Oliver Daniel

Web Summit 2015: A volunteer’s experience

‘I had a week of uni during 2015, yet it was an easy decision to make the journey to Dublin to attend Web Summit in November. In five or ten years time, I’m going to remember a decision which potentially changed my life, not the lectures I missed.

So why did I think this experience was potentially life changing? It changed the way I think, resulted in a googler referring my cv and made my mind up on what I want to do in the future. I felt at home, surrounded by 40,000 likeminded people.


I ended my working day early with PolicyBristol to travel to the airport and catch a flight to Dublin. Arriving at the airport with no idea what I was doing, I quickly googled the RDS on my phone and caught a bus to collect my Web Summit t-shirt at 9pm, just an hour an hour before the Volunteers’ hub closed. I didn’t check in to my hostel (hey, I’m a student) till 10 and after a quick pint (of lager, still haven’t been converted to Guinness), caught an early night.

Painfully early the next morning I got up and found my way to the bus stop to head back to the RDS. I had no idea at all what I was doing – I arrived at my shift slightly earlier than other volunteers, and no team leader had arrived. After fifteen minutes of wandering, other volunteers started arriving (not kidding, look at my view from the stage). None of us knew quite what we were meant to be doing however. When attendees began filing in to the main arena and still no team leader was present, we just started doing what we thought would be helpful! This brings me onto the only real negative experience as a Web Summit volunteer – organisation (at least of our team) was non-existent.

I was delighted to be an usher on the centre stage, which seemed to me to be the absolute best role. Although we didn’t have access to the speakers’ lounge or backstage, being on the centre stage we were able to help out attendees and delegates whilst also hearing some of the most exciting and cutting edge talks of the entire conference, and viewing the best fucking stage I’ve ever seen. Indeed at quieter times we were able to rotate and sit right in front of the stage.

The real experience of Web Summit however began once my shift ended. As volunteers we were then free to explore the entire conference on our own. I discovered some exciting startups, experienced Google cardboard and Oculus Rift for the first time (there was a virtual reality ministry of sound experience!). I also chatted to Google employees and made friends with other volunteers, meeting and networking with some fucking incredible people doing amazing things.

The Facebook showcase was the only disappointment. Whilst they were showcasing the most cutting edge and exciting work with Oculus, the long queues, some rude staff and the discovery that none of the staff were in fact Facebook employees, and were instead from a promotional agency hired by Facebook, tainted the experience.

Each day I heard some incredible talks from speakers including Ed Catmull (Pixar), Michael Dell, the CTO of Facebook, and even sporting superstars. Some of the highlights included the Internet Privacy discussion (click here for a rant about Theresa May), Palmer Lucky’s (Oculus CEO) talk and a neuroscientist’s work in redefining the human ‘umwelt.

The experience was ridiculously good. The best thing about WebSummit was undoubtedly just being surrounded by 40,000 likeminded friendly people, all in love with technology. I had fascinating discussions about each other’s work, politics and of course technology with people I had met 30 seconds ago. I felt at home in this environment. Plus, (although it wasn’t particularly subtle) I even got a quick picture with Steve Angello!

Night Summit was a fairly surreal experience. Travelling to one of Ireland’s more bizarre clubs, we walked in to find many Tech giants, dancing to Shakira. Apparently the CEO of Tinder, Sean Rad, was even in the club!

This just sums up the entire experience of WebSummit for me – just absolutely incredible. It felt like I had no clue at all what I was doing half the time, but at the same time I felt at home. I met some incredible people, made back my flight costs in free t-shirts, and most importantly it changed the way I think. Web Summit has just convinced me that the technology industry is what I want to pursue in the future. My LinkedIn connections have certainly increased, and following Web Summit I was headhunted on LinkedIn for the first time.

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