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Conference report: iOSCon 2018

iOS comes back to the heart of London

Paul Hudson       @twostraws

CodeNode is one of the few convention centers in the world dedicated specifically to coding, which makes it the perfect venue for iOSCon – the UK’s largest gathering of iOS and Swift developers.

In previous years iOSCon didn’t do a great job of fielding a diverse range of speakers, but this year was a significant improvement – as was immediately obvious from Danielle Tomlinson’s opening keynote. Danielle lies at the center of a Venn diagram of CocoaPods, Fastlane, and CircleCI, and her keynote focused on how automation can help folks ship more often. There were lots of important takeaways, but for me the key quote was this: “No amount of automation will save you from a dysfunctional environment.”

After starting on a high, it was great to see two parallel tracks that both had fascinating talks – accessibility, Codable, modules, Core ML, and more all got squeezed in. I was there for most of both days, and a few talks really stood out for me:

  • Daniel Steinberg’s talk “Applicatives – The Forgotten Middle Child” uses the metaphor of envelopes to describe first map, then flat map, and finally applicatives. Daniel is the true model of a great speaker, and was able to smoothly guide the audience through a potentially tricky topic.
  • Sam Davies’s talk “A Whistle-stop Tour of Core ML” was easily the most enthusiastic talk of the conference, but presented machine learning in a fun (hand-drawn!) way. Apple’s documentation team should watch this talk and re-think they way they talk about their own product.
  • Jorge Ortiz Fuentes gave a two-hour workshop on clean application architecture. This is no mean feat: this is a topic Jorge could easily spend a couple of days teaching, so it was awesome to see how he crammed the essentials into such a short time.
  • John Sundell’s talk “Beyond animations with Core Animation” showed how CA is more than just a backing layer for our views – shape layers, gradient layers, and more all provide useful functionality for our apps.

There were also several speakers I hadn’t seen before – Ellen Mey gave a clear and enjoyable summary of Codable, Eliasz Sawicki gave some hard and fast suggestions to make large projects build faster, and Hung Truong delivered a live demo of making apps more accessible.

iOSCon somehow manages to get its videos live only a few hours after every session happened. This was lucky for me because I wasn’t able to attend Abizer Nasir’s lightning talk “Pull requests are language”, so I watched it online. This short talk, lasting under 10 minutes, was probably my favorite of the conference, and I highly recommend you watch it yourself – all videos are available here.

The iOSCon approach to conferences isn’t complicated: get as many developers in a room as you can, provide free pizza and coffee, and wait for magic to happen. And it inevitably does: there are lots of great talks to attend, but the real value lies in mingling with attendees in the breaks and the after-party – I met so many new folks for the first time, and lots of fresh ideas were exchanged.

There’s one last thing. The Skills Matter team are highly experienced at running conferences – iOSCon is one of many they organize at CodeNode – and I really appreciate their warm welcome, their hard work, and their dedication to helping everyone enjoy themselves.

However, I’m slowly realizing the importance of having a coder act as a modern-day master of ceremonies – someone who kicks off the event and introduces speakers in a way that shows they are keen to learn just as much as the audience. I watched Daniel Steinberg do that job with aplomb at dotSwift, and at iOSCon it was Paul Ardeleanu. As well as introducing the conferences and most speakers, Paul was also on-hand to answer questions between sessions and afterwards too – it felt almost like he was everywhere, and his extra effort really put the icing on the iOSCon cake.

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