For those of us who have been deeply in service to Burning Man and our mission for many years, it’s often hard to imagine anywhere else we might want to apply our skills and dedication. What could compare to the experience of producing Burning Man and witnessing the best of humanity’s creativity on a vast uncharted terrain like Black Rock City?
Leave it to our multi-talented and forward thinking Director of Technology, Heather Gallagher (aka CameraGirl or CG) to discover another place, and for that place to be a futuristic digital dimension which she can fill with awe-inspiring creativity, innovation, and of course, costumes! Heather is joining the executive team at Enklu, an innovative Bay Area tech startup, where she will be creating socially connective immersive experiences in augmented reality, and helping other digital creators and storytellers to create experiences too.
Before leading technology for Burning Man in 2003, where Heather leveraged her Master’s in Computer Science and a decade of corporate consulting experience, she volunteered for Burning Man as a photographer. In the early 2000s (before smartphones, blogs and social media existed), she helped pioneer the early days of digital photography and Burning Man, building her own websites with visual stories of the Center Camp Cafe, Burning Man year-round events, and behind-the-scenes production of BRC, and has had her hand in Burning Man imagery ever since. She volunteered hundreds of hours lovingly photo editing early Burning Man websites. In 2002, we asked her to create first the official Burning Man Calendar, which you can learn more about in this blog post. For almost a decade, starting in 2005, she coordinated the team of volunteer photographers on our documentation team for BRC.
Burning Man technology has grown in both size and complexity over the past 16 years, supporting a similar evolution of Burning Man. Heather and her teams have upgraded all our IT infrastructure and software solutions at least once (and probably several times.) They migrated from our own servers to cloud hosted email, database and software services, centralized our databases and event processes, changed ticketing vendors twice, implemented our nonprofit systems, spearheaded the graphical JRS, built burningman.org (which is actually 46 unique websites and counting), transitioned our email to .org, supported technology for spin-off organizations like the Black Rock Arts Foundation, started accepting bitcoin donations, and installed, supported and removed all technology infrastructure for 16 event cycles.
When Heather started, the Tech Team consisted of a handful of staff and a few dozen year-round volunteers. Now they support our organization as a global nonprofit, and her team scales up to 50+ staff in Black Rock City. BRC’s infrastructure has grown from 2 functions with mission critical technology in 2003 to over 70 internal customers relying on her team’s connectivity and support to help our beloved city run smoothly. Most participants don’t have any idea all this is going on behind the scenes, and that is exactly the point.
Heather is dedicated to community engagement and has often leveraged technical expertise from our community, relying on contributions from a dedicated technology volunteers who provide key supporting functions and consultations. Tech staff and volunteers gather monthly at our long-standing Tech Dinner Parties discussing topics such as open source software development licenses, bitcoin, web search, web development platforms, wikis, authentication protocols, community platforms and so on. In addition, behind-the-scenes her teams maintain collaborative relationships with over 40 different vendors, each of whom are considered part of the extended team and community. Many of them become Burners if they weren’t already.
Heather was an original member of our Executive Committee, BRC Operations and Event Leadership Teams, BRC Budget Committee, and has been on more task-forces, workgroups, and retreat planning committees than we can probably count. Most recently she has introduced technical product management to our culturally oriented organization, and has been a tireless champion for operational and strategic initiatives to help us sustainably scale and engage technically on a global level. We can always rely on Heather to share her keen insights into the heart of the operations of our organization and at the same time to be strategically looking ahead several years towards the future horizon.
These contributions have been truly impressive, but likely that what we will miss the most is the color, creativity, spirit and truly radical expression that Heather brought to… well, everything actually. Like how she came to work as a different Anime inspired character every day for 6 months after a vacation to Japan. Or when she dressed to honor David Bowie’s passing for a week. How she turned a challenging ticket sale day many years ago into an annual office Pajama Day. The Tech Team’s legendary office happy hours with themes, costumes and creative silliness. Heather directing heavy equipment with shiny golden pom-poms. The decorated and illuminated wheelchair and crutches, and bedazzled cast, when she broke her foot. Heather on the roof yielding a sword and calling in the directions in ritual, or leading us at staff retreats and leadership conferences as the Director of Stretchology. Heather was one of the original Appreciation Fairies (complete with tutus of course!) who helped us weave appreciation into our meetings and gatherings. Whew! What a truly phenomenal and colorful ride it has been!
Heather’s service to Burning Man for the past 19 years is unparalleled and her commitment to Burning Man culture, the Ten Principles and our community runs deep. That commitment will remain as she embarks on her new adventure bringing creativity into an emerging digital canvas. She started her new job in June, but will help us produce Black Rock City one more time in 2019. After that we trust that Heather will remain a close member of our Burning Man family for many years to come. Even though we will miss her greatly, we are thrilled and excited for her opportunity to bring her talent and leadership into such an innovative new endeavor.
Top photo credit unknown, 2017.