Contrary Tech Talks

Hosting Eng-Centric Events in Venture.

Jen Yang-Wong

June 13, 2024

A few weeks back, we wrapped up our third Tech Talk with nearly 500 signups for a 45-person event. The new event series has been a success, and so I thought I’d share the story about how we came up with the idea.

 A little over a year ago, I stepped in to lead Contrary’s talent function. Coming in, and as is the case with most venture firms, I needed to figure out how Contrary’s talent function would build up a network of talented engineers. Beyond general sourcing and phone calls, I wanted to host an event that engineers and technical operators would be excited to attend. Traditional VC events for engineers fall into one of two categories: generic happy hour or hackathon.

I generally don’t enjoy generic happy hours. Perhaps it’s because I don’t enjoy drinking to begin with, but the idea of a corporate-sponsored happy hour with free alcohol, people coming in and out, and not much intentionality beyond that just doesn’t sound appealing. Even if the group attending the happy hour is mostly made up of engineers, they often end up feeling like any other generic networking event or tech event. There is little to distinguish the experience other than the guest list, so there’s no compelling reason for top engineering talent to attend – which is why they often won’t.

Hackathons, on the other hand, can be really fun and truly embody the idea of building. But they represent a sizable time commitment and often draw a younger crowd of engineering talent who are hungry to develop and prove their skills. In addition to that, I felt that hosting a hackathon wouldn’t be genuine for me. As a PM, I understand the technicalities of how things are built but don’t code myself.

I therefore landed on the idea of hosting live engineering demos, or tech talks. As a PM, I often attended or tuned into tech talks at Uber. I didn’t always have full context on the problem they were solving for since there were so many different teams, or understand every intricate technical detail, but I always learned something, like how to find patterns in recurring gotchas (such as accounting for changes in time zones or daylight savings, or specifically when some time zones implement daylight savings and others don’t).

But perhaps most importantly, I saw my engineering peers light up with excitement with this event format. They were events in their domain where they felt they could learn from each other. Specifically, many engineers in the audience would ask questions and chime in with other suggestions for how to tackle a problem area.

Our most recent Tech Talk, the third in the series, was at Hex HQ in San Francisco featuring Hex, Ramp, Sourcegraph, Semgrep, Onehouse, and Weaviate. Each company came with a demo of new features it had built and recently launched:

  • Hex demo-ed its new spreadsheet language feature, featuring instant browser previews with web assembly
  • Ramp demo-ed its new Hotel + Flight booking flows on mobile
  • Sourcegraph demo-ed the creation of an app with Cody from "scratch"
  • Semgrep demo-ed its code search tool to run security rules
  • Onehouse demo-ed its universal data lake
  • Weaviate demo-ed what's next for vector databases and Weaviate after RAG

Part of the success of the series has been the high-quality companies that have participated in each event. Our previous Tech Talk (the second in the series) SF Tech Talk featured Figma, Linear, Replit, Stytch, and Hex. Our first Tech Talk, hosted in NYC, featured Hugging Face, Graphite, Nomic, Replit, and Slingshot.

Our next Tech Talk will be this fall in NYC. If you’re a startup and want to demo your product at a future tech talk, reach out at jen@contrary.com

And lastly, this post wouldn’t be complete without a massive thank you to our speakers and hosts.

  • Danny Thomson @ Stytch
  • Gian Segato & Ornella Altunyan @ Replit
  • Josh Tabak @ Figma
  • Raissa Largman @ Linear
  • Victor Sanh @ Hugging Face
  • Erika Rice Scherpelz @ Sourcegraph
  • Olivia Koshy & Caitlin Colgrove @ Hex
  • Ayush Kapur &  Daniel Cahn @ Slingshot
  • Greg Foster @ Graphite
  • Brandon Duderstadt @ Nomic
  • Daniel Lee @ Onehouse
  • Bob van Luijt @ Weaviate
  • Milan Williams @ Semgrep
  • Eric Appel @ Ramp

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