What will your verse be?
This was the resounding message that attendees of CocoaConf Boston, such as I was, were asked to consider over this past weekend.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let’s backtrack a little bit first.
I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate to work at Safari. I am part of an incredible group of people that are passionate about empowering others to be even more remarkable at what they love (at least, hopefully at what they love). We believe wholeheartedly in building great learning tools for our customers, with engaging content from the publishers that we collaborate with. I’ve seen it in action every day that I’ve come to work over the last four years. What I didn’t yet know when I started here was just how lucky I’d be to have opportunities to become more remarkable at what I love – building things with software using my beloved platforms of choice, Apple’s OS X and iOS.
Here’s where CocoaConf comes in.
What is CocoaConf?
CocoaConf is a year-round conference tour for OS X and iOS developers, with speakers on a wide range of Cocoa development topics. I’ve had the pleasure of attending both in San Jose this past April and Boston this past weekend. I consider it to be among the best of the indie conferences I’ve attended, particularly for developers building software for Apple platforms. Many speakers are well known in the Cocoa developer community, and speakers who may not be as familiar to everyone are also provided a stage to present attendees with an opportunity to share knowledge amongst each other (speakers are attendees too!). Since CocoaConf events are certainly smaller than conferences like Apple’s WWDC or Tech Talks, this is truly a great place for speakers and attendees alike to share with and learn from one another.
This is a very technical conference, but a humanist one as well. From day one, I was struck with the clear and profound theme that was presented early on in the conference, echoed by the first line of this post, and itself an echo quoting the storied poet Walt Whitman:
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
I need to interject here for a moment, to say that I’m going to do something a little weird – I’m going to talk about the non-technical things that occurred at a technical conference. If I were to write about every code session I attended here, this post could be in danger of becoming a mini-novel very quickly (granted, NaNoGenMo is currently in full swing). For brevity’s sake, I’m keeping this post centered around the keynote presentations – talks which were less technical, but engaging stories about developers as humans – at the expense of attempting to capture the equally valuable technical sessions. Nonetheless, I absolutely encourage anyone interested in developing iOS or OS X software to browse the sessions of a CocoaConf event near you. I can’t emphasize enough the knowledge value that developers will get from attending.
We’re human, after all
These keynotes began with the highly entertaining and insightful opener from Daniel Jalkut, proprietor of Red Sweater Software and the developer behind MarsEdit, “Quit Your Day Job?” (spoiler: it depends). Daniel started our conference by presenting his own story of working for a large company like Apple and the journey of walking away from that to pursue a career as an indie Mac developer. It turns out, doing what you love can be hard sometimes, but maybe the journey really is the reward. As a developer, you might ask yourself: what do I value about what I’m doing? If that answer doesn’t come to you very easily, maybe the next question should be asking yourself what you’d really love to build.
Daniel was followed in the evening by Daniel Steinberg, author of multiple books on Cocoa development and owner of Dim Sum Thinking (for some reason, I’ve found there to be a surprisingly disproportionate number of Daniels in the Cocoa community), and his considered talk “Playing By New Rules.” His talk encouraging attendees to learn new things not just by consuming technical information, but by playing and using discovery as a learning tool. I found this very relatable; it reflects a philosophy at Safari (which I value very much) that by taking time to learn things that excite you, you ultimately bring that excitement and capability into your work. It was here that we were presented with that famous question Whitman posed, and thus the theme of this post.
We were greeted the morning of Day Two by Laura Savino, iOS engineer at Khan Academy, and her wonderful “Why Would You Do That Ever?” talk, about considering how we may perceive someone’s work versus how we may perceive that person as a human being. I was grateful for this as a reminder that it’s okay for me to be imperfect sometimes (fail fast and fail often, right?), and to be mindful of how I may perceive another’s imperfections as well. I regard myself as a “newbie” Cocoa developer, and I think that lends me to carefully consider how my opinions about code should be constantly re-evaluated as I interact with other people who love/hate code.
Wrapping things up, Jaimee Newberry’s “Through Burnout and Back Again” took us through a series of deeply personal reflections about the importance of doing what matters to you with the one life you have. After taking us through her story of “falling out of love” with some aspects of her work as a user experience designer, and the ways that difficulties in life can augment that experience, she combined these experiences with her skills in design to bring us to the idea of “designing your life” – which is to say, building your life to be the best life you can imagine it to be. This closing message couldn’t be more important as we all went back out into the rest of the world; no matter what it is you love to do, it’s crucial to our experience as humans that we spend our limited time in the world not working on things that feel like we’re wasting it. This is just as profound in work writing and designing software as it is in our daily lives.
There are so many things about this conference that make it as remarkable as it is: the sessions, the connections with other developers, the fun that is had by all, the knowledge that is shared. The organizers of CocoaConf bill it as “the developer conference for those who think different”. A less clever and more verbose way of saying this might be “CocoaConf is a developer conference for humans who build software for Apple platforms”. Instead, I come back to this: CocoaConf is a developer conference for humans. While it absolutely stands out as a technical conference for Cocoa developers, I’ve experienced a deep engagement here with the rationale that as developers who task ourselves with making great things, we are equally tasked with considering what we bring to the world. Developers push forward by writing software; humans push forward by challenging ourselves. Are you doing what you love? How do you measure your work as valuable? How do you grow as a developer? In turn, how does that make you grow as a person? What will you leave behind?
What will your verse be?