My Davidson | A Student Blog Davidson College “Treks” to SXSW

Group of students standing in front of a sign that says "SXSW"

Over spring break, a group of Davidson students had the opportunity to attend SXSW, an annual conglomeration of parallel film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences organized jointly in Austin, Texas.

About the Author

Sohan Gade ’23 (he/him) is a senior from Texas majoring in Economics. On campus, he is involved with the Dean Rusk Global Corps, the College Crisis Initiative, and the Residence Life Office.

“I chose Davidson because of the close-knit relationships and interdisciplinary learning opportunities that were advertised when I visited campus.”

As I walked into the Alvarez College Union on the way to get lunch, an orange flier with a QR code caught my eye. There were only a few weeks left in the fall semester.

Within the Union, columns are normally covered with dozens of fliers, spreading the word about campus happenings, including guest lectures, cultural gatherings, and social events. As a senior, I have passed by these fliers countless times; it would take something out of the ordinary for me to stop and take a look.

Somehow, this fit the bill. It was a brochure for the upcoming Career Trek to the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference in Austin, Texas, co-sponsored by the Matthews Center and the Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. A career trek is a trip sponsored by the Matthews Center for Career Development, in which Davidson students have the unique opportunity to explore careers and network with folks working in a particular industry.

During my sophomore year, I had the privilege of participating in the Davidson on Wall Street and Davidson in Chicago career treks, from which I learned a lot. The Wall Street trek was focused on opportunities in finance, while the Chicago career trek had an emphasis on opportunities in marketing. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, these treks were organized virtually over Zoom.

What separated the SXSW trek from the other two, was that it would be in-person and would have a wide range of industries represented. In turn, the other Davidson students in the cohort would have a wider range of majors, interests and career aspirations. In a way, this was even more of a “liberal arts” experience.

Growing up in Texas, I always thought of SXSW as a music and film festival. I did not know much about the business, media and technology elements of the conference. I looked at the application on the Handshake portal, and the description had a link outlining the various conference “tracks.” There were 25 options, ranging from startups to climate change, and I had to pick three to talk about in my upcoming interview.

This proved challenging, but I ended up selecting advertising & brand experience, tech industry and energy. In the midst of the job application process, with several interviews scheduled in the coming weeks and months, an opportunity to explore different fields seemed almost too good to be true. I needed to develop a better answer on what I wanted my future to look like after graduation–something that all of my classmates were also searching for.

A few days later, I found myself back at the Union in one of the Matthews Center’s conference rooms. Trip organizers Lindsey Dolan, of the Matthews Center, and Zee Holmes, of the Hurt Hub, asked me how I could benefit from the trek and why I would be a good fit. I explained my desire for more connections as I wanted to break into careers at the intersection of marketing and tech. I also presented my position as a senior looking to explore what opportunities were available for me in the near future.

At this point, I had not received a job offer yet, but I did actually get one a few weeks later. While brief, this conversation provided me with a new sense of confidence. Even though the trek was going to happen almost four months later, the excitement kept building.

During my career search, I met with Liz Brigham (director of The Hurt Hub) and Liz Wilson (business & finance career advisor at the Matthews Center), who gave me valuable advice in each meeting.

During one of the meetings, Ms. Brigham told me to write a list of what I was interested in, what brands I liked, and why I liked them. This helped me later on during the conference as I looked for potential mentors working for these companies in these industries. In the weeks leading up to the trek, I met with her again. Zee and Lindsey also organized a mock networking event the week before the trek, where I was able to practice asking questions and continuing conversations with future connections and mentors.

At five a.m. on March 9, the van departed the Union. The early morning flight was a challenge but also a boon in disguise. Upon landing in Austin two hours later, helped by the one hour time difference, we had the whole day to explore the city.

a view of the river in Austin, Texas

The hotel had a scenic view of the Colorado River and the downtown skyline.

The grid layout of the city simplified getting around downtown. My friends and I walked to the main convention center to pick up our badges and toured the area. The walkable experience made me realize how important location fit was for my future. After getting used to living on-campus at Davidson, I appreciate the convenience of a short five-minute walk to Commons, the library, or Chambers, spontaneously running into people on the way. These spontaneous conversations are something I always look forward to and will miss. That being said, it was time to picture myself living in a new city.

a view of skyscrapers and greenery in Austin, Texas

Exploring a new city like Austin helped me to start thinking about where I want to live after Davidson.

During the trek, our group was split up into pairs and collaborated on scheduling. I paired up with Logan Cudlip ’24, who I knew already. Logan was looking to forge new connections in the sports industry, while I wanted to go to events focused on the media and tech industries.

On the first day, we attended the keynote speech, delivered by Simran Jeet Singh, a lecturer at Union Theological Seminary. Singh had recently published a book–The Light We Give–and discussed his experiences growing up as a turban-wearing Sikh boy in San Antonio. While this session was moving, one main takeaway was his reference of a Sikh value: chardi kala or, as he described it, “true optimism.”

The themes of inclusion and optimism for the future continued into the next session that Logan and I attended–a panel called “Future Proof Workplace Through Digital Inclusion.” Different from the keynote, however, was the much smaller crowd; we got second-row seats and much of the front row was also open. The panel prefaced the discussion with an economic claim, mentioning how future labor supply would decrease. This challenged an internal-bias informed preconception that I had, in that tech companies might not prioritize making their products work for everyone because that may cost too much. The panelists emphasized that if these services were not inclusive, the company providing them would significantly lose out both in terms of customers and employees.

There was a sign language interpreter assisting one of the panelists who helps run a tech company developing “visual interpreting tools” for the visually impaired (AIRA). Another panelist serves as the director of digital accessibility at one of the companies I wanted to work at. Since the audience was so small, Logan and I got the chance to ask the panelists individual questions after the session. We were both curious about digital inclusion in the education space, particularly in schools. I was able to connect with the panelists on LinkedIn, as well.

a compilation of views of conference panels showing colorful screens

While some panels were huge, others were small enough that we could chat and connect on LinkedIn with the panelists.

On the way to lunch, there were several startups handing out QR codes to try out their newly-released iOS and Android Apps. Along with the QR codes were free stickers, t-shirts, and bandannas. The downtown area came alive with people from all over the world.

a green tree with a sign in front of it that reads "FAREGROUND EAT + DRINK"

While walking to lunch, we got to see the downtown area come alive.

On the last two days, in order to “compromise,” I attended several sports events with Logan. One such event was called the “Anatomy of a Fan.” While I am an avid sports fan, it never really occurred to me just how much sports teams are brands and fans are customers; marketing principles definitely apply. These sessions were unexpectedly informative and useful to me given my desire to understand both the marketing and tech worlds.

Other talks that I enjoyed were about the recent Silicon Valley Bank crash, social impact business by the founder of Grubhub, and integrity in the tech/social media industries. Since there are so many tracks, it was impossible to go to every session. There were several other events that I wanted to go to but could not due to time conflicts or capacity limits, including talks with Sam Altman (founder of OpenAI which runs ChatGPT) and Mark Cuban.

However, the most useful aspect of the trip were the networking opportunities. While there were organized meetups with startup founders and folks looking to network, we also experienced the Davidson network when checking into the hotel and spontaneously running into a Davidson alumna.

Overall, the trek was an incredible experience and I am so grateful for the tremendous support that both the Hurt Hub and the Matthews Center have given me in planning my life after Davidson.