If You Attend Only One Conference, Make It CocoaConf

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I recently had the chance to attend CocoaConf DC in Herndon, VA, June 28-30 at the Crowne Plaza Dulles.  Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard of CocoaConf but for those that haven’t, CocoaConf is a small, focused iOS and Mac developer conference.  The idea of CocoaConf is to be small, intimate and come to you.  Conferences such as Apple’s WWDC are huge (5000+ attendees) and it costs people a small fortune between conference ticket, travel, lodging and food.

CocoaConf is different in that it happens multiple times a year in a different city, closer to people who want to attend but don’t want to spend the big dollars for travel.  The regular price of $600 (after early-bird of $450)

Conference Organizers

The people behind conferences are usually the ones that make or break the experience.  Sure one can say it’s the sponsors or even the attendees but without good organizers, it just doesn’t work.

The conference organizers for CocoaConf really did make the conference a real pleasure.  The unusual things about the organizers, they are a family.  A single family headed by Dave Klein and his outstanding children of varying ages.  From Dave’s Twitter profile he says he is:

Christian homeschooling father of 13. Author of Grails: A Quick-Start Guide. http://tinyurl.com/GQuick

And they homeschool; impressive indeed.  I’ve ever seen this before.  I have seen friends and associates but never a family.

The Klein family did a fantastic job of running this conference, well organized and very attentive.

The Venue

Although the conference is touted as being in Washington DC it is really in Hearndon, VA.  It seems all the VA towns near DC consider themselves part of the city.  

The conference was held at the Crowne Plaza Dulles. I have attended a few conferences at a Crowne Plaza and they always please.  They really are a conference center and do a fantastic job of taking care of both guests and attendees during the conference.  

I have to say the food during the 3 days was the best food I have seen so far at a conference.  Each day included breakfast and a huge hot lunch in buffet format with food for each palette and eating disorder, er I mean eating selection.

The discounted room rate really made a big difference as well.

Pre-Conference Tutorial

Chris Judd taught an awesome iOS Tutorial on the day before the official conference started.  I was fortunate enough to be able to attend and learned a bunch along the way.  I wanted to pick up some tips, especially for Storyboarding, and it was well worth it.  I was exhausted after this intense day.

session 1:

  • Basic Xcode/Interface Builder
  • Creating iOS Projects
  • Running in Simulator

session 2:

  • Objective-C Primer
  • View Controllers

session 3:

  • Storyboarding
  • Creating Universal Applications

session 4:

  • Table Views
  • Data Storage with focus on Core Data

session 5:

  • Camera

session 6:

  • Core Location/MapKit

Even if you are an experienced developer, take this day of training because you will have an audience to ask questions of and learn some things along the way.

It was great that we were kept busy and having an NSCoderNight was awesome. I  have always wanted to attend one of these hacker nights but none exists in our area and hadn’t had a chance while traveling.  It was a great time with people just sitting around discussing iOS and Mac development along with other aspects of their business or job such as supporting Android with a big application across many handsets.  Good content.

Conference Sessions

The session list for CocoaConf was long and consisted of a who’s who of the Apple developer community, including Daniel Steinberg, Chris Adamson, Mike Ash, Mike Dalyrmple, Chris Judd, Saul Mora, David Smith  and other great local speakers..  The topics covered a large array of topics with an audience ranging from beginner to experienced developer.  

When attending conferences I try to pick the sessions that I can’t normally find the information easily online.  These are usually topics that are experience-based or deep topics that are make digestible by the speaker.  Sessions that exemplified this:

  • Enter the Matrix by Mark Pospesel – this was my favorite talk and really let me see the power of the iOS framework.  It was all about 2D and 3D graphics with transformations, scaling and rotations.  Mark really knew his material here and showed it with the demo application he created for the talk, it showed off all that the framework could handle as well as how good of a developer Mark is.  Great talk.
  • iOS Computer Vision by Jonathan Blocksom – this talk also exemplified how the iOS 5 SDK and OpenCV libraries can extend what we can do with applications today and use augmented reality to create some really crazy applications.  The augmented reality demo was mind blowing.
  • The Wonderful World of Text by Chad Sellers – handling text in iOS or Mac application is not something that gets a lot of coverage but lot of apps do it.  Chad is the owner of Useful Fruit Software and creator of Pear Note for the Mac and iPad.  Both apps make heavy use of text and we got to see some experience with text while making his products.  Great guy to speak with as well.
  • Getting to Know Core Data by Whitney Young – this sounds like it might be a beginner’s talk but it wasn’t.  Whitney uses Core Data daily and knows it really well.  He gave attendees the real insight into using Core Data with iCloud and what is possible and what Apple tells us.  Very insightful and valuable content.

There were 3 tracks and a total of 30 sessions and a keynote on Friday evening giving us knowledge until 8:00pm.  After the first two days, my brain was truly mush and I was very exhausted. 

Attendees

One of the reasons I like to attend conferences is because of the other attendees I meet.  I always find the story of others interesting and inspiring.  

I met a lot of people and made many new friends all from different skill sets and walks of life.  I heard many stories of application success and some failure.  There were people who had been writing Objective-C since the early days while others just starting out.

It’s also inspiring to see young people finding enjoyment in coding.  Conferences don’t seem to attract young people but at CocoaConf there was one exception.  A young developer who came all the way from Texas to join the fun and learn.  He was 14 years old and already had 5 application in the Apple App Store. Quite an accomplishment with the demands of school today.   He was very well-spoken and a pleasure to talk with.

This conference is small, 80 attendees or so. You can almost meet every person if you try over the 3 days.

Finally

I really had a great time at this conference.  I have attended many conferences over the years and the combination of the great group of organizers, venue, content and the attendees, made this the best conference I’ve attended.  I would certainly recommend this to others and I will return to another CocoaConf.

Did I mention the swag?  T-shirt, logo’d notebook and pen, bag and an awesome coffee mug.

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CocoaConf is not an annual conference but is run many times over the course of a year in a various cities, making it easier for you to attend.  The next city is Columbus, OH, August 9-11 and future cities with unannounced dates are Raleigh, NC and Portland, OR.

The only thing I would change or add to this conference is recording of sessions.  I know it’s expensive and some speakers don’t want it but it would help overcome the tough choice of which session to see in a multi-track event.  It’s minor, but would be nice.

7 Great iOS and Mac Developer Podcasts to Learn from Today

I have quite an extensive list of podcast subscriptions in iTunes these days with much of my interest on iOS and Mac development.   Considering how iTunes is Apple, there are a lot of podcasts that have just stop producing content and gone away.  There are a comparable few podcasts dedicated to iOS.

I spend time looking for new podcasts and revisiting old ones trying to find ones with good content and who produce on a fairly regular basis.  I wanted to share my favorites with you, hopefully to help them keep producing.

These podcasts are developer podcasts but there really are two audiences; some are focused on the technical details of development while others are of interest to developers running a business around iOS and/or Mac software.  I’m sure there’s overlap here.

I think each and every one of these are great and I know you will find value in them as well.

Core Intuition

Core Intuition is hosted by Daniel Jalkut, developer of MarsEdit and Manton Reece.  This podcast had been on a bit of a hiatus with sparse updates over the past year but recently they have been producing regular episodes.  Mainly a podcast produced by Mac developers with little iOS discussion, the topics are applicable to most developers in the Apple community.

Episodes run about 45 minutes and usually focused on a handful of topics like the Mac App Store, sandboxing and dealing with customers.  Top notch for sure and well thought out dialog.

Edge Cases

This podcast is relatively new and hosted by Andrew Pontious and Wolf Rentzsch.  They discuss topics appealing to both Mac and iOS developers ranging from Core Data to Sandboxing and the future of developing for Apple products.

Episodes are about 45 minutes in length and pretty rich in technical content.  The podcast started in May and they already have 8 great episodes out as of the time I write this.

Wolf is the creator of Mogenerator and other tools.

Developing Perspective

Developing Perspective is produced by solo developer David Smith who is an iOS and Mac developer.  Episodes run about 15 minutes and talk about very specific topics that all Apple developers think about one time or another.  These include the path to independence, developer’s machine and going to WWDC.

I discovered this podcast a short time ago and it is one that I anxiously await new episodes.  It seems every episodes resonates with me.   David has a great radio voice too, calm and soothing.

iDeveloper Live

This podcast is run by Steve “Scotty” Scott and company have been doing this podcast for what seems like an eternity.  Most of these shows run about an hour and cover various topics like open source, Apple (of course) and interviews with various developers known in the Mac community.  Many of these interviews cover specific topics the developer is very familiar with.

Listeners can tune into the live show and participate in the chat room as well as find updates on Twitter.  The episodes are always entertaining and full of great information.

NSBrief

Saul Mora is the creator and producer of these great interviews with Mac and iOS developers as well as people funning Apple-focused software companies.  The podcasts run almost an hour and Saul knows just the right questions to ask and knows enough about the technology to make really useful insights.

Recent episodes include chats with Jamiee Newbery from Black Pixel while on a plane.  Every episode is different and every episode contains valuable insight.

I met Saul at CocoaConf in DC a short time ago and he is a great guy doing these great interviews.

Build and Analyze

Marco Arment and Dan Benjamin host Build and Analyze, which is a bit of a different podcast.  Marco runs Instapaper and much of hour plus episodes discuss trials and tribulations of running Instapaper.  The insider view is really helpful and I pick up a lot of great tips.

I have to warn that sometimes, just sometimes, they get off on long tangents about coffee, cars and kids.  Although not directly applicable to running a application business, it can be entertaining.

NSScreencast

Ben Scheirman is .NET developer turned Ruby on Rails and iOS developer who created NSScreencast, which is not technically a podcast, but I thought it would add some good value to this list.  Although not free, at $9 a month, it is bargain.  Each screencast goes into detail about how to use a particular feature of Xcode or of iOS development in general.

Topics such as how to implement Pull to Refresh, using Storyboards, Provisioning to HTTP caching and setting up a CI server.  Each episode ranging from 10-30 minutes, perfect for those suffering from short attention span.

Finally

I listen and watch each of these and love them all.  I’ve learned a ton about he iOS and Mac developer community by just listening.