The Cocoaconf Yosemite Conference (why I went, why you should)

Yosemite National Park

Last week I spent the week in Yosemite at the facility formerly known as the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls at the Yosemite Conference put on by the Cocoaconf team.

Cocoaconf is somewhere between a developer conference and a teaching seminar. They put on a number of conferences across the country — in Chicago on March 25, Austin in April, Seattle in May, Washington DC in September and San Jose in November. I’m not sure what my reality will be like in November, but if it doesn’t include prison, the hospital or endless mandatory conference calls, I’ll be there.

The focus is on programming for Apple platforms: Cocoa is the core framework for both IOS and Mac OS. Each conference has a unique slate of speakers and teachers from within the Apple developer ecosystem.

Coyote, Yosemite National ParkThe Yosemite conference is a bit different than the other conferences they put on. It’s a single track, one room conference. There’s less focus on bits and code and frameworks, and more on topics tied to being a developer — I’m tempted to call it the lifestyle track, but I think a better way to define it is that it was about being a developer and thriving as a developer. There were talks about avoiding and recovering from burnout, about living habits to help you maintain yourself and your health, about managing career change, both by choosing when and why to go indie, and when and why to jump back into the corporate life. Andy Ihnatko talked about cows. Jonathan Mann talked about his song a day project, how he turned that into a business, and how his having a kid has changed and challenged that business. James Dempsey organized a Conditional Breakpoints jam (and Brent Simmons talks about it so I don’t have to) and we spent an evening to music and merriment as James entertained — he’s not only an ex-Apple coder and geek master of cocoa, he has an album out worth your attention.

As you might imagine, as someone who just walked away from a job I liked with a team I loved who’s now trying to figure out what’s next and how to get there, a lot of the talks resonated strongly with me. I didn’t schedule my sabbatical around the conference, but as soon as I realized I’d freed my schedule I made sure to register and get my room so I could attend. I spent the week with 60-70 people listening to the talks, getting to know each other and sharing our interests and expertise with each other.

Upper Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National ParkBecause of the unique venue, the format of the conference is a bit different than most conferences. There was a group breakfast every morning in the Lodge restaurant, followed by 3 sessions from 9 until lunch, also done as a group. The conference broke for the afternoon and organized walks and tours around the area, or you could freelance and head out on your own. Dinner was on your own (but we often self-organized into groups to eat) and at 7 we headed back to the conference room for more talks in the evening. there were three full days of talks spread across four days (Monday evening running through thursday lunch).

Why did I go? For me it was a useful break from the old routine in a place I love to visit, but it was a lot more that just that. I’ve been fairly isolated from the Apple developer ecosystem since I left Apple a decade ago, mostly by choice because I needed the distance, but over the last year or so, I’ve found myself more and more interested in re-entering it in some way. This conference was a chance to validate that interest, spend some time with people I haven’t seen in a very long time or only know online and meet folks I know only by reputation, or didn’t know I wanted to know.

On top of that, since I’ve decidedd I need to get more technical and dive back into coding by learning Swift, and I’m doing that by writing an app I plan to publish into the App Store — this was a useful place to sit down with folks, talk that over, and validate my thoughts and assumptions. Is Swift the right choice? is the idea rational to attempt? Is going Mac instead of IOS the right decision? As of right now, the answers seem to be yes, yes, and yes. Ask me again in a couple of months…

I made a number of new and interesting connections, although this wasn’t intended as a networking trip and I tried not to treat it as one. I had many, many fascinating conversations and listened to many more. I put faces and voices to names I’ve known for years or haven’t seen forever (as far as we can tell, the last time I’d seen Jason Snell was 1996 at MacWeb in Austin.

It was great to get advice and feedback on questions and challenges I’ve been facing the last few months, and to run into people who’ve been through some of the same things I’ve been chasing and hearing their views. it was even nicer to sit down with others where I could help them with things they have been challenged by.

I learned a lot, but more than that, I got some perspective and balance that I needed on my situation and some of the choices I’m going to be facing in the next few months. Most important, I think, was I got feedback and advice that gave me the confidence to see the path I’m choosing as a constructive one and the right thing to do. It was, in short, a great power boost to help me take the situation I’ve created for myself and start moving it forward.

For me, it was exactly what I needed. I’m thinking that the November conference in San Jose will be a perfect time to sit down and spend time getting started on IOS to supplement the Mac programming I’m starting. And if they put on the Yosemite conference again next year, you can bet I’m going to try to make sure I’m there for it. Or maybe even see if I have something worth talking about there…

So if you’re involved with the Mac or IOS programming ecosystems, and you haven’t yet taken a look at the Cocoaconf conferences, you should. They’re full of interesting content, well-organized and very competently managed, and stuffed with lots of interesting people.

One of the conversations I had was about organizing conferences that involve the stuff other than the sessions — what many would call “the interesting stuff”. And to a good degree, the Yosemite conference comes as close to that as you’ll find, because even the talks are interesting and worth your time.  And if you go to the one in San Jose, look me up and say hi…