You may or may not already know about !!Con (pronounced “bang bang con”), the radically eclectic, radically affordable conference of ten-minute talks about the joy, excitement, and surprise of computing!

I co-founded !!Con with a group of friends back in 2014, and the team went on to organize another !!Con conference each year for several years. Helping run these first several !!Cons was an absolute highlight of my life. If I hadn’t gotten an academic job in 2018, my secret plan was to quit my corporate job anyway and throw myself full-time into !!Con fundraising and organizing. There was incredible demand for what we were doing, and my hope was to scale !!Con to lots of conferences in lots of places.

I didn’t end up doing that, because I did get an academic job in 2018, which has been all-consuming. But I managed to make organizing !!Con part of my job by organizing !!Con West at UC Santa Cruz in 2019 and (early) 2020. These were both incredibly special events. They were undeniably !!Cons, in keeping with the !!Con aesthetic, but they made a point of “enthusiastically embracing the physical and social geography” of their west-coast venue.

Then COVID became a pandemic. The second and final !!Con West happened over the weekend of February 29 and March 1, 2020. We were, of course, aware of COVID, and we discouraged handshaking and put lots of hand sanitizer around the venue. But we didn’t think about masks or air filtration – few people were thinking about those things yet – and we had 200 people packed into very close quarters. In retrospect, that’s horrifying, and we were very lucky that the conference did not, so far as we know, turn into a superspreader event.

!!Con 2020, which had been scheduled to be held in person in May, switched to a remote format, and !!Con 2021 and 2022 followed suit. !!Con West did not continue beyond March 2020, which I justified by saying that a big part of the point of !!Con West was that it was in a particular physical place (it’s right in the name, after all!), so it wouldn’t be appropriate to have it as an online event. While I do think that’s defensible, the real reason I didn’t continue to organize !!Con West was because I was trying to navigate life as a tenure-track junior faculty member with a small child amid a deadly global pandemic during which I had no full-time child care for over a year, against the backdrop of a government that seemed eager to deport my students and take away my reproductive freedoms. Other members of the !!Con team were navigating similarly difficult circumstances. Perhaps it goes without saying that after !!Con 2022, the team was burned out and needed to take a year off in 2023.

I am not the same person I was when we started !!Con ten years ago. We were in our twenties and thirties then, and we’re in our thirties and forties now. Some of us got married; some of us started our own new ventures; some of us had kids; some of us took on more responsibility at work; and some of us did several of those things! It’s reasonable that a group of people’s priorities will change over time. And, of course, COVID greatly accelerated that reprioritization. So to me it’s not at all surprising that we decided that !!Con should come to an end.

But we didn’t want to fizzle out; we wanted to end with a bang, as it were. So a group of us decided that we would organize one last !!Con – here in Santa Cruz, on the site of the last !!Con that was in person (namely, !!Con West 2020), but with a COVID-conscious twist: we’re holding the whole event outdoors! (Also, we’re holding it in August rather than in February, which makes it easier to hold the whole event outdoors.)

Preparations are well underway: we’re currently reviewing 173 talk proposals, with the difficult task of narrowing it down to 30 or so; we’ve got two great keynote speakers on the docket; and we’re actively soliciting sponsors. (It turns out it’s really expensive to do A/V at an outdoor event. Can your organization help sponsor us so that we can continue our decade-long tradition of pay-what-you-want tickets? Get in touch!)

Our opening keynote speaker will be Dawn Walker, a researcher and designer who works to create lasting alternatives to existing ways of building technology. She has started a tech worker co-op, participated in community-led archiving of environmental and climate data, and schemed about mesh networking (to name just a few things). Since 2017 she has co-organized Our Networks, a conference about the past, present, and future of building our own network infrastructures.

Our closing keynote speaker will be Bruce Waggoner, Mission Assurance Manager at the Jet Propulsion Lab/Caltech, where he has worked for 39 (!) years supporting dozens of Earth-orbiting and deep space missions, and where he is part of the leadership team supporting the Voyager mission. Voyager 1 is the human-made object most distant from Earth, and Bruce’s talk at !!Con will tell the story of how the Voyager 1 flight team created a plan to patch its flight software – from over 15 billion miles away.

I love the juxtaposition of these two keynote talks. Dawn’s work draws on practices of local-first computing, while the Voyager mission is…as non-local as it is possible for computing to be. That’s what I wrote on Mastodon last month, but I’ll go even further: Dawn’s work embraces a DIY, grassroots, folk-computing aesthetic, while Voyager is a project that perhaps only a big, powerful nation-state could undertake. Yet, we can perceive a common thread: an emphasis on longevity, sustainability, and doing our best with the resources we’ve got. What a beautiful message to conclude !!Con with.

I don’t think that the end of !!Con is the end of the !!Con spirit. A new group of people will step up and organize a new event for a new era. Maybe it will be you! (But you should probably name your event something else! It was never easy to find us with a web search to begin with, and that was before BTS took our brand.)