During the week of November 9 – 14, thousands of registrants took part in a virtual conference for tech entrepreneurs, employees and students. It was the fourth iteration of Blavity’s AfroTech conference and the most immersive digital conference I’ve been a part of, including a life-like virtual experience designed to mimic a live event. This year’s AfroTech World was also a first for Blue Prism, who was among the companies who sponsored the conference. Black Professionals in Intelligent Automation (BP in IA) was formed earlier this year and having a presence at AfroTech aligned with our vision to bring more Black men and women into the intelligent automation space. To support these efforts, Blue Prism hosted a booth in the Expo Hall, and volunteers from BP in IA came aboard to share information about Blue Prism’s intelligent automation offerings and culture and connect with other attendees.
After entering the virtual environment and customizing my avatar, I quickly saw the ways AfroTech World emulated a live conference. Navigating past others, I could hear conversations fade in and out, and conference session videos played automatically, as one would expect. Something new for me, however, was that I could find my way to a seat, then enlarge the video to fill the screen. There was even a scrolling chat with a search function to find current attendees and a counter to let you know how many people were in your current room.
I quickly learned the importance of using names or signifiers such as, ‘Hi, I like your hat!’ to clarify who I was addressing in open spaces. In that way, I got a chance to talk to a student about his interests and invite him to learn about Blue Prism. Thankfully, there were a plethora of private, ‘quiet spaces’ that enabled small groups to get away for a quick chat when needed.
Unlike an in-person conference, I couldn’t spend full weekdays attending sessions, but I did catch a few on Saturday, the conference’s last day. Viewing #afrotechworld will show highlights on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. Some of the gems I heard and experienced are below.
- From a conversation on how to gain sponsorship:
“Be known, Be excellent, Build broad relationships, Know how the organization works.”
- Susan E. Chapman-Hughes EVP, Global Head of Digital Capabilities, Transformation and Operations, GCS American Express
- During a talk about personal and company branding:
“Be clear about 4 things: Who you are, What you do, Why you do it, & How you do it."
- Detavio Samuels, COO, REVOLT Media
- Taking group pictures with my colleagues’ avatars, gaining and sharing avatar tips along the way.
- Attempting to drive a boat (yes, AfroTech World had a virtual dock, boats, and much more!), failing, and making friends with someone who figured it out.
- Attending the virtual post sessions Club space with colleagues.
During her talk, Chapman-Hughes remarked that “Organizational awareness and visibility is key.”
This remains poignant whether focused on oneself or expended to the automation industry.
Outfit changes and avatar learning curves aside, I was proud to represent myself, intelligent automation and Blue Prism at AfroTech World this year. We received more than 50 responses to our booth survey and already have improvements in mind for next year, virtual or not. I’m looking forward to continuing to highlight the breadth of what ‘automation + AI = intelligent automation’ can mean for diverse groups.