NetHui 2015: Fundamental Fellowship

After graduating from Enspiral Dev Academy, I decided one of the best things to do in the hunt for a job (in addition to the colour coded calendar) was to put myself out there as much as possible. I connected with as many people in the Wellington tech industry on LinkedIn as I could, I attended Meetup events, I started a new dev Twitter account (@ilikeprettycode), through which I started following a bunch of awesome industry people, and I started this blog. It was through Twitter that I first heard about NetHui and it sounded like a fantastic event: three days of talking about the Internet with cool people from all over the country. I wanted to go! But as a newly graduated, currently unemployed student, it didn’t seem likely that I could travel to Auckland to attend. Sad face.

But then I discovered that the ever generous people at InternetNZ (who organised the event) were giving fellowships to people to attend NetHui. Happy face! I applied and hoped that I would get one. I figured it would be such a great way to meet people in the industry and participate in interesting discussions about this amazing tool that is such a big part of all of our lives. Thankfully, my application was accepted – super happy face! (I found out about my fellowship at about the same time I was hired by Rabid, so it was a good week!) I was going to Auckland for NetHui, 8-10 July!

I arrived on the Tuesday afternoon, so my first NetHui impression was the early morning (7:30am – gasp!) breakfast on the Wednesday before Intercommunity 2015 (#icomm2015), the global member meeting of the Internet Society. This was quite interesting because while we were sitting there in the meeting room in Auckland, New Zealand, we were connected via live video streaming to similar meeting rooms all over the world – Montevideo, San Salvador, Ottawa, New York, Nairobi and others. It was quite amazing that the technology worked so well to connect people in real time around the globe, and quite an appropriate way to hold a global meeting for the Internet Society.

It was very cool to experience and I’m certainly glad I had the chance, but it was their annual general meeting and it felt like it. It didn’t feel like something I could have engaged with directly, had I wanted to (I’m sure it was open to questions from all attendees, this was just the way I felt). Thankfully, there was enough going on – and quite seamlessly – with the groups (they called them ‘nodes’) all over the world taking turns speaking, that it was very interesting.

For the rest of the first day, I attended Jumpstart, which I really enjoyed. It was a bunch of short talks from a variety of people about different issues related to the Internet. The variety of the topics and speakers was great – I particularly enjoyed Kevin Prince’s speech about accessibility on the Internet, a topic that I feel quite strongly about. Jumpstart also required participation from its attendees through a couple of exercises – one at the start of the session and another at the end – which gave us a chance to get to know people and embodied the participatory nature of NetHui by getting us involved. It was a great start to the event, and made me excited about what the next two days would bring.

Wednesday was sparsely attended in comparison to Thursday, which was the official start of NetHui, when it was packed to the brim. Quite a number of people from the Wellington tech world were in attendance, so it was great to see so many familiar faces (in addition to the hundreds of new ones!). Thursday and Friday started and ended with the full attendance all together for Keynote speeches and forums; Michele A’Court did a great job of MCing these parts of the event.

I was delighted to see that all of the sessions in the main room were captioned – again, accessibility is important to me and this effort to make the event so was a great initiative. Poor Kelly in Colorado took a lot of slack over her transcription, but I thought she did a fantastic job of navigating the delay, the Kiwi accent and the Te Reo, the latter two of which I’m sure were quite new to her!

Martin Cocker from NetSafe was hilarious when he delivered the NetHui kaupapa, which was such a good way to present something whose intent was to make the space safe and inclusive to all – Martin did just that by delivering it in such a funny manner. I for one really appreciated how it was handled, as well as the thought that went into creating it.

The individual sessions I attended on Thursday were:

All were interesting and obviously covered a wide spectrum. The AI barcamp was a bit fatalistic, as only discussions about robotic overlords taking over the world can be! Along with some controversy and a little bit of tension, there was a lot of knowledge in the room and a lot of people had good things to say.

Online activism is something that interests me, so I quite enjoyed the Clicktivism vs Slacktivism session. We discussed the ways activism occurs online and whether or not they are effective, or as effective as more traditional, grassroots forms of activism. The discussion was engaging and varied, and I came away confirmed in what I already believed – online activism is a great way to get the word out to a wide audience of people who may not have otherwise engaged with the cause, but of course needs to be balanced with other, more traditional forms of activism for maximum effectiveness.

Finally, the Pacific Islands session was interesting but not one I could engage with directly as I wasn’t as familiar with the topic. The discussion covered the infrastructure and the plans for the Internet in the Pacific Islands. I definitely appreciated hearing from all those who spoke and felt a bit more knowledgeable about it than I was before.

The day’s sessions concluded with the Parliamentary Internet Forum, which discussed the role of the Internet in education. I enjoyed the “cross party love bubble” (Gareth Hughes) discussion with the different party members and education representatives, but felt it was surprisingly lacking the Minister for Education. The education system does need to adapt and change to meet the changing technology and the way it’s used in the world so it seemed strange that the Minister responsible for education in this country, who could effect some of that change, wasn’t in attendance.

Thursday was topped off by much appreciated drinks and the opportunity to meet and chat to a number of attendees. I most enjoyed the fact that those in attendance were from such a wide variety of organisations and industries: education, libraries, government, tech. It just goes to show that the Internet really is everybody’s business (do you see what I did there?). In addition, there were of course the EDA contingent of other recent grads who were great to catch up with, as well as the aforementioned slew of familiar, friendly Wellington faces. All in all, a great end to Day Two.

The media panel first thing Friday was especially of interest to me; in a past life (in other words, 10 years ago), I was a journalism student and I have watched while the lumbering beast that is news media – particularly print media – has been slow to adapt to the rising tide of the Internet. It was great hearing from some industry professionals about how they’re changing and adapting the way they do things to match an ever-increasingly tech savvy audience.

On the Friday, I attended the following individual sessions:

I had the wrong idea about the NZ Culture session (note to self: read descriptions before deciding to attend something!) – I thought it would be a discussion of the way NZ culture is represented online; as in, the way the NZ identity is presented. Instead it was a discussion of NZ art/artists/that-kind-of-culture online. Having come from an arts marketing background (before I made the big career change to become a developer), this was an area I was already fairly familiar with. I think I would have chosen another session had I known.

Sex on the internet was my favourite discussion of NetHui. Led by the amazing duo Jess Ducey and Megan Whelan, it was a safe (there were rules that barred shaming of any kind, among other great things that ensured an open and safe environment) discussion that covered a range of things related to the topic. It could have gone on for much, much longer than it did.

Finally, I finished up my NetHui experience with the data workshop (I had to leave directly after it to head to the airport and catch my flight home, so I missed the final forum and wrap up). I wasn’t sure what to expect of the workshop, but it ended up being a lot of fun. I was in a group with the above mentioned sexperts Jess and Megan, and we and our other team members had to take some raw data and use it to construct a narrative about the experience of women online. We weren’t super successful; while we had a plan for our use of the info, we tried to use too much of it and basically spent the whole time trying to get Excel to do what we wanted (my Excel skills are lacking – this resulted in much frustration and wild gesturing). It was still an enjoyable exercise and the data interesting to work with. Thankfully, the other groups were much more successful than we were and came to some thought-provoking conclusions.

All in all, I had a fantastic time at NetHui and am so grateful that I had the opportunity to attend (thank you InternetNZ!). As I mentioned earlier, I was so impressed by the kaupapa and the way it was upheld throughout the whole event – there were people in each and every session whose sole purpose was to ensure that no one dominated the conversation and everyone who wanted to had the chance to contribute. There was also #nethuivoice, through which people could volunteer to be representatives for those who felt too uncomfortable to speak up, and ask their questions on their behalf. It all was brilliantly done, and I really think all conference (or un-conference, as the case may be) events should take note.

I personally didn’t engage vocally very much during the three days – it’s not something I feel comfortable doing in a group environment like that, particularly in one so big with so many people I don’t know. I could have used #nethuivoice, but felt that most of my comments/questions came up anyway. I really enjoyed and thoroughly engaged with #nethui on Twitter – as did so many others – that it made me feel a contributing member of the event nevertheless.

My one suggestion is that there should be more representation from disabled communities directly, particularly if accessibility is a topic of discussion (as it should be). I think it would be extremely valuable to hear from members of the blind community, for instance, about their use of the Internet and how that could be improved upon. Theirs is an important voice in the discussion, and I felt it was missing from the event.

Thanks for reading my rather verbose recap of NetHui. Did you also attend? Please feel free to leave your comments about it or anything I’ve said here, below.

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