SXSW’s thirtieth anniversary year is actually only the twenty-third for Interactive—the third section to the conference was first introduced in 1994. Since then, it’s brought a plethora of innovative speakers and ideas that have helped turn the conference, and Austin itself, into a destination for those exploring new landscapes in technology and media. Some noteworthy speakers have included Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Elon Musk, and Chelsea Clinton.
This year SXSW has outdone themselves by securing President Barack Obama for an Interactive Keynote Conversation on Friday, March 11. First Lady Michelle Obama takes the keynote spot at SXSW Music next week on March 16. Their presence this year marks the first time in SXSW history that a sitting president and first lady have participated in SXSW. After an opening keynote from Casey Gerald, an entrepreneur and native Texan, with Texas Monthly’s own Jeff Salamon, President Obama will be joining Evan Smith, the CEO and editor in chief of the Texas Tribune to discuss civic engagement through technology.
While this conversation may be the one you don’t want to miss, not everybody won Thursday night’s drawing to attend the keynote in person. If you didn’t get lucky in the drawing, President Obama’s keynote is one of the 60 session that will be livestreamed this year. Of the many other keynotes and featured sessions at SXSW, there’s the recurring reflection of our social climate while introducing innovations for the future. Whether you’ll be sitting in live or catching them on a livestream, here are the keynotes and featured sessions that you won’t want to miss.
Tech Diversity: Why We’re Still Talking About It – Saturday, March 12 3:30PM – 4:30PM
One downside of the diversity in tech conservation is that there’s been so much talk, but not enough action. If Austin’s on it’s way to being the next tech hub—if it isn’t there already—an ability to actually understand and implement diversity initiatives is a must. Tracy Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest, hopes to provide some insight and actionable items so we can finally stop talking and make some progress.
Race in America with Ken Burns and Henry Louis Gates – Saturday, March 12 5:00PM – 6:00PM
The national conversations around race, particularly America’s history with it, has taken an interesting turn in the past few years. Who better to help us trace the path of how we got to where we are today than Henry Gates, the writer and host of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots” series. Together with Ken Burns—the documentary filmmaker with the style so distinctive he has a iMovie effect named after him—and moderated by USC Professor Todd Boyd, this session will explore what race means in America today.
Kerry Washington and the New Rules of Social Stardom – Sunday, March 13 11:00AM – 12:00PM
If the use of social media as self expression and self promotion is fraught enough for the average person, what does that look like for celebrities? As people begin calling more for the input of celebrities on social movements and political causes, how does an Emmy-nominated actress navigate the boundaries of maintaining stardom and a personal life?
Elephant in the Valley – Sunday, March 13 2:00PM – 3:00PM
Ellen Pao’s gender discrimination trial last year made a few things very clear: namely that men were unaware of the challenges women face in the workspace, and especially in the tech industry. Michele Madansky and Trae Vassallo will give a keynote exploring the findings of “Elephant in the Valley,” a survey on gender bias primarily in Silicon Valley. They’ll be joined by Laura Weidman Powers, the co-founder and CEO of CODE2040, a nonprofit focused on creating opportunities for black and Latino engineers. United States Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith will also contribute insight into the Obama administration’s efforts to battle gender disparity in tech.
Beyond Traffic: The Emergence of a Connected City – Sunday, March 13 3:30PM – 4:30PM
Traffic is a problem near and dear to Texans—Dallas, Houston, and Austin are frequently finding their way to the top of lists of the most gridlocked cities in the U.S. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation kicked off their Smart City Challenge and invited cities to create solutions to help address issues that arise in areas with rapidly increasing populations. Lubbock and Austin were on the list of 78 cities that submitted plans. U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will host a conversation with the five finalists of the challenge and the winning city will be rewarded with $40 million to implement their plan.
Anthony Bourdain as Interviewed by Nathan Thornburgh – Sunday, March 13 3:30PM – 4:30PM
Travel—and all the food porn pictures that come with it—has definitely become a hot commodity. But how to do you spice it up without repeating the same patterns of envy-inducing lists and images? Who better to ask than Anthony Bourdain, the host of CNN’s Parts Unknown and partner of Roads and Kingdoms.
Dude, Where’s My Patriarchy? – Monday, March 14 11:00AM – 12:00PM
We can all agree that this election year’s been rather interesting. When you’ve got a leading presidential candidate who feels comfortable talking about the size of his hands and other body parts in a national debate, it’s worth taking a look at exactly how we got here. Led by a group of professional women, from an associate editor of of The New York Times and Democratic communications specialist, tune into this session for the answer to the age-old question: “Does American politics have a bro problem?”
We the People: Using Tech to Solve Big Challenges – Monday, March 14 11:00AM – 12:00PM
Want to know how the government’s using technology to push social and political change? Ask the government! Hear from the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, U.S. Digital Service Deputy Administrator, Digital Services Expert, and Policy Advisor to the CTO on how they’re using data to make government services more accessible and increase transparency among local police departments.
Accessing the Inaccessible: Evolving Search – Monday, March 14 12:30PM – 1:30PM
Google might have taken over most of our lives, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be Google as we know it. Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter and Medium, and Danny Sullivan, founder of Search Engine Land, as they reflect on and challenge the search engine algorithms we rely on now.
Swipe Left or Right: The Latino Millennial Vote – Tuesday, March 15 12:30PM – 1:30PM
In an election year in which Latino immigrants have been increasingly vilified, it’s time for there to be more attention given to the voting power of Latino voters, especially as the “minority” is well on its way to no longer being a minority. As the founding president and CEO of Voto Latino, María Teresa Kumar has actively worked in exploring ways of increasing Latino millennials in the voting process.