Reporter's Notebook: Attending CocoaConf as a Novice Developer

Last week I attended CocoaConf Portland, the Portland stop on the CocoaConf tour, a series of events that take place around the country. Aimed at developers, I found it a great event for both seasoned coders and those just getting started developing. My volunteer work with App Camp For Girls puts me in the latter category, so I also attended one of the offered workshops the day before, an iOS Tutorial led by James Dempsey

Dave Klein announces the days events at CocoaConf Portland.Dave Klein announces the day’s events at CocoaConf Portland. Photo: David Sinclair.

I'm a firm believer in the conference, more so in today's hyperconnected world. It comes down to one simple reason: The "hallway track." Getting coffee and bumping into someone whose work you've followed for a long time, or having lunch with people talking about how they solved something you're working out for yourself, even just getting to see people you don't get to see as much as you'd like, all of these are bonuses you don't get watching a live stream or downloading slides later. Sure you can get the info from that slide deck, but not the chance to thank the speaker or ask a followup question.

Now, I'm the first to tell you I'm not a developer. I have been described as a person "who doesn't freak out when opening Xcode." I understand the basic concepts, and have tried a few books and online courses that never really helped. Getting to spend the day in an iOS tutorial was amazing. Having access to the person who taught the class as well as breaks to chat with other attendees, I had a much better understanding of iOS basics by the end of the day. Then after sleeping on all the stuff I learned, I had a chance to follow up and ask more questions about parts I was having a hard time with.

As an added bonus, the sessions were a lot less confusing after spending a day already immersed in Xcode. Listening to sessions about Storyboards and extensions made more sense and gave me some things to consider as I take my first steps toward building my own app. This also prepped me to ask better questions, and be able to use the right terms and better explain where I was having trouble.

Daniel Steinberg presenting at CocoaConf Portland. Photo: Solomon KleinDaniel Steinberg presenting at CocoaConf Portland. Photo: Solomon Klein

CocoaConf is put together by the Klein family, who also put together a Yosemite conference actually in Yosemite National Park earlier this year. One of the great things they've done is not have a monolithic event in one place, which becomes a geeky Hunger Games. There are several events each year, all around the country. This creates the opportunity for smaller groups in each place which makes everyone more approachable, and still gives attendees a chance to discover something or be inspired by a conversation that comes out of putting a significant number of devs in one place.

I asked Liz Marley, Software Test Pilot at Omni Group, about her experience (since she's not primarily a developer) at the conference. She was also a speaker—her topic was software testing—so she had two perspectives:

First, I want to say that I love that the Klein family invited me to speak. That vote of confidence for a newer speaker was huge. Justin Miller’s talk was great for reminding me that I can use Swift for scripting. Now I can write helpful testing scripts in a language my developers are also using/learning. The keynotes are relevant no matter your role on the team. (And even for life away from keyboard!)

To follow up on Liz's comment, this was a notable component of the conference for me: There were sessions that had virtually nothing to do with code at all. A great talk about learning and rules, another was a set from James Dempsey and the Breakpoints, and others that were still presenting information but not necessarily about objects and methods.

Chris Adamson presenting at CocoaConf Portland.Chris Adamson presenting at CocoaConf Portland. Photo: Mark A. Eaton.

At the other end of the spectrum, full time developers also get a lot out of this event. Justin Miller, a developer at MapBox mentioned by Mrs. Marley above, put it this way: "I had a great time at CocoaConf catching up with local and regional friends, and the talks were very practical and represented a wide range of interests and expertise."

There are two remaining cities on the CocoaConf spring tour: Austin May 22-23rd, and Columbus July 10-11.  I cannot urge you strongly enough, if you have the opportunity, attend. If you don't have the opportunity, make one. You will not be sorry. After I've had more time working in Xcode, I can't even imagine how much more value I will get out of the next CocoaConf I attend.