James McDermott at SISTEM 2020

Interviewing James McDermott – a key figure in SISTEM 2020’s organisation

In organising SISTEM for the past three years, James McDermott is no stranger to the public eye. With the event undoubtedly being a resounding success, we spoke with James in order to gather his thoughts. From SISTEM 2020’s goals, to diversity, to the future of SISTEM going forward – we asked it all. SISTEM is a “tech conference for students, by students”, and with this being James’ final year in DCU, this was also his final year in organising the event. SISTEM may not necessarily be his “baby” (as he puts it in his blog), but he is one of its founders that helped make it what it is today.

What was the goal of SISTEM 2020 and do you think you achieved it?

The goal of SISTEM 2020 was to bring the student tech community together in a casual meetup environment, expanding their network with students from other universities and providing a link with those in the world of tech and enterprise. We definitely achieved this goal, best exemplified by multiple industry professionals taking the time to talk with attendees in between sessions on the day. This to me really captures the relaxed nature of SISTEM.

What challenges did SISTEM encounter while trying to ensure the diversity of the speakers, if there were any?

Diversity was one of our top priorities this year. I think when you make it a top priority there has to be a structured plan of how you expect to implement it, and in that way, it’s no more challenging than any other aspect of the day. It’s all about what you prioritise in your event, and the SISTEM organising committee was dedicated to ensuring the event was diverse in it’s the speaking line-up and accessible to all present on the day.

This year you kind of reached out farther worldwide than previous years too – you had speakers from Seattle, for example. How did you manage to organise the collaboration with such a variety of people?

I suppose this is where the strength of the organising committee comes in. Delegation was key. The SISTEM committee was made up of folks from across the country, and they were all on the same page from day one. This makes putting an event like SISTEM together much easier on all. In short, we managed to organise the collaboration with such a variety of people because of the volume and shared vision of the organising committee.

How do you believe SISTEM strengthens the sense of community and fellowship that it shares with all its attendees?

I think meetups like SISTEM do a great deal to strengthen the student tech community. Bringing students together from all corners of the island allows for the sharing of knowledge and ideas. I think the student tech community is more tight-knit than now than it was before the inaugural event, and with each passing year, the bonds forged have only grown stronger.

How has working with more colleges than before been for you?

Personally, it was a godsend. I find myself in my Final Year of Computer Applications in DCU, so having more amazing people come on board really helped distribute the load. On top of this, the people that came on board brought a set of fresh new ideas with them that really enhanced the event. In my eyes, the more colleges that come on board, the better for all.

This is your last year as the organiser. Do you believe you’re leaving your legacy in capable hands moving forward?

I don’t really view it as “my legacy”. The legacy of SISTEM is a shared one, shared between nine societies at this point. I think the next set of organisers (many of which helped organise this year’s event) are definitely capable of making SISTEM 2021 happen in a big way. This is my last year as organiser, which means my old ideas are moving on with me, and a new set of fresh ones are coming. As long as the values of SISTEM are upheld, I have no doubts the next SISTEM will be incredible.

What would you say to people looking to get involved next year, to maybe encourage them?

The high you get from organising an annual community event like this is beyond description. Seeing everyone enjoy something you’ve worked tirelessly on is just awesome. Beyond the scope of the event, you really do make so many new friendships with like-minded folks from across the island. In the past three years, I’ve seen my network expand to places I never thought possible, and I’ve seen my friend-circle expand alongside it. In April 2017 I made this my raison d’etre, and to those looking to get involved next year I implore you to make this your raison d’etre for a few years – you won’t be sorry for doing so.

Finally, what are your goals for SISTEM next year, and in the following years to come?

I think the 2021 event has a lot of potential to try some new things out. Personally I’d hope the organisers uphold the values and priorities of SISTEM 2020, and on top of this, I’d like to see an attempt at a zero-waste policy on the day. I’ve seen a few conferences attempt this with varying degrees of success, and I think the SISTEM crew are more than capable of making this a reality. In futures years, I think we could see the event reach further out again, I think that down the line somewhere the organisers will reach out to invite students from other European universities, but there’s a lot of work behind the scenes in making that a reality. This island is fast becoming the tech hub of Europe, and there’s no reason that SISTEM cannot become the tech hub for European students.

An Irish technology fanatic with a BSc in Computer Science. Lover of smartphones, cybersecurity, and Counter-Strike. You can contact me at adam.conway@irishtech.ie.
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