In early-to mid 2013 I ran a meetup in Manchester. It ran for 6 months, till it became obvious that I was going to have a VISA to live in the States.
In 2014 I’ve ran a bunch of meetups under the CocoaPods brand, these are good excuses to go visit cities, meet people I don’t know and try make the Cocoa community more welcoming. Around WWDC I had started talking publicly about being interested in running a small conference.
I’ve attended a lot of conferences this year. And I’ve been paying extra close attention to how they’ve been ran recently. At UIKonf this year I spent time with Peter, Chris & Matt asking how they did this and that. After the conference Peter ended up releasing the Indie Conference Organizer Handbook for free, summarizing what he’s learned in the process of making many, many indie conferences.
I don’t think America really has this scene, a lot of the conferences out here seem to have been running for many years. A look on Luis Abscorbe’s CocoaConference shows that the vast majority are in California. There’s a huge developer scene in NYC. Amazing. Awesome. I should blog about that sometime. NYC hasn’t had an indie conference. I wanted to get a feel for how much effort it would take to bring together 10-12 speakers, get a space and find an audience.
This turned out to be the easiest part. A friend of mine Joe Burgess is an instructor at a The Flatiron School, a hacker school, here in New York. He said that between semesters their venue is basically empty. This is perfect for us because their venue fits ~100 people, is in Manhattan and is easy to get to.
I felt there is a under-reached population of people who aspire to join the community but don’t know how to start. When I attend meetups there’s a contingent of people who are not developers yet, but want to get a sense of what it’s like to actually be one before making potentially life-changing decisions.
Most meetups are oriented towards those with mid to high levels of experience. Though there is a great iOS study group here the format is very practical. I wanted something to provide motivation, to show that these people stuggled too and whilst there’s a learning curve it’s worth sticking to.
So for speakers I sent out invites over twitter DMs, emails and github. As this was the first time I really wanted to curate around people who were not known public speakers. I was specifically looking for people who I know were either new to the iOS Dev world or have prominent apps but don’t speak about them.
I initially sent out 14 invites, with 5 being women roughly 2 months before the expected date. Then over the course of a few weeks this number shifted as people declined and others applied.
I think that the next time I would do this differently. I would make a call for paper, and only send an invite to 3-4 people who I think won’t respond to the call. I felt that Madison+Mobile did this extremely elegantly. I would copy that.
I pitched that speakers should revolve their talks around these questions
- If you were starting now, what would you want to know?
- What makes objective-c a unique language? /. The Story of building my First App?
- What are you learning about swift now we’re all beginners?
and gave them an idea of what I thought the audience would be like. I think the Speakers did beautifully, ranging from the inspiring to the technically useful. There was a lot of life stories in there that people getting started can relate to. I was given a lot of feedback that the conference was inspiring.
Working with someone else. Having Joe around meant there was two people keeping things running at all times. I can’t think of a conference that I’ve attended that was a one person affair. I can only think of one successful long-term meetup that is ran by a single person. Sharing is caring.
Our timings mostly worked, the first two talks were shorter than expected but that all eventually balanced out.
Having lots of time to stand around and chat. I kept my eyes out, but never saw someone who didn’t talk to other attendees.
Using Github issues. Everyone involved was used to using Github as a communication medium, so it meant being able to keep everyone on the same page without millions of separate email threads. If I was going to do a large scale conference I would make a repo entirely for that conference, then start making issues. I think the objc.io team do this well. You can see this on orta/life#42.
Joe’s pragmatic approach to building the website, and poking me into making changes by sometimes doing something that set off my design-sense. Hah.
Transitions between speakers was awkward. If we do this again I’d like to have an intermediary period to get people set up whilst something else is happening. It’s a bit strange getting people set up, there’s technical bits going on and everyone is watching. With the last CocoaPods event I had people switching out whilst the last speaker was answering questions, this has the awkward aspect of having the next speaker standing around awkwardly.
Reduce the chance to hide behind something. When you’re speaking for the first time it’s daunting but sitting down or hiding behind a screen doesn’t help. I should provide a keynote clicker or a lectern for papers.
The pun in the name. It’s not a Swift conference. Not sure if it’d be smart to change the name now, but the name took ages so at least its something.
I’d be interested in doing this again. I think the time it takes is relatively minimal, and I think with an existing proof of concept this could maybe turn into an event every 3/6 months.
Repeating it would mean starting to really apply branding to it, there’s no logo, no structure in the design, the site was hardcoded HTML. It was very much a MVP, for something that would repeat, that would need to improve.
But I feel like it fills an interesting niche.