Attending a Tech Conference in Our Own Backyard
True North 2019
The fact that Perk.com Canada is located in Waterloo Region has its benefits. It’s a hub for tech. It’s a hub for innovation. And since the inception of the True North conference in 2018, it’s also the hub for bringing people together to talk about tech and innovation, and we weren’t about to miss out on the action.
On June 19 and 20, I headed to Lot 42 in Kitchener to see what this year’s line-up of speakers had to offer in the ongoing conversation about “tech for good” — True North’s slogan and focus for the conference. While there were a wide range of subjects discussed, from human trafficking to killer robots, there were a handful of themes I picked up on across several presentations that provide some insight into what True North 2019 was all about.
The Necessity of Being a Lifelong Learner
A large emphasis of the conference was on how important it is for individuals to be lifelong learners, and how much more important it will be for people in the future to be lifelong learners. As Thomas Friedman, a foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, explained, the career path model of the past where you go to school, graduate and then work a job for the rest of your life no longer exists. To be successful in your career today, you must continuously learn and gain new skills. There’s no longer a digital divide in the world, where some countries have internet while others do not. Today there’s a self-motivation divide: those who seek out opportunities for learning and growth, and those who do not.
In her presentation, Caitlin MacGregor, CEO of Plum, talked about how her company is already helping prepare people and companies for this era of unconventional career paths. In the past, there was a clear ladder for people to climb in the workplace. But this system was based on experience and education, which MacGregor said are not the best indicators for whether someone is a good fit for a position. Instead, an individual’s “talents,” which Plum has identified using organizational psychology, can indicate which positions they would be suited for. This type of hiring practice requires a new career trajectory, in which an individual must make lateral moves and acquire new knowledge before moving upward. Accordingly, continuous learning is an integral part of the process.
The Necessity of Change (Done Right)
It’s no secret that if companies want to keep up with the rapidly changing tech industry, they need to evolve along with it. But two presenters at True North spoke about the challenges that arise when companies embark on such journeys of change and how to execute large-scale changes properly. Roy Gori, president and CEO at Manulife, noted that when it comes to implementing change, companies too often just focus on products and tangible things, overlooking company culture. People generally don’t like change, one reason being because they are proficient at current systems and will inevitably be poor at incoming systems at first. Gori said companies need to recognize that change is difficult for employees and need to support them through the process.
Likewise, Hamoon Ekhtiara, founder and CEO of Audacious Futures, reminded attendees that changes to processes and systems need to be accompanied by changes to mindset and culture. If you restructure a company, but your employees still have the same mindset, you are just going to end up with the same results. Doing things differently requires that people shift their thinking and perspective on their jobs.
The Necessity of Privacy
In a world where surveillance is rampant, privacy is a highly sought-after commodity. Ann Cavoukian’s message for True North attendees was that companies that value their customer’s privacy will reap benefits of customer loyalty and trust. Cavoukian, creator of Privacy by Design, explained that companies need to start making privacy the default setting for their customers, and seek positive consent to collect data from them.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, echoed these thoughts, noting that individuals should own the data when it comes to their devices. He also advocated that decentralization of the web is crucial to prevent government surveillance and the misuse of user data by big companies.
The Necessity of Sustainable Values
The culminating point in Thomas Friedman’s talk was a reminder about what matters in life and what will help us navigate this rapidly advancing technological world. To ensure we are creating and using tech for good, we must be rooted in sustainable values (such as the Golden Rule). This means taking the time and dedicating effort to building strong families and healthy communities; these are the things from which goodness springs and which will help us stay the course toward the good in an age of accelerations.