In September I am attending two iOS developer conferences in Europe: first iOSDevUK in Aberysmyth, followed by NSSpain, a week later in Logroño. I just got back from iOSDevUK, filled with gratitude and inspiration. In a few days I will get to enjoy more community at NSSpain. Life is good.

🏡 It takes a village, not a city

I consider these conferences human-sized because they only have a few hundred attendees, so you keep running into the same people, continuing conversations and sharing discoveries. By the end of the conference, you’ve reconnected with old friends and made quite a few new ones. They also take place outside of the typical tech hubs, often requiring dedicated travel. Everyone at the conference really wants to be there.

🚞 Planes, trains and automobiles

Unfortunately, the UK Railway gods did not smile upon my journey to the west coast of Wales. I arrived several hours late, missing Monday’s introductory sessions. I especially wanted to attend the Firebase & SwiftUI workshop by Marina Coelho and Pieter Friese.

☁️ Which cloud?

<digression>Choosing the right Cloud platform has been on my mind lately. Ruby on Rails has proven its worth for over a decade but it’s starting to show its age. I also prefer to spend my time building great apps over worrying about server maintenance and scaling. Serverless cloud solutions have become ideally suited for app development and maintenance. So far, I’ve explored the main contenders, including iCloud, AWS, Firebase and Azure. This is a decision I want to get right.</digression>

☕️ Victory from the jaws of defeat

I had some very specific Firebase questions that I was eager to ask. They were of the kind that the documentation typically doesn’t answer, and you’d have to be extremely lucky to find a blog post that shares exactly the right first-hand experience. During one of the conference breaks I saw Pieter and asked him a few questions. Rather than answering them immediately, he asked me about my apps, my business, and what I was trying to accomplish. With this context, he was able to give me exactly the information that will help me confidently choose the cloud platform that my apps will run on during the next decade.

🪢 Smaller works better

In bigger conferences, asking a speaker a complicated question can be tricky. There’s usually a mob right after the presentation and very little time in between sessions. My conversation with Pieter was the exact opposite of that: we had time to go into the background, have side conversations, and look at the big picture. This made the conversation was much more productive and useful. The closest I’ve come to this kind of experience at a large conference was at the WWDC Labs, where you make an appointment with a dedicated expert who was selected based on the question you submitted. My in-depth conversation with Pieter alone was worth the trip to the conference. But there was so much more.

🍪 The presenters tell stories

Besides the size, the main difference between local conferences like iOSDevUK and huge ones like WWDC, Build or Google I/O is that the presenters are speaking from real-world experience. During the big platform conferences, most of the content is about brand new API frameworks that are discussed publicly for the first time. While that can be quite exciting, there is something deeply fulfilling about listening to the personal development journey from fellow developers who are sharing their struggles and discoveries.

📚 Content highlights

Every session was interesting and worthwhile but I did have a few favorites. Malin Sundberg shared her experience building a weather app to explore the latest SwiftUI features. Amos Gyamfi blew my mind with a deep-dive into animation design. Natalia Panferova made me realize how much more there was to know about SwiftUI’s Text() view. Merve Sahan showed how greatly even solo developers can benefit from a modular architecture. Anna Beltrami made us all feel at peace with getting stuck sometimes and showed us how we can renew our motivation and inspiration by being playful with Swift Playgrounds. And finally, Dave Werver was his thoughtful and eloquent self, sharing his perspective on the past eleven years of iOS development.

🐾 Regrets, I have but one

My only regret is that I didn’t get a chance to meet Paul Hudson’s dogs, but I did chat with Paul about them and computer science education (unrelated) over dinner. We were seated with Merve Sahan, who was going to give her very first English presentation to a large audience the next day. What I appreciate most about Paul (leading by example, along with Chris Price and Neil Taylor) and the whole community is how generous and supportive everyone is to each other. Feeling safe and encouraged greatly helps learning and creativity. Everyone seemed in their element.

🌱 A plea for smaller conferences

As you can tell by now, I much prefer the smaller conferences over large ones, just like I prefer small business over big ones. It’s not that the big ones are inherintely bad, more that the smaller ones, both business and conferences, keep us closer to our human experience. Being at iOSDevUK also reminded me how wonderful it is to spend face time (rather than FaceTime) with fellow developers. Here are a few smaller iOS conferences to consider. If you can recommend another one, please let me know and I’ll update the list.

🇮🇹 Swift Heroes • April • Turin, Italy
🇺🇸 AppCon • May • Washington, DC
🇺🇸 360 iDev • August • Denver, Colorado
🇬🇧 iOSDevUK • September • Aberystwyth, Wales
🇪🇸 NSSpain • September • Logroño, Spain.
🇫🇷 FrenchKit • September • Paris, France
🇬🇧 SwiftLeeds • October • Leeds, England
🇳🇱 Do iOS • November • Amsterdam, The Netherlands
🇦🇷 swiftAble • December • Buenos Aires, Argentina

A note about 360 iDEV: Sadly, the organizers of this conference have been left with a financial burden that will probably prevent them from holding future editions. Please consider donating to help support smaller conferences like 360 iDev.

That’s all for now. Onto Logroño!