Revealing Arch at Universe

The retelling of JavaScript, Rust, WebAssembly, and 30,000 Lights

Who wants a Pi?

When was the last time you heard this at a developer conference: “I feel like a celebrity!”

One of my favorite tweets, raising the conference experience bar!

What the audience felt for one moment took 11 days of teamwork and countless hours of labor to stitch together plastic and wires with software, into an experience. Here’s the story of the resurrection of Arch from wires to walkway sensation at GitHub’s 2018 Universe conference.

Read the first story of how Mozilla collaborated with artist Ian Brill to create the first installation in Berlin

For two days in October, developers, creators, and decision makers all experienced Mozilla’s Arch at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts venue as part of GitHub’s annual developer conference. In fact, it took many days and three sets of preparation, onsite, and post production teams to assemble, and breath life into this fantastic plastic electrical light extravaganza.

Our assembly team

It was my turn this time around to orchestrate the revival from scratch: Armed with a 280 page manual detailing zip ties, molex connectors, and software mapping instructions, assembly went as one can imagine. Amidst the occasional moments of frustration and confusion, the team was able to overcome obstacles and head scratching moments without too many tears because we all believed the best intentions from each other. This was my moment to breath deeply, and hold fast to good teamwork management practices. When the last of the seven Raspberry Pis were connected, and the switched flipped on, we all felt that first moment of wonder again.

The Arch as the gateway to Registration

It seemed appropriate that this code and art light installation, Arch, was a keystone feature for 2018 GitHub Universe.

Over 1500 developers attended GitHub Universe “to explore the future of development and the tools that can help us get there.”

We did it to drive visibility and awareness of Mozilla as a company that’s beyond just the browser. GitHub claims to have 18,000+ (and growing!) active web developers in their community, and the most popular programming language on the site is JavaScript. We also wanted to make a visceral impact to executives and decision makers who hire and build these teams. During one moment, an analyst asked me if I had figured out the light pattern. When I replied that it was actually JavaScript running as light expression, her own expression lit up — this was her first time seeing the power of code.

Arch uses 30,000 colored LEDs along with the 7 Pis to create a canvas of light animations which are activated by modules programmed in either JavaScript, or in Rust (claimed as the 5th most popular, and growing language by GitHub) compiling to WebAssembly. For those who remember, the first iteration of this interactive feature debuted in June of this year at JSConf EU.

The beautiful inside of Arch

The process of creating these modules starts with visiting a website with these two JavaScript or Rust templates ready for customization (try out the templates here). Our Mozilla team was pleasantly surprised with the high level of audience participation, with some speculating that perhaps “we had the most people try Rust for the first time on site.”

For more details on the tech, visit this blog post by Lin Clark on how this all works

In the end, our team delighted people by revealing how a little bit of code creates art, while driving more awareness on the power of Rust & WebAssembly. I am excited to explore more opportunities to bring tech closer to people through creativity.