Having studied Government and Law at undergraduate level and subsequently for a Masters in South Asian Politics and Economy, Amit Das decided a career in political science was not for him and chose to use the skills he had developed, first as a journalist and then to pursue a career in conference organisation. Amit has been in the industry for 25 years, initially working for a company but then taking the leap to launch his own company, Alpha Events, which is responsible for the renowned Quantum.Tech events series. We caught up with him to find out about why events and roles like his are key to quantum community building, what a typical day is like for him and advice he would give to others considering pursuing a career in events in quantum.
You have a degree in Government and Law so what made you take up a career in events and conference organisation?
After I did my degree, I did a Masters in South Asian Politics and Economy, and it became clear to me that I did not want a career in political science but that I still wanted to use the analytical skills that I had developed. I was a journalist for a while and then I saw a role as a research manager at a conference organisation and thought it looked interesting. I took that job and have been in this business now for 25 years – it is very different to what I imagined! What I had not realised is that this business is not about organising events on behalf of other people, we do qualitative research for a particular market, figure out what trends there are and build events around that. We build the agenda, recruit speakers and do everything right through to actually running the event on site, nobody tells you how to do it. It is fascinating talking to senior people in lots of different industries, learning about different industries and then seeing an idea that you conceived and developed from scratch actually happening on site, with hundreds of people attending the event that you have built, it’s really satisfying.
Your current portfolio includes events across a number of sectors including Quantum, AI (artificial intelligence) and Data Science. What encouraged you to get involved in the field of quantum in particular?
The business I set up a few years ago, Alpha Events, had the mission of building global communities and events around cutting-edge technology. We started off with an AI and data science event for capital markets and one of the members of the advisory board for that event worked at a big global bank and he said if I was interested in cutting-edge technologies, I should look at quantum. I had no idea what he was talking about but it sounded interesting and I trusted him, so I decided to look into it. As I do with any new area, I talked to as many people in the market as possible to figure out whether there was an opportunity there and very quickly I realised that there was and there was a long-term opportunity too. It was clear that governments, academia and industry were at a tipping point where this technology was becoming commercially viable and that’s a very exciting point for event organisers. I enjoy new technology and so just leapt into it and set out on a mission to build a global event to bring together as many people as possible in this field to talk about how to commercialise the technology. The aim was not to create an academic or research-based conference but one focused purely on commercialisation.
Why is your work to organise events such as Quantum.Tech, one of the biggest events in the quantum calendar, important to the field? Even throughout Covid your company was hosting many popular online events, what do you think makes an event (regardless of in-person or online) effective in building a strong quantum community?
There is a real need for people to benchmark against what their peers are doing in a particular industry. We often find ourselves within the bubble of our own company or organisation, and to step outside that and see what others are doing is really important. Everyone talks about networking at events being important as well but what does networking really mean? It means building personal connections, so that when you face a particular problem or issue, for example recruitment issues, you can pick up the phone and call or e-mail someone that you’ve met at an event and that may be able to help you. This is really important to the community. Finally, personal development is important; people go to events to develop themselves, learn and become better at what they do. That applies to people in quantum too, even more so in a way, because it’s at such an early stage of adoption and it has such a strong academic background that lots of the people coming into the industry aren’t even familiar with how industry works, they’re coming from an academic background and need real help in how to commercialise their products, how to bring their products to market, and I think Quantum.Tech offers that. When COVID hit, we took the decision to make all of our events completely free and that’s one of the best things I did because the feedback that I got from the community was just amazing. During that period when everyone was locked indoors, they wanted an outlet and a means to meet with their peers, to talk with other people, to share experiences, and we achieved that. I was getting emails from Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and so on, with people saying how amazing the events had been and how while they could not attend in-person events, they were grateful that we made it possible for them to attend online ones. It was great to be able to help the community through that difficult time.
What is a typical day like for you?
My role has changed a lot over the years, but when you first take up this kind of role it’s very much communications based. You speak to people all day long, try to find out what the industry wants from an event, what they want to learn, how they want to learn, who they want to meet, how they want to meet and so on. Your job is to come up with how best to build an event and tailor it as much as possible to the needs of the market. You engage with people through a variety of channels, try to build connections and relationships, attend meetings (face-to-face and online) and so on, to try and build your network. There are also elements of business development because creating a new event is like running a business – sales and marketing etc. are all required. These days, a lot of my work focuses on the team, building the team, keeping the team focused and energised, setting the strategy for the event, and considering how to grow the event, how to keep it relevant and fresh and how to make it bigger. I also focus a lot on recruitment and finding the best people for the roles that we need to fill.
What is it that excites you most about quantum and is there a particular aspect of quantum technologies that you are especially excited to see commercialised in the years to come?
Overall, what excites me the most about quantum is its truly transformative nature. We are faced with such severe global challenges from climate change through to food production and quantum could be one of the solutions to those challenges. It is still a way off, but the progress even over the last three years is so incredible and the amount of money, both government and private, flowing into the sector, and more importantly, the brainpower that is present, gives me quite a lot of confidence that the technologies will get there and make a difference. In terms of specific applications, I am excited by the potential around climate change and helping solve some of those problems that we have brought upon ourselves.
What transferrable skills do you think you have gained throughout your career and which are the most important one(s) for someone hoping to fulfil as similar role?
The most important skill that I think I have learned over the years, aside from the skill of identifying talented people and motivating them, is understanding commercial drivers. It is important to be able to understand why businesses exist, what their needs are and how we can help them to grow, enter new markets and commercialise their products. Understanding commercial drivers is key to being successful in a commercial environment. I am not sure if that’s a skill, but that knowledge is certainly one of my most valuable resources.
What experiences would be valuable to someone hoping to move into a role like yours in the field of quantum?
Business development and marketing experience are invaluable. Also, being entrepreneurial is important. When running an event, you are essentially running your own business and you are going to be faced with tons of challenges, you need to be able to find solutions to those challenges, largely on your own. To do that, you need to have a level of confidence and autonomy to be able to accept the hurdles that are in front of you and overcome them. Also, you must enjoy a customer facing role, you talk to people outside of your environment daily, and you must be comfortable and enjoy that.
What advice would you give to young people and students interested in taking up a role like this?
If you are interested in it, explore it because it is not a role that anyone goes to school or university for – most of the people I work with have fallen into this rather than having intended this to be their career. If you enjoy meeting lots of different people and learning about lots of different industries, how they work, enjoy building things from scratch and seeing those things come to fruition, then it is absolutely an industry you should try to get into! Lastly, if any students want to come to Quantum.Tech in September and see how a live event works, we would be happy to host them. We would love to see young people and students from universities at the event and we would be more than happy to talk to them at any time about what a career in events looks like.
Quantum.Tech 2022 will take place between September 19th and 21st at Twickenham Stadium, London. To find out more about this year’s event and to benefit from an early bird discount, register your interest by August 12th, by visiting https://www.quantumtechdigital.co.uk/