Johanna Ambrosio

DEMO: Energy, excitement -- and lots of cool tech

October 03, 2012 1:06 PM EDT

Okay, I'll admit it -- I've been working in the computer industry for, um, well over 20 years, and have covered or attended at least 100 tech-related conferences and confabs. But I had yet to get to a DEMO show in any of its 22 years of existence. (Disclosure: DEMO is co-produced by IDG Enterprise, the parent organization of Computerworld.)

I finally rectified that omission this week, and I am very grateful for it. DEMO -- where companies and products launch in hopes of attracting more funding, investors and business connections -- is a wonderful place to be re-infected with passion for technology and for the industry as a whole.

You can't help but feel the energy, and be caught up in the dreams. There was the young woman, the same age as my younger stepdaughter, talking passionately about her company. And another young entrepreneur, literally wide-eyed, attending his very first industry conference. And the startup whose principals piled into the car and drove from their home base in the Midwest to the show in California, trying to save money on airfare. Now that's a road trip for the ages.

And, of course, it doesn't get much fabulous than listening to industry luminary Ray Kurzweil talk about the future of tech -- and how our brains will, someday, extend into the cloud. (I'll wait in line for that one.)

Back in the here and now, there's a whole lot of technology mixing and matching going on. That became apparent when I was trying to categorize the products announced at the show -- are they video with a social media component, or social business with video built in? (At the end of the day it doesn't really matter so much, I realize, but my right brain still hurts.)

E-commerce with a heavy dose of collaboration and social marketing is a big hit here, too.

This tech mashup was also apparent in the new crop of recruitment tools on display. They combine social media, database, psychological testing and, in one case, tiered financial incentives and a commitment to helping train the next generation of skilled tech workers. IT executives talk often about hiring being a huge pain point, so here's a quick rundown of the hiring tools in hopes that one or more might be helpful to your organization. (Caveat: Not all of these are commercially available; some are still in alpha or beta. Please investigate further before you sign up!)

  • Barrel of jobs: Leverages social networking to get people to share job opportunities with their friends, colleagues and family members, and provides financial incentives to the entire referral chain. (There's also an option to donate your referral fee to a nonprofit that's doing IT training, including The Wounded Warrior Project.) The idea is to successfully tap into the 84% of candidates who are passive -- in other words, those who are already employed and not actively looking for a job.
  • Common Job Application: Provides multiple levels of information about both companies and entry-level job candidates, to help provide a better skills and cultural fit, along with database-driven tools for everyone involved to track and sort opportunities.
  • HireQ: Focuses on organizational behavior and behavioral psychology and provides tools to ensure a good fit right up front, instead of this being a step later on. The goal is to connect "the right people to the right careers at the right companies," as the brochure says.
  • Flinja: Social media tool to connect college students with alumni and help them all find jobs.

Not all of the companies and products showcased at DEMO will be successful over the long haul, of course, but I'm relieved that's up to the free-market system to shake out and not something I will have to decide; I'm rooting for them all. In the meantime, one lucky startup will win a $1 million prize later this evening. Stay tuned.

Update: The winner of the $1 million prize was Ube, a maker of software and hardware to control home IP-based systems including lights, energy, security, media and more. Other 'best in show' winners -- which got props but no cash -- included Flinja (an employment-related social network mentioned above), ElectNext (a tool to help someone decide who to vote for in national elections), Birdeez (to help bird-watchers ID the feathered friends in their yards), Bandu (a stress-relief tool) and Neurotrack (a visual-cognitive, noninvasive test to help diagnose Alzheimer's disease several years before symptoms manifest). Congratulations to all!