestured over to an enclosure where sheep were painted an array of bright colours, a handful of people stood around stretching their arms in for decent pictures.
The sheep were pretty great, I had to give him that.
"It's be great if we just saw a corgi or something running in after them. Dunno why. The sheep just look bored, like they need exercise." I ventured.
"Corgis are great, but imagine if a f**kin' great dane ran in there!"
"Imagine if you ran in there!"
"Imagine if YOU ran in there!" he replied, then looked at me, taking a long drag from his cigarette.
"The security guard will probably stop us, he's eyeing us up again. Think he wanted us to go all the way out of the RDS, not just past the doors."
"We can make it to the pen before he can make it to us, just sayin'. Really give those guys something to take a picture of."
"F**k it, then we can head for some cans in mine after!"

We both stood slowly, gazed over at the security guard who was staring more intently than ever at us. John threw down his smoke, crushed it out with his foot.
The security guard loosened his stance.
Without even a warning we both bolted at the same time, I'm not sure if the security guard stood confused or in awe of our dash, whatever his delay he definitely didn't reach us before we got into the sheep paddock, and he needed a lot of back-up to get us out of there.

So, yes, the Web Summit. Mixed bag really.

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