HTA - Hugh.jpg

Hugh Forrest
Chief Programming Officer
South by Southwest

Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer for South by Southwest (SXSW), which brings together more than 50,000 industry creatives from across the United States and around the world. These creatives are inspired by nine days of panels, presentations, brain storming, networking, deal-making, socializing, creating, innovating, and fun. 

Hugh's Three Important Links

1) Last-minute SXSW updates --

2) Streaming of SXSW content --

3) Free stuff at SXSW --


HTA - Tell us about your personal/professional background?

After growing up in Austin, I got an English Degree at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. I came back to Central Texas after graduation. I tried to make it as a writer for a few years, but I eventually stumbled into a job at SXSW in 1989. So, I’ve been working for the event for more than 25 years.

HTA - Can you share some thoughts about the early days of SXSW Interactive to 2018?  What about the growth of the Health Track ?

SXSW started as a music-only event in 1987. We added in Film and Multimedia in 1994 (and the name “Multimedia” eventually transitioned to “Interactive”). The focus on health is relatively recent. Probably our first big health-related speaker was J Craig Venter, who talked about DNA at SXSW 2011. More recently, two of our biggest speakers at the 2017 were focused on health — Joe Biden (talking about his Cancer Moonshot Project) and Jennifer Doudna (talking about CRISPR). The strong focus on health will continue at SXSW 2018 and in future years. Why? Mainly because of how much we think the Dell Medical School will impact the future of Austin. SXSW is always a strong strong reflection of the strengths (and passions) of this city.

The Health Track -

HTA - How do you see SXSW evolving in the future? Will there be a SXSW 25 years from now?

25 years from now is a long long time! Whatever SXSW is in 2043 will look a lot lot different than it is now. But, in the more short term future, the event will become more virtual — with more and more people being able to participate from afar. Their experience (however) won’t be as dynamic as people who are at the event in real life and in real life. For those folks, I think the continued addition of downtown Austin hotels (as well as the possible increase in space at the Austin Convention Center) will mean even more opportunities for amazing face-to-face connections.

HTA - Before you joined SXSW in 1989, you founded a publication called, The Austin Challenger.  What did you learn from the experience, that is still relevant for you today?

I made every possible mistake with the Austin Challenger. But, I also did most of the writing for that publication — so it helped sharpen my skills there. Being able to write somewhat coherent sentences in a pretty quick timeframe has helped me a lot over the years.

HTA - Do you ever worry that virtual gatherings will replace physical conferences?

I think virtual gatherings will continue to enhance physical conferences. But, for the short term at least, nothing can replace the power of face-to-face networking and face-to-face connections.

HTA - What technology are you seeing the most interest in 2018 SXSW and why do you think that is?

Definitely more interest than ever in all things blockchain. Artificial Intelligence was big at SXSW 2017 and will probably be just as big in 2018. I’m excited that we’re beginning to focus on the possibilities of quantum computing at SXSW, particularly with Whurley’s keynote speech on Tuesday, March 13.

HTA - What’s the most exciting new technology have you heard about recently?

I am really really excited about the possibilities of flying cars. That’s not to say that I want to ride in one for a while. But, the possibilities here are pretty cool. To this end, I’m exited that we have a couple of sessions about this topic for SXSW 2018: “Future of Autonomous Flying Car is Coming” (on March 9) and “Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads: Fly eVTOLs” (on March 13).

HTA - What innovation do you think has the greatest chance of revolutionizing health care?

While I know it is a trendy pick, I will go with blockchain here. The potential of this new technology to help us achieve more uniform, more complete, more secure patient data is pretty amazing.

HTA - What common mistakes do innovators make when trying to promote their ideas?

I think the most common mistake made by innovators is forgetting that it takes a long, long time to build something of value. It is great to have amazing new ideas, but it is also important to have lots of patience and persistence. The progression of SXSW is a model here. What we have in 2018 in Austin is pretty neat — but remember that this took 30 years to develop to where it is now.

HTA - How do you learn?  What are you reading?

At this time of the year, I get pretty good at skimming. Once we hit April, I will spend a lot more time reading books. There are a lot of cool tech-focused books that I want to plow through during the spring and summer. One of the ones on my list is the new book “Principles” by Ray Dalio (who will be speaking about this topic at SXSW 2018).