Reflections on the first Manchester Tech Festival

By Antony Melvin  – Architecture & Planning Practice Lead


Manchester Tech Festival: howe do you solve a problem like hybrid working? panel

Day 1 – Leadership Day

The majority of the Manchester Tech Festival was held at Victoria baths. A fitting venue for the week after the passing of Robbie Coltrane and the backdrop of visceral scenes in Cracker. The opening day, 17 October 2022, featured a leadership day at the Peoples’ History Museum. Kudos to Amy Newton and the Manchester Tech Festival team for some fantastic organisation!  

As I was speaking in a panel discussion on hybrid working, I took a few notes I thought I’d share. 

The day was hosted by Andrew Weaver who helps develop technical leaders in his CTO academy and I reckon there will be a photo of us shaking hands somewhere. 

The Morning

As track sponsors Crimson Macaw’s Data Science Director, Munsoor Negyal, kicked off the day outlining Crimson’s history. This was followed by the start of the day’s planned talks. 

Sherelle Fairweather, Head of Digital Inclusion at Manchester City Council, started the talks with tons of insight on where the Manchester regional digital strategy is going together with the four themes that will underpin all digital strategy over the next 4 years. 

Rob Bowley, Technology Director at, gave excellent guidance on what good looks like in a technical organisation system and how autonomy and guidance work together to create the best performing teams. Defined roles and career frameworks are critical to helping motivate and retain good staff. 

After a break, I was on stage for a lively discussion on hybrid working hosted by Beena Puri who was posing the questions. Alongside me on the panel were Lee Turver from We:Do Digital, Chris Sewart from BJSS, and Matt from KrakenFlex (star sign: Taurus) – the questions from the audience were good. Remote work is now a given, but there is, a loss to everyone missing those sidebar conversations. I wrote a blog on some ways to manage hybrid working earlier in the month you can find it here. 

Lunch included an excellent version of the Manchester Egg, a kind of black pudding-based scotch egg and a long chat with Marc Shirman from Bex (obviously Bez was taken) who is incredibly invested in the future of money and financial education for the generation coming after Z.  

The Afternoon

Jac Hughes, the co-founder of Everyday Agile, described leadership from a nautical standpoint. The need to give people autonomy within their role, with pre-defined situations where everyone is empowered to intervene. No one ignores a fire – it is never someone else’s responsibility! It reminded me of Tom Porter’s ‘autonomy and entrepreneurship’ in his adaptation of the 7-S model from ‘In Search of Excellence’.  

Marc Shirman, Entrepreneur, Investor and NED took us through a free-form discussion of leadership and finance. He talked about why the blockchain-based financial future in the meta-verse form is inevitable and to be embraced.  

A panel session on recruitment followed, boiled down to a critique of how the tech industry treats juniors. Discussion points included

  • whether boot camps work
  • are new entrants being let down by companies constantly craving 2+ years of experience
  • why are few companies willing to take the hit of training up fresh talent

It’s a challenge that has no easy answers.  

Finally, there was a fresh take on leadership from Sara Donnelly, Director, Social Comms – who gave away so many great leadership tips and tricks it would be almost indiscrete to run through them again. 

Simply put, Sara identified 4 key ways leaders could succeed: 

  • Identify business value
  • Find evidence to support (no gut feelings)
  • Use public relations-style explaining to sell through
  • Take your colleagues on the journey

The Afterparty

The after-event event was in Banyan, Spinningfields. A well-attended session (as free bars often tend to be). So, what did I learn?  

  • How not to open a bottle of wine with a shoe from the CEO of a virtual conferencing startup
  • A lot more about Northcoders and what I’m dubbing as Academy-as-a-Service from Lucy Galway 
  • I spoke at length to my fellow panellist from BJSS, Chris Sewart; and various other senior technologists from a dizzying range of highly credible companies
  • Cllr Greg Stanton’s local transport infrastructure history knowledge is impressive and he shared with me the geography of Disbury ward boundaries!

I headed off into the night, quickly checking my phone to see if Liz Truss was Prime Minister. She was, although the week-long #manchestertechfestival ultimately outlasted her.