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SIGGRAPH Withdrawal

August 15, 2011
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What is SIGGRAPH?

In long form: The annual SIGGRAPH conference and its year-round initiatives provide unique crossroads for a diverse community of researchers, developers, creators, educators, and practitioners. SIGGRAPH’s continuing mission is to be the premier annual conference on leading-edge theory and practice of computer graphics and interactive techniques, inspiring progress through education, excellence, and interaction.

In short form: SIGGRAPH is a gathering of between 10K and 20K attendees from the worlds of film, gaming, art, technology, education and research who come together once a year to delve into the newest in computer graphics and interactive techniques. The research on display at this event is often what you’ll see on the silver screen, your Xbox or integrated into robotics in a few years as a polished process.

For me however, it’s a little different. I’m not a computer graphics guy or an inventor of cool things to do with technology, I’m one of the managers of the conference. For one full week a year I get to rub elbows with some of the truly brilliant folks this world has to offer. But these SIGGRAPHers are a little more than just brilliant.

See, I’ve had the benefit of working with other conferences for previous employers. These conferences were geared towards either physicians or attorneys. When I left a medical or law conference, I never felt the longing I feel after leaving a SIGGRAPH conference. Why? How can I put this delicately..? Well, let’s just say I never lost any sleep at the news that any of the MDs or JDs may have inadvertently driven their BMW off the side of a cliff.

That’s the beauty of this conference. While I deplore being away from my family for 8 days, the experience of spending time with a lot of the SIGGRAPHers is very rewarding. Why?

1) They’re brilliant. And not just about CG or tech, generally these are extremely well-read and travelled folks. They have unique perspectives not only because of their job but because of the lives they’ve chosen to lead outside of the office.

2) They’re engaging. Of course I want to listen to their tales of traveling across Africa, bungy jumping in New Zealand, earning mission mission specialist status at NASA, how Cars 2 came to be, what it’s like to be on the ground floor at RIM as the company strives to rebuild its market share. But that’s not it, they also want to know about me. What’s it like being a 39-year-old with a 3-year-old? What are you going to do now that your graduate studies are done? Hey, how did that Navy or firefighter thing work out? How ’bout them Eagles!

3) They’re nice. Of course every group has a few bad apples, but by a large percentage these folks are just sweethearts. A lot of SIGGRAPHers have F-U money (or are working to make it) so they could be total jerks and get away with it, but no, for the most part they’re all gold.

4) They’re weird. No two SIGGRAPHers are alike. It’s a remarkably diverse group. I’ll be sitting in planning meetings for upcoming conferences and I’m floored at the oddity of who these people are and how they’ve come together. Perhaps the weirdness comes from being at the pinnacle of nerdom and dorkdom, but they never come off as nerds or dorks, just highly motivated people, each with their own perspective.

Somehow this post has morphed into a love letter to SIGGRAPH. I find this disturbing, as I’m neither a joiner nor a fan of people who join things. But I can’t help it, stripping away the coolness of everything I see at this meetings, it turns out I rather like a healthy number of the people. I’m not sure I’ll be inviting them over for dinner (not really a problem since NONE of these people lives anywhere near Philly, once again proving I live in the desert of creativity and forward thinking), but I truly appreciate having a chance to spend quality time with them every year. I always leave the conference completely charged about the possibility of great things that exist in the world and wanting to be a part of some similar creation.

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