Volunteering for the future

Well-dressed investors and scruffy start-up founders. The wealthy and the entrepreneurial. The old school media moguls and the peppy young YouTubers. A small cross-section of the people you’ll find at the Web Summit.

What started as the brainwave of a few guys in a house in Ranelagh has blossomed into one of the biggest technology conferences in Europe. Over 22,000 attendees from six continents descended on Ballsbridge and claimed the RDS as their own for three days to see what the plucky start-ups have to offer.

Volunteering at a large-scale event like this feels like a mammoth task. I spent days showing people where to sit. Irish, American, Asian, Eastern European, they all share a common factor: the need to sit during a long presentation.

There were nearly 1,500 volunteers at the Web Summit, whittled down from thousands of applicants. Volunteer Manager Ger Murphy, when I asked why there is so much interest in working voluntarily at the Web Summit, he said “working at the biggest technology conference outside the US, that’s good for a CV in itself.”

That is primarily why I volunteered. This conference, that draws in attention of speakers, investors, and media outlets from around the world, now has weight. On a CV, that’s a good thing.

Getting to work with interesting people is always a plus. Here, I saw the future. It sounds as clichéd as could be, but it’s true. The ideas that these entrepreneurs and inventors have, are simple solutions to someone’s big problem. That’s how giants begin.

I detest the term ‘disrupt’, which is bandied around so much by companies today that it has lost its meaning. To disrupt means to cause a disturbance. You’re mildly annoying, that’s all. Every company now wants to disrupt, to drastically alter the way we do things. You can’t blame them for trying, but good luck to you anyway.

The tumultuous attitude of these start-ups is very infectious though. Spending a few days with them, I came away feeling that those silly little ideas in the back of my head, they are always plausible. The little ideas are just that, but they grow, and join the giants of the technology industry we have today. Someone reading this very feature could create the next Google.

The stigma of ‘cheap labour’ still applies to volunteering. It is inherently what it is, but with some better outcomes than you might expect. It is all about experience, and if your first time volunteering is at the Web Summit like mine was, you are thrown in at the deep end. I hope you’re not claustrophobic.

‘Web Summit’ on my CV does look nice, but I got more from it than that. I got comfort in the knowledge that our little country, battered by economic woes, is still churning out people with bright futures. I got the chance for an experience that I couldn’t fork over money for. I also got the realisation that there’s a reason you should get paid for working.

by Kevin Kelly

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