Future Decoded! What you are missing at Microsoft’s London techfest

It’s the big day! The opening of Microsoft’s whopping Future Decoded conference at the Excel Centre in London’s Docklands. The chief executive of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, himself has spoken.

So what are you missing?

First up, the vibe. Which is excellent. Turnout is strong. Day one of three is a sellout. As you enter there’s the Back to the Future time-travelling DeLorean. Complete with hoverboard. Whoever organised that knows how to get jaded tech industry titans excited. These chaps prove you don’t have to be a Taylor Swift fan to take over-excited selfies. 

Stroll around the main exhibition centre and you’ll see a lot of bonhomie and glad-handing. With more than 1,300 Microsoft Partners attending this is very much an industry insider’s affair.

And what of the speeches? In fact the first performers were CC Smuggler, a Cambridge Folk ensemble. Who got the energy levels nice and high (seriously: when organising events like this an early morning blast of high energy folk or similar is pretty damn vital).

And what of the keynotes? To warm up before Nadella spoke at midday the Redmond team laid on all star cast: Jeremy Paxman, Bob Geldof, former MI5 boss Stella Rimington and Martin Sorrell  (what would a conference be without Sorrell on stage?).

The highlights: Paxman tells us: “Predicting the future is a mug’s game”. He also laid into newspapers and traditional universities. Print news he says is dying, not because of they are on paper, but because we no longer care what they tell us. Universities too aren’t useful because of the reams of paper books they possess. With the internet offering literature and tuition to all and sundry the USP of the forward thinking university is networking in the flesh.

Geldof delivered his set with astonishing energy. Education, he told us, would be the salvation Africa. Only when you are educated can you be free. He also announced Band Aid is back, and will be helping the fight against Ebola. Welcome news.

Rimington told us the golden rule at MI5 is “saying nothing to anybody”. She also had a strong line about leadership: “Is leadership sitting at a desk and worrying? Partly, but it is also about taking the flak and not flapping”. Fans could meet Dame Stella afterwards for a chat and – again – a selfie, as she sits by piles of her book ‘Open Secret’ (£11 please).

WPP founder Sorrell gave a good stab at predicting the future (what a ‘mug’ Paxo must have thought) with his ten key global trends. Think BRICS, big government, the rise of tech and the mismatch between the demand for talent and the supply. The architect Buckminster Fuller once gave a speech lasting 42 hours called “Everything I know”. One day Sorrell may attempt to do the same. It will last longer than 42 hours. 

And the main man? Nadella played it safe. Cloud and mobile would be Microsoft’s focus. Which I think we knew. Startups are the lifeblood of an economy. Ditto. Perhaps this was a case of the new CEO being the ‘anti-Ballmer’. No monkey-boy prancing (link for the mercifully ignorant). Nadella is too sane and thoughtful for histrionics. And will Wall Street scrutinising his every utterance, too canny to drop accidental bombshells. “Technology’s role in society is to empower people,” was his hallmark phrase. 

So what are you missing? On the exhibition floor – not much. The stands are pretty straightforward, showcasing Surface tablets, Microsoft Dynamics, and offerings from HP, Dell, and assorted Partners. There’s crazy golf featuring a tablet controlled ball. You can have a close look at the Lotus F1 car – which is terrifyingly beautiful, even to non-petrolheads. Four mini concourses for shorter speeches.

But look. The gist is: you don’t attend these for keynotes or to chat with a stand-wallah. You go to meet Partners. To duck out for an hour with people you need to get to know. And if you ain’t there you can’t do it.

PS: Clever new term: Millennials are ‘screenagers’. You’ll be hearing that one again and again.

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