An Austinite’s Guide to Surviving South By Southwest

February 27th, 2014

SXSW Killer Line-upSouth By Southwest is just around the corner – by the end of next week, over 150,000 people will be converging in Austin to check out what’s trendy this year in tech, film, music, and more.  Downtown streets will be closed, parties and shows will take over any available space in town, and I-35 traffic will grind to a halt…I have never been happier to work from home.  The festival has become a free-for-all for new startups and entrepreneurs to launch applications and schmooze venture capitalists. Many people in the tech industry will find themselves in the middle of this madness for the first time this year, and it can be a bit overwhelming.  I’ve been living in the area and attending the festival for the last five years, and I’d like to give y’all (remember, you’ll be in Texas) a few tips to get through the festival alive.


Really, if you haven’t spent the last few weeks RSVPing to every event you come across, it’s getting a bit late. Many of the most anticipated meetups have already filled up and closed their RSVPs.  It’s not guaranteed that an event will be checking the list, but always better safe than sorry.  As I’ll mention later, ‘going with the flow’ is of utmost importance during the festival, and registering for every event you come across will give you many options for what to do when the event you’d hoped to attend has a line going around the block (trust me, it will).  If, like me, you have to work for a living, consider using a service like RSVPSter. $40 pays someone to register you for every event they come across and gets you a pretty sweet calendar of all of the events.  Finally, consider creating a throwaway email address for all of those registrations – you’ll save yourself from dealing with a great deal of spam after the festival.  Here’s a short list of a few great tech events you should register for before they close:

2. Ditch Your Car

As I mentioned previously, traffic in Austin (which is bad enough on a normal day) will grind to a halt for two weeks during SXSW.  Park well away from the madness and enjoy a scenic walk through the city – it’s Austin in March, so the weather will be great.  Better yet, ride a bike! The City of Austin recently launched a bike share service that is affordable and convenient. Most repair shops in town also keep a rental fleet. Finally, check out Spokefly, a peer to peer bike sharing service that will make getting around a breeze.  With very few hills and ample bike lanes, Austin is a great place to ride a bike – I say that with a bit of bias, as I’ve been cycling as my primary mode of transit for the last year. Public transit is another reliable option if you’d like to avoid searching for parking for hours.

3. Go With The Flow

With so much going on around town, it’s very important to not get too hung up on attending any one event.  Any big-name acts or large parties sponsored by tech companies will definitely have the kind of lines that are usually seen at Disney World attractions.  Don’t be afraid to abandon your previous plans and check out a tech party for a startup you’ve never heard of – some of my best experiences at the festival were things I stumbled upon rather than planned.  Particularly if you plan to see any bands, remember that SXSW is not so much a traditional music festival as it is a way for the industry to showcase what’s up and coming.  Take advantage of this to see bands you’ve never heard of that your friends will all be talking about in six months.

4. Pace Yourself and Hydrate

This may seem like an unnecessary piece of advice, but I’ve had too many friends and acquaintances succumb to dehydration during the festival.   Austin in March can get pretty hot (many times over 80 degrees) for those visiting from out of the state, and visitors will be walking more than they’re likely used to.  Free beer is infinitely more common than free water, so be sure to bring a bottle with you.  On the subject of free beer, it will be everywhere.  SXSW does a great job of mixing work and play, but it’s hard to network and see great music when you’re asleep in your hotel room by four in the afternoon.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint!

Overall, South By Southwest is a great way to find out about what’s on the horizon for tech, film, and music.  Be on the lookout for another post after the festival with my observations for what’s up and coming!

What are your tips for surviving Austin? Let us know in the comments below.

Stephen Brown

Stephen Brown is a Computer Science graduate of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. In 2012, he received a grant to explore interdisciplinary educational applications of motion control software. More recently, he completed a cybersecurity-focused internship with Booz Allen Hamilton. Stephen is constantly working to keep his skills fresh and embracing new technology.

Leave a Reply