Code Conference 2018: Three Trends Worth Noting

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I just left this year’s Code Conference and I took ample inspiration and positive energy with me.

This was my first time attending, and I walked away incredibly impressed. From the conference’s hospitality to the impressive interview styles of Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka, I greatly admire everyone involved in putting this event together.

As someone who frequents conferences across the entertainment and media industries, I was eager to discover how Code differentiates itself from the rest.

Going in, I was especially curious to see how the tech industry is responding to the larger cultural conversations happening… everything from brand safety to workplace diversity.

Since many of the key players in tech are agency partners of one kind or another, I was looking forward to hearing insights straight from the sources.

Each day was full of solid power players commanding the stage including Snap’s Evan Spiegel, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Spotify’s Daniel Ek and beyond. After three days packed with content, there are three trends that stood out to me the most.

1. Compromise is back in fashion

From antitrust cases to newfound conversations around data privacy, Microsoft’s Brad Smith summed up what I think the industry needs to hear loud and clear now more than ever — “compromise takes courage.”

From his own personal experience, he identified the need for leaders to better embrace compromise especially in the early stages of a conflict. His point was that energy spent on unnecessary conflict is energy pulled from more flourishing opportunities that await you — which are abundant in today’s global economy.

The spirit of this was emphasized even further by Senator Mark Warner. To sum it up, he told a room of tech executives that they would be wise to define oversight with Congress today. He spoke to the fact that if bad stuff continues to happen on their platforms, then Congress will be forced to address it — and that won’t be a good outcome for anyone (considering they know very little about the fast-moving tech industry).

And while we know it can be hard to work with folks you may not like, I thought Airbnb’s Co-Founder, Brian Chesky, had some good advice for the room to consider — when people hate you, talk with them more, not less.

From his experience, he believes they will hate you less after engaging with them rather than not addressing them at all.

Based on that sentiment, I’m expecting a new spirit of compromise (even if simply out of necessity in this new climate).

2. With great power comes great responsibility… to change your talking points

  • We should have tried harder to see this problem
  • Here is the laundry list of things we are doing now in response to knowing the problem
  • We are a better company having gone through this and have so much more we plan to do

This is the most recent playbook for crisis management that seems clichéd. Is it just me, or does it sound like all tech companies use the same publicist (or maybe just the same speaking coach)?

With all the data and brains in these organizations, could no one spot wide-spread inequalities in their workforce? Gaping holes in data privacy? I’m not buying it, nor is anyone else.

The more I listened to the tired talking points, the more disappointed I was to watch this amazing opportunity for great leadership fade. These major companies have the fortunate ability to shape a new societal role of business leaders in our world.

And yet, the talking points are unchanged.

I did appreciate a point from Airbnb’s Brian Chesky who said (and I paraphrase), “the moment you create something that people become accustomed to using, you have a responsibility to care for them.”

This mindset should apply to all business leaders to have a larger, more holistic view rather than just that of a quarterly earnings call. If you want to make the world a better place, you can’t hide from hard conversations.

Contrarily, you should run right into them.

That’s what I believe the world needs — right now — from these very capable leaders, instead of stale talking points.

3. Diversity is a trending topic (let’s hope it stays that way)

One of the things I admired most about the conference was the organizers’ effort to put a diverse range of leadership on stage and in the audience. I even spent time with some amazing students of UCLA who were invited to the event — the future talent of the industry.

When asked how AT&T has been successful in building a diverse workplace, Chairman and CEO, Randall Stephenson, had a profound and quick response that stood out. He simply stated, “we made it a priority.”

He acknowledged that if it’s not a priority at the leadership level of the organization, then it can’t be at the bottom. It seems obvious, but it is clearly not common practice or a prime concern everywhere. Some speakers clearly demurred when asked about this topic.

It’s not that I believe companies don’t want to have inclusive and diverse workplaces; but rather, some companies treat it as a forethought, a reaction, or a secondary duty.

During the last session of the conference, Patty McCord, who worked on helping shape the overall Netflix culture, said something I hope helps shape the leadership in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Simply put, she said to focus on the company you want to be and not just the company you are today. She went on to say that it’s important to create a great company where people aspire to be and are proud to have on their resume.

Through this lens of vision, amazing progress of diversity and inclusion won’t just become possible, it’ll become reality.

Congratulations to the Vox and Recode teams for a successful event. I hope to see you again next year.

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