Web Summit 2014 – A Volunteer’s Experience

It was very last minute, my decision to sign up to be a volunteer at last year’s Web Summit. I had considered it for a while but I was very on the fence about it. It wasn’t until two weeks before the Summit when I saw they were lacking in volunteers that I adopted the “Ah sure why not?” attitude and signed up. It wasn’t a very ideal time to be taking time off college assignments-wise, but if anything it would be an unforgettable experience and I knew I’d regret not doing it. And at the end of the day, the Web Summit – the biggest technology conference in Europe – was something that was very relevant to my course.

As the Web Summit was drawing closer and all the volunteers were being allocated different shifts over the course of the 3 days, I found that I had been assigned the role of external assistant. I’ll be completely honest and say I initially had no idea what this meant. I was told that because I was a last minute volunteer that the job of external assistant was one of the less coveted roles at the Web Summit. This may have disappointed me initially but I needn’t have been worried in the slightest. Being part of this amazing conference in any shape of form was the greatest experience ever.

My first shift began on Wednesday at 7am, that put my struggle to get up for my 9am lectures in perspective! (The most stressful part of the week was having to get dressed at 5 in the morning in a pitch black hostel room that I shared with 7 strangers).

When I arrived to a (more or less empty) volunteer hub at five to 7, I was brought straight down to the speaker registration tent with one other volunteer as there were volunteers needed there immediately.

Here we were introduced to a whole team of extremely busy and hardworking people who had been up and going much earlier than myself. The leader in what appeared to be an impressively efficient and seamless operation was Ross O’ Mahony. He seemed to be in total control of everything, solved any problem that arose at the drop of a hat and knew every single speaker who walked into that tent over the course of those 3 days. He was constantly on top of everything and his control and supervision over the entire operation made the whole experience comforting and easygoing.2014-11-05 15.01.12

Our training for the role of registering the speakers took less than 5 minutes. All that was involved was putting the speaker’s name in the system, confirming their information and printing out their credentials for their lanyard. We were told that the most important part of the job was being extremely welcoming and friendly to the speakers when they came in as we were the first point of contact for these people.

And not just any people. Some of the individuals who entered that tent over the 3 days were some of the greatest innovators and entrepreneurs of our world today. I felt so privileged just to greet and briefly converse with these hugely successful people. Do you know what it feels like to ask someone for their driver’s license as proof of identity only to confirm that they’re the CEO of The Wallstreet Journal?

There were also entertaining moments such as attaching the speaker wristband just above the glitzy watch of a very dapper and charismatic man only for him to walk away and one of our supervisors to make the comment “I couldn’t buy that watch with 10 years worth of salaries”.

But I was pleasantly surprised at how friendly and just downright lovely everyone was. It couldn’t have been plainer that the majority of these speakers lead rich and glamorous lives. They could easily have considered themselves incredibly important and looked down at us volunteers like we weren’t worthy of their time. But nearly everyone who walked in was so enthusiastic and just seemed so happy to be there, it was such a pleasure to work with such positive and well-spirited people. (With maybe the exception of Lily Cole who wouldn’t cooperate with anyone and refused to wear her wristband).

And how cool is it that I got to print out the credentials for the legendary Tony Hawk?

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Me trying out Aerlingus’s new first class seating design (and most certainly not a photo posted to Twitter in a bid to win free flights)

With regards to the rest of the summit, I couldn’t believe that I got access to this amazing spectacle for free. With just a few hours of (very enjoyable) work, I got to experience what most people paid a handsome fee for. I assure you that I milked this for all it was worth! I spent every spare moment walking around the exhibits and attending the various talks that were on. It was fascinating to see all the innovative and entrepreneurial individuals share their experiences and their nuggets of wisdom. Wandering around and visiting the stands of the start-up companies was one of the most exciting aspects of the summit because it just showed you how crazily advanced the technology we’ve created is becoming. I got to experience a 3D printer, an interactive sound board, oculus rift, glove technology and so many other seemingly impossible creations.  To think that these inventions could be part of our daily lives in years to come is nearly unfathomable.

I didn’t have the time to attend many talks I was interested in but all the volunteers were welcome to the Student Summit that was taking place on Wednesday night. This involved a number of specialised speakers who aimed their talks at the youth hoping to break into the technology industry and what it takes to spark success from a young age. The standout speakers for me were our very own David McWilliams, the creators of Dropbox, and an 18 year old who is literally creating a new branch of science and technology to cure cancer. EIGHTEEN.

Volunteering at the Web Summit was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and definitely the highlight of my year. I’m so glad I decided to go for it and sign myself up to be a volunteer. It was such a rewarding experience with many, MANY benefits. Here’s to next year’s Web Summit being as successful as the last!

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