At Emerge 2022, Tampa Bay Tech Leaders Talk Trends To Watch

Dozens of young professionals representing the next generation of Tampa Bay’s technology leaders filled Embarc Collective’s event space Thursday night to hear what three of the leading voices in the region’s tech scene believe are rising trends to watch in 2022.

Presented by Tampa Bay Tech’s Emerging Leaders Council, “Emerge 2022” is the group’s signature annual event. It combined engaging discussions from established tech leaders with a night of networking. The Emerging Leaders Council bills itself as a place for Tampa Bay’s emerging tech professionals to form deep connections through career development, mentorship and social interactions.

Emerge 2022 was held at Embarc Collective in downtown Tampa. Photo by Mark Parker.

Attendees heard discussions on three timely topics: Hhow the metaverse is changing the future of work, the importance of scaling tech talent and what to watch for as Web3 applications evolve. Joe Hamilton, head of network for Metacity (and publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst), moderated the discussions.

“I feel safe in saying that when you leave here, you’re going to know more about blockchain and Web3 than 99.9% of the people out there, certainly 99.9% of the job seekers,” Hamilton told the crowd as he opened the forum. “And a good chance of dazzling when the blockchain category comes up on Jeopardy next.”

Jason Warnke, senior managing director for Accenture, was the first to join Hamilton on stage. Warnke said Accenture employed 20,000 people when he started with the global company in 1996. The digital, cloud and security services company now boasts nearly 700,000 employees worldwide. To keep up with growth, Accenture utilizes the metaverse to cohesively integrate the influx of new workers.

Warnke said ensuring a positive employee experience is critical to providing great experiences and deliveries for Accenture’s clients. He added that collaboration is critical as the nation’s workforce increasingly spreads apart. To address this, the company began to create a shared, immersive experience where hundreds of thousands of new and established employees could gather in one place to collaborate.

“You don’t have that happenstance, bump into someone at the water cooler and say, ‘hey, what’s going on,’” he said. “Those conversations, we all know, turn into amazing progressions of projects or ideas that filter into other things.”

So the company created a space in the metaverse for employees to gather virtually – Accenture Park. Warnke called Accenture Park’s experience similar to Disney’s Epcot. Utilizing Microsoft Altspace VR, new employees begin their time with the company in that virtual world.

Either with or without a VR headset, employees enter the simulation and learn about Accenture’s services and products. After the initial onboarding experience, workers can return to the space and continue interacting with colleagues across the globe.

“Our CEO drops in there from time to time to just bump into people and talk to them,” said Warnke. “We’ve brought 45,000 people through the experience, and by the end of the month, we’ll be at like 100,000.”

Joe Hamilton (left), head of network for Metacity and publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst, with Jason Warnke, senior managing director for Accenture. Warnke, a University of South Florida graduate, flashes the school’s “go Bulls” sign. Photo by Mark Parker.

Accenture recently bought 60,000 VR headsets for its employees. Warnke said the company is scaling the project to address challenges that stem from adopting any new technology in the hopes of better serving clients interested in similar projects. He added that Accenture’s leadership realizes employees will blend their work and personal lives through the devices, and the company encourages its workers and their families to use them for entertainment purposes.

Warnke expects mass adoption of the headsets and virtual spaces to conduct meetings and other work-related activities throughout 2022.

Nicholas Grous, an investment analyst for ARK Invest, explained the internet is currently akin to users renting online space from large, centralized corporations. He stressed that Web3 focuses on digital ownership and autonomy. He also believes it will unlock the power of an online economy, where individuals can offer services or merchandise directly to consumers.

“That’s going to happen with or without some of these conglomerates adopting this,” he said. “It’s going to happen because users are demanding it – they’re excited about this.”

Grous used non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as an example of the potential of a Web3 economy. He relayed that sales of NFTs ballooned from a couple of million dollars in 2019 to almost $30 billion last year. From a business standpoint, he said an industry leader like Nike’s gross margins are around 40%, while NFT company Bored Ape Yacht Club’s gross profit margin is 98%.

“So, if you’re a business, and you’re sitting there saying, ‘this is not for me,’” said Grous. “Well, your investors are going to say, ‘hey, it’s for us,’ because this is going to drive significant change to our underlying business.”

Grous said he frequently repeats that the metaverse is just a digital representation of the physical world and will turn two-dimensional online experiences into 3D. He pointed to the amount of time people spend creating online personas through 2D platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and how the metaverse expands that with 3D avatars users can guide through virtual adventures.

Grous believes people will spend even more time crafting these immersive online identities to experience a “shared journey with the rest of the world.”

Hamilton pointed out the portability that digital ownership in the metaverse provides. Grous said that while businesses accustomed to the current restrictive model of ownership are reluctant to allow the transfer of digital property to a competitor’s website, competition for a person’s time in Web3 will leave no other option.

“The incentives have to shift,” he said. “The incentive shift is going to become apparent when users demand it – we’re already starting to see that slowly.”

Grous said centralization will still serve a key function as Web3 evolves. He believes a tug of war will occur over time to discern which uses are better suited for decentralization and the anonymity of blockchain technology. People on both sides of the equation, he said, will butt heads until the market establishes an equilibrium.

As Web3, blockchain, and the metaverse continues to grow and evolve, so will the need for a skilled workforce. Meg Charles, co-founder of Codeboxx, said her company strives to address the shortage of tech workers.

Charles said colleges are not graduating people with tech degrees fast enough to meet demand. Technology, she said, is ubiquitous to the point that every company needs tech workers, regardless of the industry. She added that the pandemic increased the digital transformation exponentially.

While the talent pipeline is limited, Charles said many communities possess large numbers of people who are underemployed and interested in tech careers but do not have the money or time to attend a four-year college. Codeboxx, she said, is attempting to address those issues through accelerated coding courses.

“If you find people with the will, people with grit and people with resiliency, you can teach them how to code,” she said. “And once you teach them how to code, they’re even better employees …”

Codeboxx offers a 16-week immersive training program that Charles said simulates a real-world environment. She said the company focuses on providing access to career paths based on potential rather than privilege, and is intentional about diversity and inclusivity.

Charles said the preponderance of new technology displaces those in other industries, and understanding coding would lead to more opportunities through different companies in varying sectors.

“Technology is the future,” she said. “And if you are outside that space, you are left so far behind.”

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