Back in February I attended the Future of Web Apps (FOWA) in Miami and BarCampMiami held in the same venue. My boyfriend is a developer so he wanted to attend this conference. I decided to go with him since it was semi-close to home and I wanted to learn more about the tech industry.
Essentially, my experience at FOWA was doing participant observation of the developer side of the tech industry. A large part of the speakers and materials covered was over my head since I have a limited knowledge but I learned a lot. I did walk away learning like I knew a bit more about their processes but more importantly I feel like I gained insight into their world. The majority of the talks focused on the development process and excluded user-centered research, or mentions of users in general. To be fair, the audience was likely interested in the former more than the later. I commented to someone that FOWA felt very developer-centric and lacked a focus on users. Their response was something to the effect of “users aren’t part of the process.” To be sure, they *should* be.
BarCampMiami was useful in that the presenters only focused on the basics of what they were discussing, i.e. OpenID, OAuth, etc. I actually learned about the subjects they presented rather than gained insight into the tech industry.
Last week I attended SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX and BarCampAustin. My experience at BarCampAustin was similar to that of Miami and I learned a lot (and had fun, BarCampAustin rocked!). SXSW was a different experience from FOWA for me though. In addition to gaining insight into and about the development process of web apps, software, etc. I became inspired by listening to the developers talk about their research.
This process of listening to people talk about their experiences to gain insights in/for research is nothing new if you’re familiar with anthropology. In listening to the developers, etc. discuss their research I discovered/thought of many ways that anthropological research could help their processes and goals. This is good knowledge to have when you’re looking for internships (me 😉 or if you want to do consulting work.
All and all, I really enjoyed FOWA, SXSWi, and both BarCamps. Given that most practicing/applied anthropologists will have a professional counterpart (for tech design research it’s designers/developers, for medical anthropology maybe it’s doctors, for educational anthropologists it’s teachers, etc.) and I believe that attending your counterparts’ conferences, etc. will be very valuable for you to be able to communicate with that communicate.