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“When You Go to the Dining Hall, Look Around”

Tech Club hosts 32nd annual Technology Conference at Harvard Business School.

Bharat Anand (College ’88), Vice Provost for Advances in Learning at Harvard University, attended Harvard College in the same class as Adam Selipsky (College ’88, MBA ’93), CEO of Amazon Web Services. Despite sharing a graduation year – and even a dorm – they did not know each other back then. Opening the keynote session with this reflection, Anand advised students in the audience: “When you go to the dining hall, look around. School friendships do not end when you graduate.” 

The Tech Club of Harvard Business School hosted its 32nd Annual Technology Conference on February 4th. Commenting on this year's theme, “CROSSROADS: Navigating Uncertainty,” Conference Co-Chair Kshitij Maheshwari (MBA ’24): “The conference theme aimed to explore the role of technology, particularly Artificial Intelligence (AI), in shaping the future of society and the economy.” The event’s wide-ranging discussions examined how businesses and individuals can navigate the challenges presented by today's technological landscape.

The conference attracted a diverse audience, with over 1,000 attendees, making it the first sold-out Technology Conference at HBS since the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Conference Co-Chair Mahlaqa Kamran (MBA ’24), "this increased interest, reflecting a 20% growth from the previous year, highlighted the tech community's eagerness for engaging and substantive dialogue on the future of technology.” “Around 45% of the audience came from HBS and other Harvard Schools, including several prospective HBS students attending Admitted Student Welcome weekend. Another 40% came from other schools in Boston (e.g., MIT, Boston University, Northeastern, and others), as well as out of state schools (e.g., Wharton, Cornell, and others), and 15% of the audience consisted of working professionals, primarily from the Boston and New York areas,” added Conference Co-Chair Sotiris Baratsas (MBA ’24).

Featuring more than 20 sessions, the conference brought together industry leaders from Peru, India, Singapore, Philippines, and all parts of the United States. Notable keynote speakers included Adam Selipsky (CEO, Amazon Web Services), Thomas Dohmke (CEO, GitHub), Emad Mostaque (CEO, Stability AI), Shanker Trivedi (SVP, NVIDIA), Dr. Wei Li (VP/GM, Intel) and Rodney Zemmel (Global leader, McKinsey Digital) alongside prominent AI firms like Perplexity and Character.AI. The conference also featured an exciting AI Startups Demo Competition sponsored by law firm Orrick, featuring both B2B and B2C companies – with Thinkverse (formerly Learnie AI) emerging as the winner.

During the NVIDIA spotlight session, Trivedi and HBS Professor Andy Wu discussed the impact of gaming on computing and AI development. This session highlighted the computational challenges in gaming and how they drive innovation in AI, suggesting a broader applicability of gaming technologies in solving complex problems across different sectors.

In a session covering the opportunities and risks in the era of AI, Fatima Kardar (CVP, Microsoft) articulated the disruptive potential of new ventures, contrasting their agility with the slower, bureaucratic movements of established companies. This conversation highlighted the critical role startups play in driving innovation, adapting swiftly to market needs and technological advancements.

Selipsky, in conversation with Anand, shared personal reflections on the tech industry and his career insights, emphasizing the importance of passion and continuous learning for success in the rapidly evolving tech ecosystem. Selipsky also discussed Amazon's growth strategy, which is rooted in 16 leadership principles and a long-term vision that has guided the company's bold and innovative decisions.

The conference also covered ethical considerations in AI development and deployment, reflecting on widespread concern over the potential for misuse of AI technologies. The discussion suggested the need for collective action among tech companies, governments, and academia to establish guidelines and standards for responsible AI development, aiming to leverage AI's benefits while mitigating its risks.

During the closing remarks, Dohmke reflected on GitHub's relationship with Microsoft post-acquisition, and provided insights into the balancing act of maintaining autonomy while benefiting from the resources of a larger corporation. This balance has allowed GitHub to continue its innovation trajectory while preserving its unique culture and focus on community.

The conference concluded with a strong message on the need for innovation, ethical responsibility, and a human-centric approach to technology. As the tech industry navigates complex modern challenges, the insights shared at HBS’s 32nd Annual Technology Conference offer valuable guidance for shaping a future in which technology not only advances human capabilities but also addresses societal needs and ethical considerations.

Daniel Concha Zegarra (MBA ’24) is originally from Peru and spent 6 years in China before coming to Boston. While in Peru, he worked for the Government of Peru in Banking Regulation. Then, he moved to Beijing to pursue a Master’s degree as part of the Schwarzman Scholars Program at Tsinghua University. In China, Daniel worked in technology, mainly mobile game development and publishing at Tencent and NetEase.

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