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Behind-the-Scenes Details From Kara Swisher's Final Code Conference

Vox Media's 2022 Code Conference featured high-profile speakers like Pete Buttigieg, Tim Cook, Mark Cuban, and Issa Rae—plus a fond farewell to 20-year host Kara Swisher.

Code Conference 2022
Code Conference 2022 drew big-name speakers like U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. "This year was an exciting year of programming, with Kara [Swisher] reaching into her personal network to confirm some of the greatest speakers we have had at Code," explained Vox Media's Tara Reilly.
Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media

LOS ANGELES—Over the last 20 years, renowned journalist Kara Swisher has become known for conducting hard-hitting interviews from her signature red chairs during Vox Media's annual Code Conference. (Who can forget the time she and co-founder Walt Mossberg made Mark Zuckerberg literally sweat with their questions about user privacy?)

So the 2022 Code Conference, which took place Sept. 6-8 at the Beverly Hilton, struck a bittersweet tone as Swisher bid farewell to hosting and organizing the annual business-to-business tech event—which this year drew a who's-who of big-name speakers, including CEOs like Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Amazon’s Andy Sassy, and Snap’s Evan Spiegel, plus politicians like Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Governor Gavin Newsom. Code Conference 2022The event took place Sept. 6-8 at the Beverly Hilton hotel, where the entrance featured oversized decals in the conference's signature red branding.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media

Tara Reilly, Vox Media's vice president of experiential and partnerships, described Code's speakers as "the top tier of Silicon Valley, politicians, and economists who shape the future of the industry." She explained, "For nearly two decades, Code has had a legacy of Kara Swisher leading conversations with tech and business giants, and our approach has remained focused on a strong emphasis on the topics and individuals that are top of mind—trailblazers, shifts, and major launches."

While emphasizing the future—like with an entire day devoted to innovations in climate change tech—Swisher's final conference was also a chance to look back.

"It definitely gave us an opportunity to work with her to curate the most amazing lineup of speakers, and to push ourselves to exceed her expectations on the event," Reilly said. "The focus on Kara’s last year also gave us an opportunity to reflect and highlight that, thanks to Kara’s influence and hard work, we have built an event that can continue on even in her absence." Code Conference 2022Other speakers included Governor Gavin Newsom; Senator Amy Klobuchar; former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki (pictured); and the CEOs of Apple, Google, Amazon, and more. "While there are a few added elements for working with such high-profile individuals, we generally find that partnering closely with their teams as well as the venue and security teams, and providing open lines of communication and planning, mitigates any on-site logistical challenges that may arise," Reilly said.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media

In addition to the impressive speaker lineup, this year's invitation-only conference featured a number of smart innovations, including a virtual ticket option. While the in-person event is one of the most exclusive tickets around—according to Axios, only 20% of the 4,000 tech executives who apply are accepted, and registration fees range from $7,000-$9,500—organizers also offered a $150 virtual ticket this year.

Hosted by Zoom, the virtual ticket included access to all mainstage sessions and interviews, which were available both live and on-demand, as well as networking opportunities with other virtual attendees.

Reilly noted that the virtual component provided an impactful sponsorship opportunity, and the chance to scale the event for a reasonable price. "What we have seen as a result of the pandemic is that people are looking for more flexibility—[and] with the technology that companies like Zoom have in place, we are able to open up an event like Code to a much larger audience, providing an opportunity for inclusivity that is not restrained to the limits of time and space," she explained, adding the Vox Media hopes to continue using a hybrid model for its large-scale events in the future.

"We continue to see it as a mechanism for expanding our audience and accessibility for our events in a meaningful way," she said. Code Conference 2022Experiential moments included a scent-making station with Algorithmic Perfumery by EveryHuman. Attendees could interact with an app and answer a questionnaire; based on their answers, the system created three unique perfumes for them to take home. Other sponsor moments included a headshot studio from Salesforce, plus a Snap activation that allowed attendees to experiment with viral lenses and try on the brand's AR display glasses.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media

During the three-day event, organizers broke up the educational programming with a variety of networking sessions, morning workouts, event dinners, and interactive sponsor activations. "For Code Conference, attendees are there to see the substantive conversations taking place on the main stage, but they are equally interested in meeting and networking with other attendees, facilitated by networking events, power lunches, and the Code app," Reilly explained. "We find that creating natural ways to incorporate experiential elements for attendees to do while they are on-site is a great way to help our guests have fun and spark conversations and connections with others."

Code Conference 2022At the welcome lunch on day one, Colombian-owned company Kiwibots showed off its delivery robots, which result in zero carbon emissions.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox MediaFor other conference organizers who want to curate a similarly long-running—and headline-grabbing—conference, Reilly offered some advice: Focus on the experience, take some calculated risks, and don't neglect any details.

"It’s critical—from logistics to communications to programming, design, and even the curation of food and beverage—that every aspect of every detail is thought through, and that we ensure we are providing for our audiences exactly what they are looking for from that event," she says.

For Code Conference, Reilly noted, "the start-to-end consumer experience and high-touch ability to ensure that every need is met and that every question is answered is something we take a lot of pride in being able to execute flawlessly. It also means being open to risk-taking, to evolving, and to embracing the needs of today, which sometimes pushes people slightly out of the box."

And, she added, "that disruption of norms is where innovation frequently happens."

Scroll down for a closer look inside this year's Code Conference. Code Conference 2022"While the format and venue often stays consistent, every year we try to do things a little differently and with a new lens based on the changing landscape of events and technology," said Reilly. "This year, one of the things we did differently was to bring in an incredible experiential design team to work with our in-house design team and to take the brand IP and aesthetic to the next level."Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox MediaCode Conference 2022E-commerce tech company Rokt presented the Skybox, a section of the main ballroom that featured comfortable couch seating, coffee, and complimentary Australian bites and beverages.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox MediaCode Conference 2022An on-site gift shop featured specially curated items that could be shipped directly to attendees' homes. Highlights included a Johnnie Walker NFT, plus items centered around technology and travel. The shop also showcased an initiative from Salesforce, which donated a tree on behalf of each Code attendee.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox MediaCode Conference 2022In addition to its NFT, Johnnie Walker spotlighted its Diageo product at all bars at Code. The brand also hosted a power lunch, along with Code's "Rising Stars" program, which included Spinema creator David Bianchi, NFT Now co-founder Alejandro Navia, and World of Women COO Shannon Snow.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox MediaCode Conference 2022An outdoor area presented by Intel served food and hosted various programming.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox MediaCode Conference 2022On day two, a series of Power Lunches were open to attendees. Participants could choose between a number of topics, ranging from how gaming will lead to Web 3.0, to shifts in e-commerce, to insights into the metaverse.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox MediaCode Conference 2022On the first night of the conference, Eater teamed up with Johnnie Walker to present the Eater Dinner, which showcased new faces from the Los Angeles culinary scene. Night two, meanwhile, featured a Cadillac-hosted dinner reception at The Rooftop by Jean-Georges.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox MediaCode Conference 2022A series of fitness classes—called Reboot Workouts—were available to attendees each morning. Options included a wilderness hiking adventure with California Survival School, cardio workouts with LEKFIT HYPE, or a pool workout with a local triathlon coach.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox MediaCode Conference 2022In a fun tribute to Swisher, cookies featuring her likeness—in her signature dark aviator sunglasses—were on hand. Attendees were also given vouchers for their own Ray-Ban shades, courtesy of Comcast NBCUniversal.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox MediaCode Conference 2022Day three focused entirely on the companies and technology that are driving climate and sustainability innovation—including Novameat, which used 3D printing to create plant-based products that mimic the taste of real meat. To Reilly, having these types of unexpected, forward-thinking components is crucial. "Some of these experiences can provide a great opportunity for our guests to experience something new, something they may not have seen or done or heard before," she said. "Surprising people is part of the joy in what we do."Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox MediaCode Conference 2022Another day-three activation came from Shine Turbine, a 40-watt, lightweight portable wind turbine charger.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox MediaCode Conference 2022Conference organizers celebrated Swisher's final year with a video recap of some of her most headline-grabbing interviews, before she was joined on stage by her wife and kids. Swisher also took the time to announce On with Kara Swisher, her new interview podcast with New York Magazine and Vox Media that premieres on Sept. 26.Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media

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