by: Jessica Colombo

South by Southwest: no, not coordinates on a compass rose- I’m talking about the single most awesome gathering of people out to rule the world, learning about the bleeding edge in everything Music, Film and Interactive technologies.

South by Southwest (“Southby”) or SXSW has been rocking every spring in Austin, Texas since 1987.

I had the opportunity to attend the Interactive portion of the massive festival. If you’re a visual learner, just try to picture 20,000 passionate nerds lighting up a city and shuffling back and forth around town between hotels, conference centers, panels, meet-ups, workshops, parties and countless bars. You can also picture amazing barbecue, breakfast tacos and hundreds of pedicabs!  It would be impossible to unpack my entire experience in one blog post, so I’ll just give some highlights.

So what’s all the fuss about?

For me, a senior Spartan marketer, SXSW was a world of mystery and untapped potential.  I knew I had to be a part of it.  The entire experience was intense chaotic madness, but the trick is knowing how to navigate it.  As a SXSW first-timer, my goal going in was to learn as much as possible and meet some fantastic people in the process.  What I actually came away with was much bigger than that.

I came away with an entirely new perspective.  I can do anything, just as long as it keeps me curious and excited.

The actual conference and educational portion made me realize that although I attend an accredited business school, to be successful in today’s marketing realm, you have to do a lot more than just show up to class.  Because the truth is, the university isn’t teaching what I learned at SXSW- digital interaction, building customer loyalty online, what it means to be an influencer, how agencies work in sync with software companies, and even the future of search as we know it.  And ahem, did I mention that these insights came straight from the brains and mouths of the geniuses in their respective fields, like Google, Klout, and Nike?  Just try to imagine going to a university where you woke up excited and left class even more energized than when you sat down.  I know, pretty far-fetched, but that’s how I felt all week at the conference. I guess you can call SXSW Mars.

And if SXSW is Mars, I guess you can call all the attendees aliens.

I have never seen a group as passionate, optimistic and enthusiastic about their work projects and meeting people as the one I encountered at SXSW. I met so many awesome people with equally fantastic ideas that were so apparently their lifeblood. It really got me thinking. Why should I be confined to a job that’s just a job? I want to have something to do everyday that will literally wake me up out of sheer eagerness to take action. I think that’s what working in a start-up might feel like. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post from inside a start-up!) Before my trip to Austin, the thought of working in the scary, uncertain, walking on eggshells, full of failure world of start-ups never crossed my mind. But the SXSW audience instilled a different perspective in my mind.  The perspective that uncertainty and failure can be positive, invigorating and exciting.  If you haven’t noticed, these are glass-half-full kind of people.  Although entrepreneurs are dreamers, they also realize that to make their dreams real, extremely hard work is necessary and they are willing to put that in. Because when that one big break comes, all of the all-nighters, Chinese take-out and countless cups of coffee were all worth it.

In addition to discovering a new potential career path and meeting amazing people, I had the opportunity to witness evangelism at its best.  The MSU SXSW team, spearheaded by the MSU Alumni Association, took the festival by storm.  They conducted countless interviews with influencers, interacted with Spartan alumni, and even threw their own Sparty Party!  All of those things are great, but you may be wondering what that has to do with folks back in the mitten? Every team member recorded his or her thoughts, experiences and interactions on the MSUSXSW Blog to share with the world, so go see what they were up to!  In my opinion, the coolest thing the MSU team did was share their SXSW experience while it was happening, in real time by live streaming into 4 different MSU classrooms.  With the help of TechSmith technologies, we were able to capture the essence of SXSW and bring it back to MSU and the state of Michigan. That, my friends, is a pretty huge deal.

To sum it up, SXSW was absolutely one of the best investments I have made toward my career in marketing world domination. I learned about technical aspects of my field from experienced panelists, forged new relationships with industry folk, gained a new perspective on my career search, and most importantly- had the time of my life in the process. Oh ya, I also test drove a Chevy Volt, picked up a Hipmunk scarf from the CEO, sat in the Zaarly bus while utter genius was happening before my eyes, and walked more miles than I’d like to count. My advice for 2012: Go to SXSW. You will not regret it! The only thing you might regret is not planning soon enough!

So where is all the cool bleeding edge Tech news that came out of SXSW this year?

Patience, young grasshopper! Its coming in my next post- this one was already filled to the brim!

A huge thank you to John Hill for giving me an opportunity attend this epic festival and also coordinating the MSUSXSW team and making the trip a giant success!

Austin, Texas, the live music capital, is an amazing place to be- a weird, creative blue dot in a huge state of red.  If you ever have a chance to visit, be sure to eat some down home Texas Barbecue, catch a ride from a pedicab, and check out 6th Street where live music streams from every bar.

Here is CNN’s rendition of SXSW 2011. Enjoy!

SXSW: By the numbers from CNN on Vimeo.

If you want to talk more about SXSW than what I have shared in this post- I’m happy to do it! Connect with me @jcolombo

Jessica Colombo is senior Spartan Marketer graduating in May from MSU. She is currently seeking a position in a company’s world domination department. In addition to working for MSUAA Career Services where she gets to do fun stuff like write for this blog, she also enjoys rocking out to old school Michael Jackson in her cube and eating coffee flavored Haagen dazs ice cream.



  1. spartanshelpingspartans 23 March, 2011 at 16:06

    Awe, shucks 🙂 Thank you! I really had a mind-altering experience at SXSW. I’m just glad I can share a morsel of it with the world! Thanks Becky, for helping me navigate the massive festival- and giving an amazing panel!


  2. Becky Johns 23 March, 2011 at 11:45

    Going to SXSW as a senior will be the best decision you ever made in college – if you keep in contact with the people you met, are able to share the knowledge you learned at panels and explain in interviews why you went to this conference and what you got out of it.

    Good job, kid 🙂

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