“Four years since volunteering, Web Summit is a different beast. It has something for every industry – this year there will be tech founders, investors, prime ministers, magazine editors, heads of global banks and four person startups all under one roof. This is so unique. The diversity of people and subjects is incredible.”
A lot has happened at our events since we held the first Web Summit in Dublin back in 2009. Deals have been struck, startups funded, connections made, pitches won, and careers launched. On that last point we caught up Dearbhla Gavin, who volunteered with us four years ago, and later returned to cover Web Summit as a journalist for the BBC. Over the course of our chat she talked about her volunteering experience and career path, and shared some advice for anyone looking to volunteer at Web Summit.
What did you know about Web Summit before you applied to be a volunteer?
As a student in Dublin, the growth of Web Summit was really exciting to watch. Technology was still a bit of a grey area for a lot of people, you were either ‘into computers’ or you weren’t. Web Summit brought a bit of Silicon Valley to Ireland and opened our eyes to the fact that you can work in technology and not necessarily be a computer programmer.
What was your motivation for applying?
I was in my final year in college and having the ‘what next’ conversation with myself. I knew I wanted to be a journalist but that’s not as clear a path as a lot of professions. I knew that Web Summit was essentially lots of interesting people talking to each other and to journalists. I applied to be a media volunteer knowing that when I was signing in journalists or helping them get around, it would be a chance to introduce myself and ask them questions.
What skills, abilities, and qualities did you get to use and in turn pick up as part of the experience?
Web Summit had a strictly timed rundown of talks and pre-arranged interviews, as well as a lot of people just attending the event so you definitely had to be focused on your tasks. I was the first point of contact for a lot of journalists (many coming straight from the airport with a case), so it was my job to welcome them with a smile and get them registered and into the event as quickly and smoothly as possible. I definitely learned how to listen carefully, communicate effectively and troubleshoot – it was foreign territory for them and I was part of the Web Summit staff so it was my job to have the answers to their questions and if I didn’t, find someone who did!
How did you find your overall experience?
Overall, it was an eye opening experience as it showed me this whole world outside of Dublin that I didn’t know existed. I heard business stories from all over the world and learned so much about different sectors within technology.
Did you make any connections at the event that you found useful?
Yes, I got offered a job at Web Summit! I got chatting to the CEO of a Swiss channel called Horyou, who’s editorial agenda was social impact. He had a background in finance at JP Morgan and Bank of China so we had a short discussion on the economy and found we both agreed that the financial gain of the few doesn’t have to come at an economic cost to the many. After going for dinner with the team that night, they offered me a job and I spent the next year in Geneva covering world banking and United Nations events. It was my first break as a reporter and I was thrown in at the deep end because it was a startup – like so many companies at Web Summit. I had to learn everything and fast and it was a game changer.
What advice would you give to people who have or are thinking of volunteering?
I truly believe in cross-collaboration and the fact that if someone working in fashion gets chatting to someone working in food – they can learn something from each other that they can take back to their team. So talk to people and learn from everyone you meet.
How did it feel returning to a Web Summit event but this time in your current role?
It was strange covering Web Summit at home in Dublin as an ‘international’ journalist from the BBC, but an incredible privilege. I felt a duty to showcase what Web Summit is doing for startups and businesses all over the world and for Ireland. Historically, people found out what was going on in the world and people’s lives in the pub. Using this ethos of ‘catching up in the pub’, Web Summit creates the space for people to share ideas, observations and experience – all of which can make or break a business.