Back in May we visited the TNW Conference of 2019, held in Amsterdam at NDSM, a shipyard turned event center that is a perfect hub for creativity and exploration. Bringing tech industry heavy hitters together in one place, the TNW Conference is an awesome spot to hear from leading experts in the field talk about their work, while also attending exciting roundtables, workshops, exhibitions, and more. It's not only about broadening your network and making new connections, it's also a celebration of modern technology.
We took some time to talk to some techies about, you guessed it, tattoos. While many industries are finally opening up to this powerful form of human expression, we wanted to see what others had to say about tattoo acceptance in their own backyard.
Our first conversation was with Carmen Guillen, Editor in Chief for Unfold. Noting that tattoos are becoming acceptable, even in professional atmospheres, she adds that this particular industry is highly creative which helps with the normalization of tattoos. "I do occasionally worry in more formal situations with clients but then I remember startups are almost expected to look more innovative."
We also asked her a bit about her own pieces, "My first tattoo I got when I was studying Chinese in Beijing, a leaf fell in my basket as I was cycling through my university. It was very beautiful so I went home and drew it. Everything was very underground back then as this was a decade ago... a young hipster couple who had a tattoo parlor in their house deep in the hutongs, traditional Chinese housing, did it there for me on the spot. It's not the most beautiful tattoo in the world but it reminds me there are underground artistic communities in every city, even if they are hidden."
Florian Heijligers, Project Manager at TNW, reflected the same sort of sentiments as Carmen saying, "I actually studied hotel management so you can imagine that in the hotel industry it's almost like a taboo to have a tattoo. I think, nowadays, the new formal is kind of informal and it's more about how you present yourself. You can have a big bushy beard but if it's trimmed and groomed it can look just as formal as someone with a clean face. And I think tattoos can offer that as well. I think if they are clean and nicely done there is definitely a place for tattoos in the tech industry."
Like many people at TNW, Florian is also incredibly well traveled and this has influenced his choice of tattoos. "The compass I got five years ago when I moved here to Amsterdam. It was symbolic. Because of my father, I moved around to ten different cities. So, when I graduated and moved to Amsterdam, I wanted to close that chapter of my life so I decided to create this tattoo representing those ten different cities. And if you really look into the details every city has like a little skyline so it's really special to me. It represents the first 19 years of my life."
Speaking with Joanna Skorupska , founder of Radicalzz Studio and the creator of Futuro Cards, we asked Joanna if she had ever felt any issues, professionaly, within the tech world. "I don't feel any discrimination at all. I am proud of mine, so if someone does not accept them it's not my problem...Each of my tattoos is different and hide a story. All of them have a personal meaning for me."
We also asked if she could see tattoos and technology coming together in the future, and her answer was incredibly creative. "I see a lot of potential in a tattooable technology. It's a temporary, conductive surface that can be embedded into human skin in a manner similar to tattoos. Their exemplary applications include gathering and storing data or delivering medicines." Imagine that: a tattoo, temporary or not, that could help with health! It actually made us think about Otzi, the preserved mummy of a man who lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE. His tattoos were matched up against many ancient acupuncture points that we still use today, leading scientists to believe that his tattoos may have been health related. It's this sort of connectivity and creative thinking that will push the tattoo industry into the modern world of tech in, perhaps, dramatically progressive ways.
We also spoke with another TNW teammate, Oscar, who recently started a Japanese koi sleeve tattoo. Only inked a week ago, Oscar is excited to finish the project. "It’s gonna take around 48 hours to finish it so I think it will take a year or two to finish it in total."
We also asked him if he thought that such a big commitment might affect his career goals within the tech industry. "I work for TNW and we have a very open policy in terms of clothing and everything. So, in the summer, we can wear shorts that expose your tattoos of course, but in tech, I am a developer and in my current role I don’t have a lot of customer meetings. The tech industry is kind of nerdy and I don’t think there is a lot of negativity going around in terms of showing your tattoos." Pretty good news for tattoo lovers who want job security, especially since this industry is one of the largest growing professional worlds out there!
Caroline Sanders also reflected the same sentiments that many others felt. "I am creative and working in technology...I mean, I have blue hair and I am covered in tattoos...so I mean creatives have always had tattoos! I feel like I have never worked in a tech shop where tattoos and piercing have not been acceptable. I just see tattoos everywhere."
Caroline noted that she actually sees a lot of full sleeves, as well as small tattoos. In fact, many of her own tattoos are smaller, but a few of them still carry a lot of meaning. "I have a lot of tattoos that do mean things, like I have a full tattoo on my wrist that is all about Hurricane Katrina and about New Orleans where I am from. I have a small outline of an airplane on my foot because my best friend has the same and we got it at the same time. I have two on my wrist that are stick and pokes that my friend did. They don’t necessarily mean anything but I love shapes so I picked the strongest shapes there are."
All in all, the TNW Conference brought together many diverse people who are all trying to take great strides in technology with progressive and creative outlooks. Just as the tech industry can provide us with great tools of expression, so too can tattoos!