Almost 1.5 years ago, a colleague at DreamWorks had mentioned about being a SIGGRAPH Student Volunteer because another ex-colleague (Pisut W.) had also been one. So I filled the application for SIGGRAPH Asia 2015 (Kobe) but I never made it beyond the wait list.
Few months ago, I read about SIGGRAPH Asia 2016 (Macau) but didn’t care much about it, partly because of being rejected before and partly because of not knowing its true worth. It was only once the submissions deadline had extended that I suddenly started taking the application little seriously (I don’t know why, but now I am glad I did). Again, I made it to the Wait-List and after being in it for almost a week, I was finally accepted as a Student Volunteer for SIGGRAPH Asia 2016, Macau.
So as is done for every trip: I booked my travel/accommodation, created a list of places to visit and organized them in a schedule. At the same time, I started crawling through SIGGRAPH Asia’s website to get more details about it and also got introduced to fellow SVs via Facebook groups. Everything was proceeding as I expected it to and it felt good.
I reached Hong Kong on the afternoon of Dec 2nd and just when I climbed up the stairs of the hostel, I met Girish Ramesh, a fellow SV Team Leader. Just a few hours in the hotel and I started seeing many more fellow SVs (most of them having worked as an SV for more than a couple of times!). All my scheduled plans thrown aside, I roamed around Hong Kong Central with them, Eugene Harng being our host. I listened to their memories about the previous conferences and that is when I first started to get a glimpse of how awesome the next few days were going to be.
I spent a day at the Ocean Park and reached Macau on the 4th Dec. SIGGRAPH Asia was being organized inside The Venetian, a hotel so big that it took me almost an hour to reach the meeting room. I received my SV uniform, took a few group photos and we introduced ourselves to other SVs, some being first timers like me, some being veterans, some artists, some engineers, some still students, some working at awesome companies. In short, I was in a room full of people from different cultural, educational and professional backgrounds, all working under the same roof. Sure it was to be an experience I’ve never had before.
As Student Volunteers, our job was to assist our Team Leaders in managing different aspects of the conference like registration, manage the exhibits, assisting the speakers and presenters and many other trivial tasks. Now, it is during this time that you can make most of the conference. When managing the exhibition hall, you get hours to interact with the exhibitors and learn more about the new things that their teams have created. When helping the speakers/presenters, you indirectly get to attend their talk and understand more about their research. Even if the exhibit/presentation is not relevant to your field of expertise, you will definitely be around few other Student Volunteers and talking to them about their education, work, culture or any other random topic would be a very good learning experience. In your free time, you are free to attend any conference or exhibition that you find interesting or just hang out with your friends.
The veteran SVs at SIGGRAPH Asia have followed the “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” religiously and haven’t let us remain dull. From early mornings to late nights, there has always been something to do apart from work. Eating snacks from other countries to photo bombing in every 360 selfie being taken, from posing with weird props to getting that photo with Lego Alain, from dancing and playing music to sleeping under the desks, from interesting dinner table conversations to late night walks on the streets of Macau. I haven’t even covered everything I did and someone else would have to mention those that I missed.
Just when all these amazing things start to sink in, the last day of the conference comes up with the awards and closing ceremony. It all ends with a Karaoke night, something unique to SIGGRAPH Asia, a night filled with Drinks, Food and songs! As the night comes to an end, some are glad to have met their new friends, and some are in tears over not being able to meet them for a long time in the near future. Everyone tries to take it all in with photographs to save these memories, promising to come again, a year later, in a new country, in a new SIGGRAPH Asia, waiting to be surrounded by these new friends and meet many more new people.
This experience of working as an SV is not limited to the artistic/technical knowledge that one gains through the complicated Paper Presentations and the exhibitions at the conference. It also provides you the opportunity to develop your communication and interaction skills. It gives you a chance to introduce yourself to people from diverse backgrounds, talk to them about random topics and share your ideas with them. It teaches you, not to be afraid of having a conversation with people you have never met.
When I caught my flight back to India, it took some time for me to realize that it was all over and now I had to get back to work. The trip was completely different from what I had scheduled in my excel sheet. And now, I am really glad it was, thanks to all the amazing people I got to meet!
PS: If you find my experience interesting and wish to relive it yourself, Student Volunteer Applications for SIGGRAPH 2017 in Los Angeles are now open and SIGGRAPH Asia 2017 will be in Bangkok, Thailand. Keep an eye out for the SV Applications. Hope to see you there!