Looking Back to See the Future

Looking Back to See the Future

Mihai Pohontu

It’s the night of April 28th, and SDC 2016 is over.

As I write these words, construction crews are taking down the exhibits and packing all floor elements to be shipped to our warehouse. Purposeful men in hard hats have replaced the exhausted, but exhilarated conference staff. The last developers streamed out of Moscone West hours ago. I remember vividly their happy banter, as they exchanged final impressions of the show and made plans to keep in touch with their new friends. The lights are now coming down in parts of the building and an unfamiliar silence begins its reign, punctuated at times by the hurried sound of machines and men at work.

When we started writing the SDC blogs, I mentioned a quote by Gene Roddenberry, which spoke about the attainment of mankind’s dreams. I must admit that in the past year our dreams have been far more pedestrian, focused almost exclusively on creating an unforgettable experience for developers, while also trying in our own way to innovate. From the academic structure of the sessions to the visual language of the floor design, we took every opportunity we could to push against the boundaries of what’s possible, to overcome all limitations and to remain pure in our original intent to create a unique event.

Enveloped in silence, I cannot help but recall the many facets of the conference that will hopefully endure in the memories of participants and organizers alike. Here are a few of my favorite moments:

 

Visual Design: I briefly mentioned above the visual language of the conference, and I would be remiss to not re-emphasize the magic in Chris Pollard’s architectural work. In one telling moment, I watched the billboard on 4th Street in downtown San Francisco reflect into the windows of the second floor of the Moscone, using the same hues of blue/purple/magenta as in the floor elements and the booth design. Physically inhabiting Chris’ vision felt like an epiphany, impossible to fully explain in words – but I’m convinced everyone who noticed the subtle spatial continuity was equally impressed. And on this very topic, you couldn’t have missed the window illumination at night – the most resplendent building in the whole city!

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Keynotes: The Day 1 morning keynote was a massive hit, filling the sprawling third floor of Moscone West to the brim, with 1,900+ spectators out of 4,600+ registered participants. It was a great day for Samsung, as the press highlighted not only our focus on software, but also the updated cultural vibe of our company. Injong Rhee’s insightful, genuinely funny presentation played a big role in this, along with DJ Koh’s clear endorsement of software developers as the future of the company, but I think everything else on display supported this theme as well. While the Day 1 keynote was HUGE, the Day 2 keynote simply ROCKED. It was a flawless day, led by the incredibly charismatic John Pleasants, with a strong opening focused on VR, followed by a series of fab speakers. Tucked in between presentations was probably the best panel interview I’ve ever witnessed (not only at trade conferences, but across the entire broadcast medium). John interviewed leading tech luminaries in Silicon Valley, who also happen to be women: Diane Tavenner (Summit Public Schools), Monique Morrow (Cisco), Genevieve Bell (Intel) and Maureen Fan (Baobab Studios). The panel probed the topic of innovation, but also delved deeper into the meaning of work, veering into philosophical themes you seldom hear at tech conferences. If there’s one moment at the conference I think you should experience (or revisit), I’d humbly posit it must be this one:

 

Virtual Reality: 2016 is objectively the year of VR. We are swarmed by VR enthusiasts at all our developer events and I feel incredibly fortunate that Samsung is at the forefront of innovation in this space. Not surprisingly, VR was a key topic at the conference, which was weaved throughout several different keynotes and many sessions at the conference. But I think some of the best expression of VR could be found in John Riccitiello’s Day 2 keynote, not only because he’s a great speaker and the topic was fascinating, but also because we had 120+ public school kids in the audience who were hanging on his every word in amazement. They kept talking about VR long after leaving the Main Hall. I like to think that in one fell swoop we’ve created another generation of engineers.

Another cool expression of VR could be found in the “play areas” we’ve set up on the first and second floor: the Escape Tomb VR (an interactive experience blending physical elements within a VR experience), as well as the 4D Virtual Rollercoaster. The team told me the wait times for the Escape Tomb were as long as 2.5 hours!

 

Education: From its inception, we’ve wanted the Samsung Developer Conference to be more than a tech event, so we worked hard to integrate the conference into the cultural fabric of the city. We supported the San Francisco International Film Festival, the Cherry Blossom Festival and the SF-Marin Food Drive, but perhaps the most eloquent expression of our intent was the partnership we made with the San Francisco Unified School District. This partnership resulted in 120 kids visiting the conference, attending the Day 2 keynote and then joining a hands-on robot programming workshop and Pavilion tour. We donated a robot and Gear 360s to each school for future development and content creation. The students simply loved the experience. Here’s a note we received from one of the kids:

Thank you so much for this opportunity. I can’t believe what you guys are working on in there — I was astounded. I had such a fun time, and it is the best field trip I’ve ever been on (and I have been on 34 and counting). But I’m still debating if any [other conference] could top this one. Again, thank you so much.

That’s gotta make anyone’s day!

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As if that were not already amazing enough, Samsung organized a contest for young coders all over the world and the winner visited SDC in person. It was fantastic to have these kids at the conference!

 

Sessions: All of our breakout sessions (72 total) were highly attended – even the very last ones of the conference. A few sessions were packed to the point of standing room-only, including a session with Eric Darnell (Baobab co-founder and director and screenwriter of the Madagascar films) who spoke on the shift from the rectangular screen to VR. As expected, our VR sessions were the most popular among attendees, with IoT coming in at a close second. Additionally, the ad-hoc presentations in the Disruptor and Spotlight Theaters were also well-attended, drawing in crowds of 100+ (standing room-only). These theaters hosted guests like hip hop artist Flo Rida, Tommy Thayer of KISS, director Brett Leonard, SDC sponsors and our youngest conference speaker: 12-year-old Young Jun Lee. These sessions provided attendees with an outlet to ask questions and learn from industry experts.

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Epic Celebration: Last, but certainly not least, I’d like you to know that our team strongly believes we throw the best party in tech (and no, Burning Man still doesn’t count as a tech event, despite what you may think). I know this is an inflammatory statement and there is room for debate, considering other conferences may have bigger budgets and/or ambitions, but we stand by it! This year we were blessed to have Underworld deliver a concert that is best described as a transcendental experience. The audience was timid at first, but by the end of the show everyone was dancing their hearts out. What an amazing performance. We’re so fortunate Underworld agreed to perform at our show. I think they had a rocking time as well since their show ran much longer than the agreed set limit, to the delight of all.

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We loved working on this conference and I hope you felt the love as well – but please know that SDC is not the only “game” in our town. Our team organizes developer events throughout the year. For example, in the next couple of months, we’ll be at the GamesBeat Summit in SF, at IoT World in SF and Berlin and at E3 in LA. Please come by to say hello and tell us how much you enjoyed SDC – we never get tired for hearing that!

Also, please stay close to this website for news on our international exploits. Until we see each other again, please chase those dreams, and never tire or falter, for only those who chase will ever attain them.

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Credits Are Due!

 

I would be remiss if I closed this series of SDC blogs without expressing our deepest gratitude to our partners and friends. 

First of all, we’d like to thank our volunteers and staff: the many people who labored behind the scenes to make SDC into a resounding success!

Second, I’d like to recognize the core Samsung team who made this event possible: Suzanne Nguyen (the head of Developer Connection and the leader of the conference project – Mama Bear, this wouldn’t have been possible without you), Audrey Park (our master planner), Marci Hughes (who managed our world-class web presence), Johanna Penttila (PR), Tho Nguyen (logistics and our Millennial advisor/translator), Jen Samoranos (the best party planner in the universe), Elicia Kim (our session gatekeeper), Dustin Wish (our developer evangelist), Sara Dadie, Francine Price, Connie Han (our hosts for the Asian Art Museum event), Julie Oh (who managed our partner team in Seoul), Hyeyoung Jung (content lead), Jiyon Han, Clare Choe, Sangwoo Ahn; and to our exec partners, EVP John Pleasants (MSCA), EVP Seunghwan Cho (Software Center) and SVP Peter Koo (MCB).

Furthermore, I must recognize the agencies who helped us deliver this event – first, The Taylor Group, our master agency, represented by Mr. Mike Kotsos. (Who is more than a partner — I dare say a friend. My sincere thanks for your wisdom, your tact, your knowledge and most importantly, your flawless execution.) Amy McDowell (who ran the SDC air control tower with grace and precision), Melanie Masson (PR) and Lindsay Wiebe (PM). Additional thanks to Gail & Rice, who created and ran the keynotes, as well as secured our stellar concert – Chris Janese, Michael Dalton, Martin Domingo, Stephanie Holt and Sherry Fox. A special shout-out to Simona Hancu and Dorel Naste from Mindscape Studio for the killer visuals and videos created for the conference – and to LaunchSquad for their help managing our social channels.

Last, but definitely not least, thanks to our dear families who didn’t see us (or at least didn’t see us at our best) in the weeks/months ahead of the event!