RenderATL is a tech conference dedicated to diverse perspectives in Atlanta


RenderATL is a different kind of tech conference that is far away from the tech heartland of Silicon Valley. Based in Atlanta, it’s all about bringing more diverse engineers and people into the community of technologists.

Started in 2019 by Justin Samuels, founder and CEO of RenderATL, the event now brings an economic impact of over $6.5 million to Atlanta and it expects more than 5,000 attendees at this year’s event taking place June 12 to June 14 at America’s Mart during Atlanta Tech Week.

Render isn’t your typical company; it’s made for technology professionals by technology professionals, Samuels said. And it’s where the worlds of collards and code seamlessly intertwine, creating an environment where people can authentically be themselves without feeling like they’re just there to check a box, Samuels said in an interview with VentureBeat.

Overall diversity in the tech industry is still pretty small. Around the world, men are about 92% of software developers. In the U.S., women are about 22% of software engineers. Black engineers are under 5%, while Hispanic/LatinX people are 6.9%, according to a report in 2022.

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Justin Samuels is CEO and founder of Render ATL.

The event features more than 70 partners and more than 100 keynote addresses, seminars and workshops. By design, it’s not the usual circuit of speakers. RenderATL features speakers including NFL legend Shannon Sharpe; distinguished Google engineer Kelsey Hightower; and entertainer DJ Pee .Wee (AKA Anderson .Paak).

Samuels hopes to bring people into the world of technology so that they can shape its direction. It will feature talks on artificial intelligence, software engineering, design, product and project management, tech leadership and more.

These experiences will provide attendees with not only insights into the latest trends and developments but have the opportunity to deepen their understanding of cutting-edge technologies and gain practical skills to drive success in their respective fields as well as a platform for employer recruiting with high career placement success rates.

RenderATL is unlike any other tech conference as it has a commitment to bridging the gap between tech and culture. Render attendees will be at the forefront of the intersection between the two, with not only empowering discussions and workshops, but also witness some of today’s top musical acts perform and network across all industries in a unique way.

Origins

The crowds of techies are diverse at RenderATL.

I asked about the genesis of the event.

Samuels himself is a child of immigrants. His father came from Montego Bay, Jamaica, in the 1970s. He had an entrepreneurial spirit, always collecting random items and making something with them. One day, he gave a computer to the young Samuels, who turned it on and figured it out. He played a game called The Oregon Trail obsessively.

“That was where I first got exposed to tech,” he said. He started making Geocities pages and got onto MySpace. He picked up tech skills along the way and made his way into the tech industry.

“I was going across the country constantly to do continuing education as a software engineer. In our line of work, you have to get continuing education credits. It helps you to keep updated and remain up to date on your skills because software is constantly changing.”

He started asking himself why he couldn’t do these events on the East Coast, and why he couldn’t do it in a city like Atlanta, with its extremely busy airport.

“I thought that if we were able to do it here, we could engage with cultural elements that you usually don’t find at a tech conference. And make it a like a representation of not just one particular group of the industry, but make it representative of everybody across the board,” he said.

So Samuels said he started work on creating a premier place for technology professionals looking to increase their continuing education and looking to get those skills so that they could move their organizations forward.

His timing could have been better. He started the event in 2021, right in the middle of the pandemic.

He added, “I was tired of the isolation. I was always blessed to have a remote job. But I needed to meet some people face to face. I wanted to engage. I needed social interaction. People were receptive to it.”

So he created a small event in September 2021 where people were still willing to venture out. Despite the risks of COVID, about 350 people still came out to the event in Atlanta. There were 20 corporate partners and the event sold out that year. In June 2022, the event drew 1,200 people. In June 2023, it drew 3,000.

Now Samuels anticipated having his biggest event yet, where there are tons of demos and exhibit booths for companies trying to recruit talent.

The 2024 event

RenderATL is expected to draw 5,000 people.
RenderATL is expected to draw 5,000 people in June 2024.

This year, RenderATL is set to have cultural shifters like Shannon Sharpe, known for his legendary 14 season career in the NFL and his acclaimed podcast “Club Shay Shay” as the keynote speaker. He will talk about organizational and executive leadership in a session moderated by Revolt Media and TV CEO Detavio Samuels.

Samuels said that Sharpe is interesting as a podcaster and YouTube personality who can talk about executive leadership, how to build a team, how to lead and inspire others to be their best.

RenderRTL does a survey where it asks 38 questions of its attendees, speakers and more so that it can identify their backgrounds, with permission. Over 40% of the attendees identify as having African descent, and about half identify as women, which is huge for the male-dominated industry, he said.

Kelsey Hightower, distinguished Google engineer, will speak as a developer advocate. Others include musical talent such as DJ Pee .Wee (AKA Anderson .Paak), R&B star Rotimi, D Smoke, CoCo and Breezy, Kamaiyah and DaniLeigh.

“2024 marks a pivotal moment for the tech community as we gather in Atlanta for RenderATL,” Samuels said. “As a technology conference we brought together the best speakers and workshop conductors for the best continuous learning environment to help enable our attendees to go further in their career and advance technology beyond cutting industry knowledge, especially with our cornerstone focus in A.I., for this year’s experience. The energy surrounding this conference is infectious, and we’re thrilled to shine light on all of the talent this conference brings each and every year.”

RenderATL has the support of Zillow as its title sponsor. “At Zillow, our purpose is to help more and more people get home, and we strive to do that by connecting with the best and brightest talent. RenderATL offers community for top talent, and we cannot wait to get to Atlanta for another year of connection and building at the intersection of technology, innovation and culture,” said Roz Francuz-Harris, vice president of talent acquisition and engagement & belonging for Zillow, in a statement.

Zillow is a big supporter of RenderATL.

The event has the support from the mayor of Atlanta, Andre Dickets.

“For us to become a top five tech hub, we need to build and shape our talent pool. Occasions like Atlanta Tech Week and RenderATL Conference, help us connect Atlantans to coveted career opportunities and training, which strengthens our ecosystem and more importantly- can change someone’s life,” said Donnie Beamer, senior technology advisor to the mayor, in a statement. “Atlanta Tech Week and RenderATL also invites aspiring technologists and entrepreneurs to see what Atlanta has to offer. We’re excited that RenderATL continues to call Atlanta home, is making it a destination for the industry and reaches populations that have long been overlooked. Together we’re building something special.”

About 40% of attendees at RenderATL are of African descent.
About 40% of attendees at RenderATL are of African descent.

“I always tell people that, while we’re a diverse conference, our main mission is to be the premier technology conference for continuing education,” he said. “It was intentionally made for people to find somebody they could identify with. That’s important because learning and education comes in many shapes and sizes. We can be incredibly smart people, but we probably do not learn in the exact same classroom setting. Some people learn better online or at school. You need different avenues and media for people to learn and be the best they can be.”

Learning at a tech conference is yet another medium, he said.

“It allows people from multiple backgrounds that come to gather and to learn in an environment that they feel comfortable in,” he said.

Samuels is also chairman and founder of Atlanta Tech Week, which got started in 2023 and runs this year from June 9 to June 15. It features events happening all around the Atlanta area. Now there are people coming from other regions like other states in the South.