How Leeds Digital Festival has evolved for 2018

2 Apr, 2018

Leeds Digital Festival champions the city’s tech sector by allowing those working in it to run events that showcase their collective talents. It was so popular on Twitter last year that it managed to trend alongside a ubiquitous pop star.

Set to return on April 16 – 27 for two weeks rather than one, Leeds Digital Festival 2018 will once again host eclectic events recognisable to many who attend the city’s plethora of meetups, hackathons, workshops and pitch competitions. From Code In The Dark to FinTech North, they’ll be staged in offices; bars; shopping centres; university campuses and renovated mills.

Charlotte Scott, who recently graduated in Chinese & Spanish, joined the team as Head of Marketing and Events last year. The entrepreneur, who is gearing up to launch her startup Motivatee, has helped to network and grow the number of events to 129 (at the current count, versus 115 last year) while ensuring that they tackle prevalent issues facing the tech sector – from diversity to the digital ‘skills gap’.

We spoke to Scott at the Visual Media Conference 2018 to find out more.

Why are you at exhibiting at the Visual Media Conference today?

Charlotte Scott: I’m here talking to businesses and digital agencies who for whatever reason might not be aware of the festival. Then there are those that are hosting with us who we would like to meet in person. I do so many emails it’s nice to put a face to the name! It’s about building awareness, really.

Why should people come to Leeds Digital Festival this year?

They should come and see where the future of Leeds and business is going. The innovation here is incredible to witness, and you don’t have to be heavily involved in tech and digital to see that – there’s something for everyone.

Code In The Dark. Source: Twitter (@codeinthedarkUK)

What are some of the stand out themes and events this year?

One theme is diversity in digital, which was previously women in tech. We have the Java4Women team coming from Sweden to talk about their pilot programme that aims to get women into tech and employment.

Ninety percent of the women who were unemployed at the start of it now work in development and have retained their jobs, which is great, so they’re coming over to discuss how that kind of global programme can be handled on a practical level.

We have some really great speakers on that panel – such as Zandra Moore who is the CEO of PanIntelligence and founder of women’s network Leanin Leeds, so she is an incredibly established businessperson in her own right.

Additionally, the NHS Digital team have come onboard, so we have an awful lot of medtech events – everything from how software can be used to help people who are isolated in digital mental health to how immersive technologies can be used in healthcare.

I’m also really looking forward to Visualising Your Work, which is about using digital tools to visualise workflow. They are running two sessions which have sold out already!

Has the festival made a particular effort to ensure greater diversity on its panels?

Yes – digital diversity is a huge topic nowadays and everybody is aware of it in light of social movements such as ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up Now ‘. I breach the subject when having initial discussions with people about hosting their events, posing the question of whether panels are as diverse as they can be and best represent their audiences. It can make for tricky conversations, but unless you have people at the top having those difficult conversations, nothing changes.

You recently took HTML and CSS courses through CodeFirstGirls. Was that to help you better speak the language of clients or help fix technical glitches?

It was both; it helped me begin to understand what our clients and hosts are talking about, and I can also save time by fixing glitches with the Leeds Digital Festival website, which is rather nice. The festival is running a Leeds Hack event on April 21 and 22, which is a 24-hour hackathon, but I won’t be taking part in it! I’m not that advanced yet. But it’s going to be really interesting.

Festival Director Stuart Clarke

What are the Leeds Digital Festival Awards?

As Stuart [Clarke, festival Director] has said, we’re all experiencing issues with the digital skills gap yet we have a huge amount of talent in the region. Also, you could have the best product, service, marketing idea, agency or anything, but if nobody knows about it then you’re dead in the water.

The inaugural Leeds Digital Festival Awards are in association with Amsource Technology and Ward Hadaway who together want to to put people on the map and celebrate the success and talent we have here in Leeds. We have five categories this year including ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ and ‘Startup of the Year’. ‘Innovation Project of the Year’ recognises incredibly innovative individual projects that change the way we see digital and technology; that could be something like Leeds Institute of Data Analytics (or LIDA), which has been churning out some amazing studies and research.

We also have ‘Startup of the Year’ and ‘Facilitator of the Year’. The facilitator award is for an individual or startup organisation who has really helped the community to get things going and make things happen by making connections and being at the heart of the network. Anyone can nominate or be nominated. We’ve had some really interesting contenders. We will announce the prizes on April 25 at Headrow House to see who is at the heart of the Leeds tech scene.

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