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Cool and not-so-cool from 'Teens in Tech' Conference

by David Spark on February 6, 2010

On a non-school day, Saturday, I trotted down to Google’s offices in San Francisco to attend the “Teens in Tech” conference. So many of the conferences I attend are filled with the same mix of people. That’s why I always like to attend tech conferences that don’t play to the same audience. For example, I learned so much attending the Blogher conference and the same was true with “Teens in Tech.”

Steve Wozniak chatting with a teen in tech

If you’re ignoring this audience, good luck. Quoting my comedian friend Steve Rosenfield, “Children are our future…and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

As I sat down to write this “Cool and not-so-cool” blog post, which has become kind of a standard for me for many conferences I attend as press (see Cool and not-so-cool of LeWeb), I realized I don’t feel too comfortable saying “not-so-cool” to a bunch of teenagers. Especially teenagers who are doing things more impressive than me at my age, let alone when I was a teenager. But, I was able to find things that are “not-so-cool,” read on. And make sure you also watch my video “What are you learning from teens at the ‘Teens in Tech’ Conference?” where I interviewed Harry McCracken, Robert Scoble, Sam Levin, Daniel Brusilovsky, Carlos Rodela, and Michael Nelson of Google.

CoolPreparation techniques for starting a career in technology – Danny Trinh (@dtrinh), Designer working for Digg, about to leave for college, provided some advice on how to prepare for careers in technology, or in his case specifically, design. Here are some of Trinh’s preparation techniques:

  • Research and dissect other people’s work.
  • Seek out a mentor.  A good way to approach a mentor is to ask them a question you’re wrestling with.
  • Don’t try to over-hype yourself, let your work stand for itself.
  • It’s ok and normal to be scared. If you’re not, especially at your age, you’re doing something wrong.
  • Be kind and work hard.
  • Don’t rely on your age as a crutch. Good work speaks for itself. Age doesn’t play into it. Don’t play that card.

Trinh is also a pretty funny guy. If the design technology career falls through, he could launch a career in standup comedy.

Not-so-coolI’m so NOT a teenager – Wow, after attending this conference I wish I was a teenager now. I was a teenager when personal computers were coming into vogue, pre-Internet. The opportunities were minimal in tech compared to what teenagers have these days. I’m jealous.

CoolHolding a conference at Google – Rocking wi-fi, tons of free food, and a great room. Gee, I wish all conference setups could be this comfortable.

Joey Primiani makes his entrance

CoolPlenty of inspiring advice for those of us who aren’t teens – Yes can you learn something from a teenager that can further your career. I did.

Advice from Joey Primiani:

  • Don’t start companies, start movements.
  • Focus on how people love themselves.
  • Keep creative and inspiring friends close.
  • Invest in yourself. Put money back into your projects.
  • Hire people who love the product.

Advice from John Ramey and Zak Hassanein, founders of online advertising tool isocket:

  • Don’t obsess about getting funding at the beginning. Early stage stuff is about building something that’s worthy of getting funding.
  • Go big at the beginning. Don’t fall into the trap of creating a “lemonade stand.” Don’t assume just because you’re a teenager you have to do one of those youth projects like creating a t-shirt company or textbook swapping site.
  • Develop a solution first, not a product. That way you’ll start creating something people will pay for.

CoolTeenagers know how to produce non-boring PowerPoint – I’ve seen so many boring presentations, and most of the teen presenters avoided the boring the bulleted-list style PowerPoint presentations. Although I have bulleted lists in this blog post. Am I “not-so-cool?”

Not-so-coolAdults at Best Buy still produce boring PowerPoint – I was brought back to the world of dull PowerPoint when a representative from Best Buy got up to present. Everything you’ve seen with boring PowerPoint presentations, white slides with tons of bulleted text, hit the screen and reminded me of all those boring presentations I’ve seen before.

CoolBest Buy’s @15 program – Thank you Best Buy for sponsoring this event and its philanthropic teen program, @15. Nobody purchases a product at Best Buy without consulting a teen. The average age of a blue shirt rep at their store is 21. By the nature of their business Best Buy is already vested in this community. They realize that they have both an opportunity and a responsibility to the teen community. Although Best Buy has very little focus with this program and the money they’re currently donating ($1 million) is pocket change, I admire the effort and their desire to amplify the messages that teens are creating.

Teens in Tech producers Sam Levin and Daniel Brusilovsky

Not-so-coolNone of these teenagers are creating a time machine – Listening to all these young passionate kids I realize that now is a great time to be a teen in tech. You can do something truly out of passion without worrying about the pressures of life (e.g. mortgage and a family) that require a certain sized paycheck month after month. Ramey and Hassanein admitted when they were starting out they were living off of $800 a month each for two years. Too bad we can’t turn back the clock. I’ll talk to a few teens to see what they can do.

CoolBooyah’s MyTown – An iPhone/iPod Touch app that’s similar to check-in location-based game applications such as Foursquare, but it’s more like a mobile version of Monopoly with real-world locations. Play the game long enough, attend places, and you can actually “purchase” real-world locations. Anyone who visits your real-world place and checks in, you collect virtual rent from them, giving you more money to purchase more locations.

CoolDesign tips for teens good for everyoneAdam Debreczeni who designed the Teens in Tech conference website, gave a presentation entitled, “How to design for teens” which just should have been entitled, “How to design for everyone.” He pointed out foibles of design especially around advertising. The most sticky and funniest example was his “burning” all the ads on the front page of MySpace. Using a burning animation he made all the ads go up in flames, and after the burnout, all you were left with content-wise was the login box.

Not-so-coolTurning on the conference Twitter feed behind the presentersJosh Shipp, a successful young entrepreneur, MTV presenter, and all-around irreverent funny guy had a very difficult time getting through his panel discussion with Teens in Tech Conference’s co-host Daniel Brusilovsky. The cause was an animated Twitter feed projected behind their heads that were echoing and playing off of many of Shipp’s jokes. The audience simply couldn’t stop laughing from all the funny projected tweets. It made it very difficult to get through the interview. There were threats to shut off the Twitter projection, but the audience finally calmed down.

More cool presentations include Shreya Indukuri and Daniela Lapidous’ presentation on SmartPowerEd.

Check out more photos from the “Teens in Tech” conference. Thanks to MargiLevin for the photos. Additional photo credits to Mike3K, jolieodell, and eyefi_flickr.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

jakeosmith February 6, 2010 at 7:29 pm

It has been a great conference to watch, wish I could of gone.

jakeosmith February 7, 2010 at 12:29 am

It has been a great conference to watch, wish I could of gone.

Dale J. Stephens February 8, 2010 at 4:17 am
Dale J. Stephens February 8, 2010 at 4:17 am
Daniel Brusilovsky February 8, 2010 at 4:22 am

Thanks for the feedback — we'll take it into account next year!

Daniel Brusilovsky February 8, 2010 at 4:22 am

Thanks for the feedback — we'll take it into account next year!

rnpolish February 8, 2010 at 5:46 am

Great overview of yesterday's #teensintechconf by @dspark

rnpolish February 8, 2010 at 5:46 am

Great overview of yesterday's #teensintechconf by @dspark

Tech4theSavvy! March 14, 2010 at 7:36 pm

this is a really cool blog. check out for another teen tech blogger :) !

Tech4theSavvy! March 14, 2010 at 7:36 pm

this is a really cool blog. check out for another teen tech blogger :) !

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