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Going to SIGGRAPH

There are a plethora of fantastic, web focused conferences out there, but this week, I’m at the 40th annual SIGGRAPH convention.

For those unfamiliar with SIGGRAPH, it is an interdisciplinary conference sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery, largely focusing on the broad field of computer graphics. This covers everything from Pixar’s computer animated films to low-level GPU programming for Subspace Fluid Re-simulation.

Now as you can probably tell, this is not a conference specifically focused on web development, and while there are plenty of talks that directly correspond with web development, often times the intersections with web work are tangential at best. So you might be asking, "Why would a front-end developer working on my favorite websites on the whole internet be attending this conference?"

The answer is multifaceted.

1. Escape the web echo chamber.

Anyone who knows even the slightest bit about web development knows that there are a ton of smart people working on the web, each of whom is doing incredible things to move the web forward. Working in the web field, I regularly gorge myself on blog posts, Hacker News, Codepen demos and GitHub repos. This behavior can lead to getting stuck in the web echo chamber, where I’m reading the same great ideas, the same techniques, and the same "best practices" from lots of different sources, without gaining any real technical perspective on what is going on outside the world of web development.

Attending SIGGRAPH makes it explicitly clear that there are so many people doing smart things outside the web world that will, in time, greatly influence the future of the web. WebGL, the driving force behind some of the coolest demos on the web, was born of the 3D animation community and continues to evolve thanks to smart people, who might not necessarily work on websites, dedicating their lives to research.

2. Surround yourself with smart creatives.

Some of the talks I’ve attended here at SIGGRAPH have nothing to do with web development. The first thing I did when I arrived was attend a session by Saschka Unseld, the director of Pixar’s recent short film "The Blue Umbrella."

This was an enlightening talk about how to tell a story, and while it’s true that at Vox Media we are all about telling meaningful stories, this particular discussion did not apply to my day to day work. However, what I’m saying is: that’s okay! Surrounding yourself with smart, creative people is a great way to get inspired, and the advice of successful creative people often applies to any field. Unseld urged the entire audience to "make useless things," citing that his Pixar short was the end of a path that started with a few "useless" animation demos he created during his free time.

3. A breadth of knowledge makes you a better person.

There are so many different subjects and research topics covered at SIGGRAPH, I believe that nearly anyone in the world could find something that interests them. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that these techniques or subjects don’t directly apply to what you do at your day job. Part of being a successful engineer is having the drive and ambition to always be looking for opportunities to learn and never being satisfied with what you already know.

A great thing about working for Vox Media is that the company recognizes that education comes in lots of different forms, and supports the product team in our ceaseless quest for knowledge. If you want to have this kind of support, consider checking out our jobs page.

So in conclusion, I’d like to share a few of the cool things I’ve seen this week in hopes that I inspire you to seek knowledge everywhere, not just the regular rotation that shows up in the top 5 links on Hacker News.

- Slice:Drop
Collaberative Medical Imaging in the browser
This is a product created by researches at Boston Children’s Hospital that uses WebGL and Websockets to share, in real time, medical imaging data across multiple devices. It’s a great example of how the web and emerging technologies can be used for the greater good.

- ShaderToy
Interactive graphics firm BeautyPi created ShaderToy to allow shader artists to create and share 3d shaders in the browser. This is another awesome example of new uses of WebGL.

- Technical papers
One of the key elements of the SIGGRAPH conference is the presentation of technical research papers. These cover a huge range of fascinating topics.