TechIE—IE University’s annual student-led tech conference—is usually a lively, dynamic gathering where students come together with professionals from around the world to learn and engage collectively about our role in an ever-growing tech-enabled society. However, in our post-COVID19 world, this year’s conference had to do what technology so frequently requires us to do: adapt. Despite the challenges, IE’s student leaders were able to deliver a successful TechIE event in a purely digital format.
I had been looking forward to TechIE since I first learned about the event when I began the Master in Cybersecurity in October 2019. I’d seen the photos—a polished, professional conference full of curious students and industry leaders discussing the future of technology and humanity. Very on-brand for IE.
I’d always imagined myself arriving at the conference, dressed well in a fresh black suit, no tie. I had pictured myself attending a panel and sitting toward the front, prepared to ask some insightful questions. I had looked forward to the networking opportunities that would naturally arise from the event.
But this year, TechIE was a bit…different. Rather than showing up to IE campus wearing a nice suit, I was tuning in from my couch, wearing sweatpants and a tank top. Rather than engaging with professionals face-to-face, I was asking my questions through an online chat platform.
It wasn’t the way I’d always pictured it, but nevertheless, the event was a resounding success. Despite the difficulties posed by COVID-19-related restrictions and a few technical difficulties, the content, discussions, and engagement between the students and professionals did not suffer whatsoever. In fact, quite the contrary. The backdrop of the global coronavirus crisis and the newly digital format of TechIE introduced a number of insightful discussions about adaptability in a post-COVID-19 world.
The conference kicked off with a rousing introduction from the two student co-leaders of TechIE: Tyesha Tucker & Henri Freese. Their passion and excitement for TechIE, as well as all the work they had put into preparing it, were abundantly clear through their enthusiasm and eloquence. IE Chief Learning Officer Nick Van Dam completed the introduction with an encouraging speech about the benefits of e-learning and a reminder that we should “continuously reinvent ourselves and develop a lifelong learning mindset.”
I had the pleasure of discussing the event with Freese afterward, and he, like Van Dam, believes in the value and opportunities in e-learning.
“Since the virus, we’ve been able to watch this rapid shift from physical to digital,” says Freese, “and we have now gained a new perspective on how to improve both physical and online education.”
The first event of the conference was a finance panel focused on the power of new FinTech solutions and their ability to disrupt the market and give big traditional players a run for their money. The first unique aspect of this session was seeing how the digital format of TechIE allowed the panel to consist of people spread out all across Europe—another silver lining in the dark cloud that has been COVID-19. One point made by Francisco Sierra, Director of European Markets at N26, really encapsulated the core of the whole conversation. He explained how N26, among other newer FinTech companies, leverages technology to create a much leaner company. As a result, they are able to provide customers with everything they want at a cheaper price while also undercutting bigger, more traditional banks.
“The future will come earlier”
The next session, a panel entitled “Rethinking Healthcare through a Digital Lens,” was incredibly relevant to the current global crisis. This was the first point at which the recurring theme of viewing the crisis as an opportunity was introduced. In terms of health care, it’s an opportunity to review the basics, the things we’ve taken for granted. On the providers’ side, they’re now forced to ask themselves questions like, “Do we have enough supply?” and “Do we have enough available staff to manage losing several doctors from the roster?” On the patients’ side, we’re now asking ourselves questions like, “Do I really need to go into the doctor to refill my prescription?” According to panelist Lina Shadid, Partner & Digital Health Lead at PwC, “the silver lining is that the future will come earlier” as a result of collaboration and virtualization.
When pressed about how the pandemic affected the planning of the event, Freese declares, “the COVID-19 pandemic was the greatest thing to ever happen to TechIE.” He continues, “the pandemic has impeded our everyday lives in ways that we’ve never witnessed before, and it has taught us the importance of our move toward digitalization. And the pandemic has really accelerated that movement.”
The following session centered around a presentation from Elena Cardiel García, the manager of Fab Lab at IE School of Architecture and Design. She gave an inspiring demonstration of IE’s participation in the international Coronavirus Makers initiative. When there was a major shortage of critical medical equipment during the peak of the pandemic in Spain, IE Fab Lab 3D-printed large quantities of plastic visors and facial coverings for hospitals all over Spain. They fabricated and delivered essential items in hours and days, while health care authorities and manufacturers would have required weeks to produce and deliver similar quantities. It was a perfect demonstration of both social responsibility and also how we all must adapt to new needs in times of crisis. This was something that really made me feel proud to be a part of IE.
We then received a presentation by two IBM representatives who work as part of their quantum computing team. I have been fascinated by this emerging technology for some time now, so I was extra excited for this session. They began by explaining the basics of how quantum computing functions, and continued with a demonstration of how it will revolutionize fields such as machine learning and chemistry. They also shared some of IBM’s publicly available quantum computing resources, where you can even tinker with a real quantum computer via the cloud.
For a deeper dive into quantum computing, be sure to check out my article about how it works and the impact it will have on our future.
The last event of the day was a panel discussion titled, “How to balance technology, social recovery, and data privacy.” In this session, we dove into the human element of technology, which felt like a fitting way to conclude the day’s events. One point that really stood out to me was the importance of intentionality. We shouldn’t create new technologies just because we can; we must also consider the social, economic, and ethical repercussions to determine which technologies we should create.
In the words of Henri Freese, “We frequently don’t understand the human impact of technology, and if we don’t understand the human impact, we won’t develop technologies for bettering humanity.”
TechIE 2020: looking to the future
Dean of IE Business School, Martin Boehm, wrapped up TechIE with a reflection on the day’s insights and an optimistic vision for the future of humanity’s symbiotic relationship with technology. Despite the difficulties that the TechIE team faced in hosting the annual student-led tech conference, they demonstrated that IE University is capable of practicing what it preaches—adaptability and innovation in the face of new challenges.
Born and raised in sunny Los Angeles, California, Rob Maxey studied audio engineering and business in his undergrad before ultimately taking a leap of faith and moving halfway across the world to teach English in Madrid, Spain. He is now studying the Master in Cybersecurity at IE School of Human Sciences & Technology. Beyond being an addictive learner and cybersecurity student, Rob is also a lifelong musician and an enthusiastic world traveler. Connect with him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn.