RWDevCon 2016 Review

TL;DR There is no other event that is going to provide you as much knowledge about the process of translating thoughts into practical, tangible creations. The conference is already great and is going to become better. Be there next time!

Learning Formats

I’ve been spending an increasing amount of my time on raywenderlich.com (henceforth whose brand is called RW in this synopsis) over the past two years, as the topics of the tutorials there have become the focus of my life. I’ve also watched most of the videos from other Apple-technology-based conferences. Here’s how I felt about those:

  • WWDC introduces new stuff. Nobody can do this but Apple. The videos and presentations are polished like none other, but to a clinical degree which makes them somewhat unrelatable even to a neurodivergent technophile like me; their funnest presentations are still too robotic to provide serious feels. Apple’s example projects take a long time to learn from because they come with no friend to guide us.
    Apple doesn’t know how to get the tools they spend so much time creating into optimal use. It’s a shame, because the pace of their creation isn’t matched by the pace of anyone assimilating it. This has led to lowest common denominator syndrome in the App Store and has allowed their competitors to gain ground. It’s as if the people making the tools don’t want to make their knowledge known. I won’t go into my speculations about why that is, here, but it’s one of humanity’s biggest problems right now and RW is solving it.
  • Other presentations focus on the human experience of using Apple’s stuff, but either don’t have live creation demos, or don’t have them polished enough for easy consuming. This is not a knock on any presenter. It takes a lot of time and practice to get this right, for anything that isn’t extremely small.

The RW approach

RW is focused on the “tutorial” format, which I’d previously thought was a clear enough term, but I’ve observed it becoming the name for an evolving system of inter-human knowledge transfer whose shape can’t be accurately predicted even several months into the future. I have never, in my life, felt the floodgates of knowledge open in the way that the video tutorials, combined with playgrounds or small Xcode projects, have allowed.

In the video tutorials, we learn along with real, competent and experienced developers, albeit the best versions of themselves which, through what I hear is a great deal of practice, direction, and iteration, effectively become characters that evoke the feelings that I remember coming from some of the best children’s educational television presenters, in my youth. The stories that they are excited to share are a combination of new thoughts crystallizing into concrete form, and an exploration of development tools which allow that process to happen. You could get this from a knowledgeable peer, but even if that peer spoke in a similar clear, information-dense way, it wouldn’t be repeatable for you or anyone else to learn from again. And there’s no chance that you can, at a whim, pair at your workspace with this many knowledgeable people from across the globe.

RW obviously isn’t the only brand making an effort at this, but when you’re dealing with information that evolves as quickly as what RW tackles, you’re not going to find anyone else with a better mix of expertise, production quality, and keeping the information updated.

…Nor will you find another brand who’s putting more love into it. I don’t currently have any idea how to quantify this, but you’ll feel it if you’re open to it. I was skeptical about how well the tutorial learning would translate into a live presentation, especially for an introvert like me, and while not every relevant aspect was equal or better, I hadn’t taken the emotional nature of the event into account. Being in the room with such competent craftspeople, loving what they were doing, in their honed presentations, had effects on memory retention which I can already feel are accelerating my mastery of what they presented. Once I obtain that mastery, I’ll retain it more easily: every time I use these skills we practiced together, these instructors are going to be with me in some remembered form. Optimizing learning via mastering positive emotional design may be the way to keep RWDevCon at the forefront.

Why Apple’s Ecosystem is a Good Match

Two of the biggest adversaries to humanity’s progress are decision fatigue and ego depletion. Apple makes a business out of optimizing customer happiness by reducing both. You give them money, and they provide hardware and software which either minimizes the time it takes for you to get something creative or practical done, or enables the previously impossible, depending on what products you buy. Except for music creation hardware and graphics creation software, as of last year, this company offers integrated tools to create all the things for which I am most suited in modern times. They have competitors for every piece of what they do, but no competitor for the amalgamation. However, they are not doing a good job at bringing the potential of integration between their products, and those who can create with them, to fruition. RW is the missing connection between Apple and potentially millions of software artisans.

Aside from not having enough money to afford the tools I needed, and not understanding how to be utilized well enough to escape menial labor, the biggest barrier to expressing my potential has been the lack of good teachers matched with curricula of similar quality. I’ve found that I have the aptitude to learn that which I’d like, but the progress at which I do so isn’t always as fast as it could be, due to lack of quality educational material, i.e. RW’s products, RWDevCon representing the cream of that crop. The RWDevCon speakers were living reflections of the presented content, personifying their innumerable hours (and those of their teammates) lost in working with and thinking about the tools that have the greatest power to enable our species to move forward.

Swift in particular, Apple’s programming language that RW adopted early on, is the sea change which washed me onto the RW shore. Swift’s creation and evolution is modeled around reducing the distress caused by the disunion of code and thought. Additionally, Swift embraces and advocates immutability. Our prefrontal cortex acts something like a time machine, giving us the impression that we are who we had been, but we’re constantly measurable as distinct new entities. Embracing that the old version of us is continuously being made obsolete, and being happy about being able to improve, is a theme that was at the heart of RWDevCon.

Reveling In Flow

I apologize for the body vs. mind focus in the links below. Military and sporting events apparently pay the bills for the researchers of the chemical science of learning.

Ray Wenderlich made it clear that, while proud of what his team has achieved, he has no inkling that the conference is as good as it can be. There was a lot of focus on feedback, and improvement through iteration. I get the impression that he’s treating it like a game whose goal is to create great learning-focused experiences. Because experiences can always get better, he can keep winning for as long as he wants to play.

My recommendation is for the team to embrace something like the 4% rule of flow, where both anxiety and boredom are minimized, and currently impossible goals are made possible via compound interest of small challenges and associated recovery periods. Group flow is probably another concept to use, to maximize the quality of RWDevCon.

Reaction

The RW team are my heroes. I didn’t know how I’d react when I met them, but I think I kept it together pretty well throughout nearly the entire event; a testament to their nature as relatable agents of the spread of knowledge and progress, who are not representative at all of the condescending poison which unfortunately seems to characterize most software developers I’ve met.

It couldn’t last, though. I’m typically what most folks seem to consider the opposite of an emotional person, but as Ray went to the front of the auditorium to deliver the concluding remarks, and became the embodiment of gratitude and improvement, that was the end for me. I cried tears of joy during much of that talk and it took me a couple days to process why that might have been, and tell you about it here.

It sounds like a ton of time goes into preparation for RWDevCon, and I’m sure that takes a lot out of everyone involved. But if the team did a good job, which I believe is the case, then those hours of work are going to have exponential returns based on how many people attended, and how many people those attendees pass the knowledge onto. It seems like a good investment! The children of some of the conference-goers being present helped to drive this idea home; I want to be a good conduit for the continued development of information that was taught, so that it will be easier for them to do better than I have, faster than I have.

Will I Go Next Year?

That’s probably obvious. 😸 I’ve got to be there to witness the results of the all the work that I know is going to happen.

I’m sure you’ll find technical reviews of the conference presentations in the coming weeks. Catie and I will be getting our specific thoughts on that soon, to the team, and we’ll be sharing some of how we’ll be applying our new knowledge, with you. For now, I hope that what I have expressed here might influence you to either come to RWDevCon next time, if you’re aligned with its goals, or to inspire you to bring some of its positivity to a different community, if the Appley stuff just isn’t your thing. (You may even find yourself with a place for that at the next RWDevCon, who knows!) Either way, thank you in advance.

1 comment

  1. Wow – thank you so much for this super kind review Jessy! Vicki and I just read it together and were overwhelmed and so happy you guys enjoyed it. We’ve also been sharing it with the team and they’ve all been so happy to read it.

    Thank you so much for sharing all your thoughts and feedback here – I loved the links you included about the 4% rule and group flow – I read through those and think we can take a lot from that for future events.

    Vicki and I really enjoyed meeting you and Catie and we love seeing another couple working and learning together. Thanks again Jesse and we look forward to seeing you two next year! :]

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