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Our pick of the events at Leeds Digital Festival

The Leeds Digital Festival 2019 has finally begun, and this year it’s going to be bigger and better than ever before. With 235 events across some of the City’s most admired venues, there’s sure to be something for everyone, whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out in the world of tech.

As with previous years, the events held throughout the Festival are always essential dates in the diary for anyone involved in the tech scene, but the largest Digital Festival outside the Capital isn’t aimed purely at those who work in the sector. With such diversity, it would be hard to find many people who wouldn’t be interested in at least one or two of the events on offer; to keep up with the latest digital developments, to network, learn, build up your skillset or simply get involved in some eye-opening discussions about the many possibilities technology can bring to Leeds.

If you’re not already planning to visit then we urge you to check out the schedule.  We are one day in and many of the events are already sold out, so you need to act if you don’t want to miss out. We’re not exaggerating when we say there’s something for everyone; whether you’re a student looking at the potential of starting a tech career or the CEO of a business that could benefit from new digital developments, you’re bound to find the right event for you.

So, what can you expect from the Leeds Digital Festival 2019? Here’s what some of the key players have to say about the highlights, benefits and exciting events that this year has to offer.

Women in Leeds Digital

It’s already shaping up to be one of the headline events for this year.  The Women in Leeds Digital (WiLD for short) all day event at NEXUS is certainly one you don’t want to miss. It’s incredible to think that in such a short time, founders Deb Hetherington and Sarah Tulip have begged, stolen (maybe not) and borrowed from their vast networks of people in the sector to put together this impressive lineup of over 50 speakers as your first event.

You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking they had been doing this sort of thing for a while but it’s been no walk in the park. Speaking of the challenge Deb said, “There’s a lot to it. I mean, just the thought that you’re coordinating more than 50 speakers in a day and you’ve got something like 500 delegates coming through the door is scary! And it’s not just the speakers, either. We’ve got drop-in sessions, we’ve got workshops, we’ve got all sorts of different things.”

Sarah Tulip & Deb Hetherington

Tech for Good

There’s a lot of money in tech and in some circles, the industry can get a bad rep. In a way that’s understandable when millions are spent every year on one failed startup after another. To buck this trend there is an increasing number of people who are using their skills and experience to help those in need, and at this year’s festival, you’ll find some good examples of this.

Rich Sutcliffe recently setup Agency for Good to offer ethical digital marketing services to the third sector and nonprofits. Rich is holding an event called All You Good Good People which hopes to bring people together from the tech and third sectors to start some interesting and much-needed conversations.

You’ll also find the 2 day hackathon, Hack for Good and the Tech for Good event by Ayup and mHabitat, which founder Steve Taylor hopes will be the first in a series of quarterly events aimed to get people together to celebrate their Tech for Good projects and encourage collaboration.

Innovation

A big part of the Digital Festival every year is highlighting all of the amazing work Leeds’ tech organisations are doing throughout the City. But this isn’t about companies showing off; their developments and creations are shared at the Festival’s events so everyone can see how tech can help improve businesses, essential services and even lives.

For example, HealthTech is a huge industry in Leeds, and it has many wide-ranging applications. Victoria Betton – founder and managing director of mHabitat – is running the 100% Digital Leeds, the health and care theme for the Festival, which involves organising 20 separate events looking at every aspect of digital technology within the public sector.

“That’s everything from digital inclusion in relation to refugees and asylum seekers, through to the ethics of artificial intelligence, through to children, young people, digital technologies and mental health,” Victoria said. “It’s a real celebration of digital health and social care.”

Victoria Betton

Getting Hands-On

A perfect example of the hands-on approach you’ll get at many of this year’s events is the now sold out chatbot event being run by Simon de Timary, head of the Innovation Labs at BJSS. Called ‘Chatbot Hack Night’, it will give attendees a chance to use the company’s innovative accelerator programme to design their own bot by the time the event is over.

“We’ll guide people through how to use the accelerator, we’ll show them on the screen what it does and what it’s functionalities are,” said Simon. “Then we give it back to them. We let them access it and play with it, try to create their own chatbot with it, so within two hours they’ll be able to produce a chatbot very easily.”

The event sold out so quickly that there’s already talk of organising a second instalment, but regardless there are plenty of other hands-on events just like this going on during the Digital Festival, so just head over to their events page and see if there’s something you might enjoy.

Learning

The amount of information that flows during the Festival is immense, and attendees will have a chance to really broaden their knowledge and develop their skills. “No matter what sector you’re in, no matter what organisation you’re working with – public sector, private sector, it doesn’t matter; it’s a chance to come together, share experiences and learn together,” said Liz Whitefield, Director at Hippo Digital.

The number of topics on offer is too big to list. You could go along to the first in our very own series of workshops in association with Hippo Campus. First up is Agile which will be run by Indigo Blue in collaboration with Graft Talent agency and delivered by world-class Agile trainer Laurence Wood. If you have any interest in Agile this event is a must.

Alternatively, you could head over to the new University of Leeds building, NEXUS, on May 1st to find out about how digital technologies can be used to augment learning. Helen Billington, manager of the University’s Digital Education Service, is running the event to highlight how “digital skills are the skills everybody needs for the future”.

There’s no need for any prior knowledge with most of these events. While some will take you through advanced concepts, there are plenty of opportunities for people with no digital experience whatsoever to dip their toes into the water, whether that’s to see if it might be a good career or just as a matter of interest.

Becky Boyd, director of social media marketing firm Social Media Geek, will be running “Get Your Business Seen Online” with the Digital Garage from Google, on April 29th. “Any business can learn a new skill at the Leeds Digital Festival,” she said. “Everything is on offer, from basic digital skills to in-depth techniques.”

Helen Billington

Collaboration

“The things that stand out for me are where you see people coming away from events and actually chatting to people afterwards and building up those real partnerships,” said Stuart Clarke, one of the Festival’s founders and organisers. He’s not alone; one of the most popular elements of the Festival is the way in which it encourages collaboration between people of all different stripes.

For some organisations, this is an opportunity to find new talent; and, of course, it’s a great place for budding professionals to make the contacts they need to start their career in tech. For example, John Hudson from Yorkshire Water said: “For us, the Festival is the perfect place to meet like-minded people, learn about where they’ve gone with their journeys and understand the talent that’s out there and whether or not there’s the potential for those people to join the company and help us with our programme of work.”

For others, it’s a matter of meeting like-minded businesses to collaborate with, strengthening each other’s offerings. This is something that’s happened time and time again in the Festival’s history.

Stuart Clarke has seen this happen many times before: “We had some cracking examples last year where people went along to an event, saw someone speaking and approached them afterwards and they’re actually working together now. I think we’ll see more of that going forward.”

Whatever you’re hoping to get out of it, it’s clear that the Leeds Digital Festival will be there to meet your needs. From April 23rd to May 3rd, the City will be full of panels, lectures, workshops and networking sessions that you can go to in order to broaden your mind, meet future colleagues or simply enjoy being a part of Leeds’ thriving tech scene.

See all of the Festival’s events details here.

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