Shannon Sharpe, Anderson .Paak bring culture to annual Render ATL conference

Annual event decodes tech industry for underrepresented communities
Shannon Sharpe speaks with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday, June 14, at the 2024 Render ATL tech conference in Atlanta, Ga.

Credit: Mike Jordan

Credit: Mike Jordan

Shannon Sharpe speaks with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday, June 14, at the 2024 Render ATL tech conference in Atlanta, Ga.

Sidney Moore wore a black polo shirt, a gold backpack and a hopeful disposition Thursday, smiling as he explained what brought him to Atlanta, all the way from Indianapolis, Indiana, for the third-annual Render ATL tech conference.

Despite not having a college degree, the young, Black, self-taught software developer got his first tech job in 2022, working remotely for automotive marketing company PureCars. He enjoys his position but admits the isolated nature of the job results in a limited network of peers.

“I’ve never been able to be around tech people. I don’t have any technical friends. I don’t have anybody like to mentor me or anything. So I saw this as an opportunity to basically join the community,” Moore said.

He said he’d normally consider tech conferences to be scary and acknowledged that his appearance might be challenging in certain spaces.

“I’ve got a face tattoo. I don’t look the part. When you live in a place like Indiana, it’s a red state, so there’s a lot of perceptions of people that look like me. But coming out of here has… I mean, dude, you see it, it’s just nothing but Black excellence. It’s diversity to the fullest, powerful women, inspiring people.”

Sidney Moore poses for a photo at the 2024 Render ATL conference in Atlanta, Ga.

Credit: Mike Jordan

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Credit: Mike Jordan

A three-day technology event offering underrepresented technology professionals career opportunities through networking and continuing education, Render ATL began in 2021 at The Gathering Spot. The conference has grown from 350 attendees its first year to more than 3,000 after moving to AmericasMart in 2023, where it was held June 12 through 14.

The event attracted people like Moore by offering a sense of belonging, he said. This was the first tech conference he’d ever attended, and the fact that workshops, speaker sessions and other programming was presented with cultural diversity motivated him to show up.

“It’s a tech conference that allows you to be exactly who you are,” said Justin Samuels, Render’s founder and a senior software engineer at Mailchimp.

While official 2024 attendance numbers were not available at press time, Render had an estimated $6.2 million in economic impact for Atlanta in 2023, and around 10% of guests visited from overseas, according to the conference’s data.

As he waited backstage for Mayor Andre Dickens to arrive and make a brief statement to the crowd Thursday afternoon, Samuels worked the room and his phone, wearing a commemorative 1996 Olympics t-shirt, and a short haircut styled with colorful green and yellow dye. Through his appearance he represented both Render’s ringleader and its target demographic.

Render ATL founder Justin Samuels backstage at the 2024 tech conference on Thursday, June 13, in Atlanta, Ga.

Credit: Mike Jordan

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Credit: Mike Jordan

Speaking with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Samuels said this year was Render’s most efficient and organized yet.

“Now people know where to go, what’s happening, what’s going to be the coolest thing in the room, off the rip. We’re getting more attendance in our sessions, we’re getting more people coming out to our events and we’re making our partners happier.”

While commenting, Samuels was interrupted by a loud noise coming from a crowd of people in an area beyond the main stage. Pausing to determine the source, he realized it was a group of Black fraternity and sorority members gathered outside the room, enthusiastically and audibly making their presence known.

“Ah, that’s the D9 meetup,” Samuels said, referring to the “Divine 9,” a popular nickname for the nine historical Black college Greek organizations. “That’s another example. We have various affinity groups, whether you’re LGBTQIA+ in tech, an HBCU grad in tech, we have different networks that allow you to come and meet people who have similar interests.”

During his appearance, Mayor Dickens talked about the rise of artificial intelligence, and how the City of Atlanta is incorporating AI and other technology into its operations, including transportation, affordable housing, and other challenges facing the city.

Mayor Andre Dickens poses backstage at the 2024 Render ATL tech conference on Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Atlanta, Ga.

Credit: Mike Jordan

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Credit: Mike Jordan

“My administration is definitely working to make sure we are a top-five tech hub in Atlanta,” he said. “I’m proud to be known as ‘the tech mayor.’”

Isaac Hayes III, founder of social media platform Fanbase, attended Render to strengthen connections with the tech community in and outside Atlanta. He expressed excitement at Render’s year-over-year attendance growth, particularly since he’s looking to grow engagement and raise capital at Fanbase, while offering advice to those still gaining a foothold in the business.

“There are a lot of amazing, talented Black people out here,” he said. “Networking is really part of what you need to do when you’re immersing yourself in tech.

Barry Givens of Atlanta-based Collab Capital poses with Isaac Hayes III, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based social media platform Fanbase, at the 2024 Render ATL tech conference in Atlanta, Ga.

Credit: Mike Jordan

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Credit: Mike Jordan

Nicole Ogertschnig works in cybersecurity as a manager of risk assessment and compliance for American Express. This was her first year at Render, and after attending an AI workshop early Wednesday, she spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at after-hours networking event at Ponce City Market that evening, sponsored by the fintech company Square.

Ogertschnig, a Black woman living in Phoenix, sports long twists in her hair, dyed in a spectrum of black, tan and purple. She said she wanted to come to Render after learning about it from her engineer husband who follows Samuels on social media, because it didn’t look like a typically stuffy tech convention.

“I go to a lot of tech conferences,” she said, giving examples like the annual Def Con hacker’s conference in Las Vegas, and AfroTech, which is hosted by Black-owned media company Blavity.

“A lot of them are like, you can’t be your authentic self. I wanted to attend a conference where I could be me and I don’t have to put on that corporate talk the whole time. I can let my hair down and meet people in a positive, happy setting.”

Two attendees of Render ATL walk past signage inside AmericasMart during the 2024 tech conference in Atlanta, Ga.

Credit: Mike Jordan

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Credit: Mike Jordan

While not attending in an official recruiting capacity, Ogertschnig said she was connecting with others to possibly refer future employees to jobs at AMEX, citing the dearth of diversity in the tech sector.

“Within tech, I think Black women, we’re very low – less than double digits. So seeing a lot of Black women here, as a woman of color, it’s empowering to me. We’re out here; we’re making change within the tech community,” she said.

Wednesday featured workshop sessions such as a deep dive on the open-source programming language TypeScript, engineer-friendly AI seminars offering explainers on current trends and technologies, as well as hands-on training and live AI model coding. It was also the day attendees were encouraged to wear pink.

Thursday featured talks on coding with AI, computational creativity and turning data into visual art, career advancement presentations, and separate meetups for women and men in tech. Guests were encouraged to wear sneakers.

Friday’s schedule held this year’s main draws. Famed software engineer and advocate Kelsey Hightower delivered a well-received keynote at 1 p.m., discussing his recent retirement from Google after a 25-year career, and how he was introduced to technology as a student at Lovejoy High School.

Friday was also Render’s designated day to wear athletic jerseys, as the conference ended with an interview of NFL Hall-of-Famer and sports commentator Shannon Sharpe.

Sharpe was joined onstage by Samuels, and both were interviewed by Revolt TV CEO Detavio Samuels. Sharpe shared insights on creating and sustaining his consistently viral “Club Shay Shay” podcast, and talked about having tech-savvy staffers working AI into his content business at his independent media venture Shay Shay Media.

“We study the trends. We have people on the payroll that look at trends, and kind of look at where tech is headed and where we need to be, and they make sure that Shay Shay Media is in a prime position,” Sharpe said in an interview with The AJC. “I’m okay not knowing everything, but I believe I’ve done a great job of surrounding myself with people that are better in tech than I am.”

Shannon Sharpe sits between Revolt TV CEO Detavio Samuels (L) and Justin Samuels, founder of Render ATL, on the final session of the three-day tech conference on June 14, 2024, in Atlanta, Ga.

Credit: Mike Jordan

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Credit: Mike Jordan

As for culture, there was plenty on display. Hightower asked that no attendees of his keynote recorded or posted it to social media, yet he made no such request about him dancing on The Roof at Ponce City Market during an afterparty.

RenderHaus, the grand finale concert, featured singer DaniLeigh, Grammy-nominated rapper D Smoke, and Anderson .Paak, who performed as DJ Pee .Wee, playing hit songs from Tevin Campbell, Ludacris, Crystal Waters and others on vinyl records at The Eastern.

The incorporation of live music to end the conference lined up directly with Moore’s interests. He’s also a recording artist who releases music under the moniker Sidmfkid, and said while attending a session about programming languages, he met a senior developer at Spotify and was able to give feedback from the user perspective on potential improvements to the music streaming platform.

“There’s one thing that I wish that your app would do,” Moore remembered telling the Spotify rep. “It’s this little feature where you can see how many people saved your song to a playlist. Right now, it’s tailored, I think, to the last 30 days but I want the data for all time, from the moment that song was released to today. So I was able to actually talk to him, and as an artist, tell him my frustrations with that,” Moore said.

“And he was actually like, ‘You know what? Let me text somebody really quick. Let me make a note of this, because this is the kind of feedback we need,’” Moore added with enthusiasm, realizing his voice might actually make a tangible difference.

“This is why Render ATL is so cool.”


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