Anthony’s Mac Labs Blog

Wisdom from Tycho

Posted 2019 January 24

In August of 2015, prompted by an emailed promotion for MacSysAdmin, I sent a note to Tycho Sjögren to “express my gratitude for [his] work in establishing such a fine Mac conference in Europe.” I shared with him — as I have shared publicly before and since — that the MacDeployment Conference model is a cross between MacSysAdmin and Mac Admins at Penn State. Without his leadership, key pieces of the MacDeployment plan might not have been there and any success we had to that point may not have come.

The note I received in response is something that I cherish even more now that we are mourning Tycho’s death this week. In that email message, he generously shared some things he had learned about running a conference since the initial all-Swedish edition in 2006 that attracted 50 people (“only half of them paying”). Without giving away the MacSysAdmin secret sauce (which, I’m led to believe, would almost certainly contain bananas), I’d like to share a few of the pearls of (opinionated) wisdom he gave me.

Be a Great Host

Of the 9 bullet points he wrote, two (arguably more) were about being a great host. “Treat the speakers well” — cover their costs, give them a chance to hang out before and after the conference. “Treat the attendees even better. Make sure they have everything they need” — right down to the food and drinks (and for those who have ever run a conference or seminar, you know how expensive and difficult catering can be).

Equality and Togetherness

“Treat speakers and attendees equal.” That might sound strange after what I just quoted, but not when you read the rest of the point: “No special VIP rooms or anything like that.” Most of you will not have attended a conference where the speakers were given segregation opportunities. I have: the now-defunct Macworld/MacIT Conference. One might understand why the writers for Macworld and other high-profile speakers from the greater Mac community might need a little time away from the crowds, but Tycho really captured (and nurtured) the essence of the Mac Admin community worldwide in this principle. Many of us take this for granted now; it wasn’t always.

Furthermore, he only wanted one track, including for evening activities—“open for everybody.” What I read in some of the eulogizing on Twitter and in the Mac Admins Slack this week was the sense of community — of family — that MacSysAdmin has fostered. I think having a single track is partly responsible for this.

Built for Me

Steve Jobs infamously said that the app Keynote was “built for me” when he announced its release at Macworld in 2003. You could say that Tycho followed this same principle when programming the conference. “Choose the speakers and session topics that you want to hear about yourself.” He never had a call for proposals; MacSysAdmin is curated (arguably the most Apple way of doing things). I looked at the lineup each year and it was always top drawer. Curated conferences can work well, but you do have to have good taste. Tycho did.

Also on the curation front, he believed in selecting exhibitors/sponsors carefully. If sponsors wanted to pay for the evening activities, that was fine, but they should not have “power over the main sessions.” This is a great line to draw in the sand in a single track conference. It’s also a hard line to hold when you’re just starting up (because conference organizing is expensive). I have a lot of respect for what Tycho was able to accomplish on that front.


“Be a time fascist.” I’m not sure he would have used the word “fascist” if he was writing the letter today, but he said sessions should start on time and end on time. For me, that is about predictability, about respect for the attendees, about keeping the momentum of the conference going.

The last bullet point he wrote was really a combination of first two categories I mentioned — maybe even a summary of everything he said. Simply put, “Be open and hang out with everybody.” That says it all.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

I had been told earlier that year that Tycho had been very ill and might not be able to continue with MacSysAdmin. He shared in his reply that he had been fighting cancer since February but he had “no plans to quit doing MacSysAdmin yet.” Lucky for us, there were four more MacSysAdmins with Tycho at the helm, and he did put a succession plan in place. As much as I have never been part of that MacSysAdmin “family,” I know a number of people who have. Based on what I can tell, I have this feeling that the family will continue to gather for a long time to come. We can look at Apple and the loss of Steve Jobs and say that, even though Tim Cook runs the show differently that Steve did, there is a core Apple philosophy that still permeates the company. I wish the same thing for MacSysAdmin. Regardless, the influence of that little conference in Göteborg, Sweden permeates the Mac Admin community worldwide. Selfishly, I’m sad I didn’t get to meet Tycho in person. But I look forward to hearing some of your stories about him next time I see you at a meetup or conference. Here’s to Tycho: someone who made a difference in our worldwide community. We will miss you but we will not forget you.