Is attending an iOS Developer Conference worth the time and the money?

My first-time first-hand conference experience from Pragma ‘17 in Verona, Italy

If do not care about what I have to say 😃, you can go here and watch the videos from the conference. If you want to read what I think of each topic, scroll down to The lectures, the speakers and my opinion.

Was it really worth it?

Hell, yeah! I visited a beautiful town, I drove a Fiat which turned out not to be such a bad car, I had the best Airbnb experience to this day(my hosts literally treated me as their son, comment if you want me to share the details of the place), I attended amazing and inspirational talks, I conversed face-to-face with some of the best in the business, I tasted the most appetizing of Italian food, I expanded my network with valuable contacts, I had the chance to evaluate myself across the board of others like me. All that in just a few days 🎊.

Thumbs up for the colleagues

Getting there, staying there and the expenses

Everyone will tell you they love to travel. If you ask me, I will probably answer the same. But the details of the traveling itself are rarely pretty 🍭. You need to follow a schedule, you sometimes fight with your traveller companions, you try not to miss your flight, you try not to scratch your rental car. It’s a hassle. Especially if you want to get to a place the cheapest way possible 💸.

Lucky for me, I live in Europe. A big thank you to all discounted airlines traversing Europe every day! Especially when they do not try to make me pay for oversized luggage 😅.

Going back to the details, I currenly live in Sofia and the conference was in Verona. So what I did, I flew to Milano for only 20 Euro both ways (I am sure you pay more for lunch sometimes 😄). Still, it was not much to be expected — I had to get up at 5 a.m., my seat on the plane was tiny, no extras for free. There were quite a few options to get from Milano to Verona — buses, trains, rent-a-car. I chose the last option because I was flying back at 8 a.m. and there were no buses or trains to get me back on time. Again, the rental cost me only 20 Euro, another sweet deal (Italy is famous for the cheap rent-a-car companies 🚗). A two-hour flight and a one-hour drive later, I was finally in front of the Airbnb which cost another 70 Euro. I look back now and all travel and accommodation expenses ended up less than the conference ticket itself (about 220 Euro for an early-bird one).

So yeah, I think I did real good — 330 Euro for a conference ticket, flight, rental car and a place to sleep plus about 100 Euro pocket money, not bad at all. And lets not forget that walking around historical Verona is free and awesome 😎!

Verona streets

The lectures, the speakers and my opinion

Time to share a bit about what I saw, heard and learnt at the conference. It was a lot and it was good — I split the lectures by days and ordered them chronologically.

The first day:

Metaprogramming in Swift — the first lecture came from KRZYSZTOF ZABŁOCKI, a developer with a ton of experience currently working for New York times. He spoke about Sourcery— a tool he built that scans your source code, generates Swift code for you and saves you a ton of time obviously, once you learn to use it properly, in my opinion at least. Do watch the lecture!

Sharing Code between iOS and macOS — this talk came in second on the first day instead of the second day cause one of the guys missed his flight or whatever. A happy surprise, I think. The speaker was MATHIAS TRETER who provided some valuable platform-sharing tricks as well as the fact that revenues coming from a macOS app are not to be underestimated. Worth watching more than once!

Error handling made easy — Greek duo ELENI PAPANIKOLOPOULOU + KOSTAS KREMIZAS rocked with their Swift Error Handler. Error handling is quite an important topic that often does not get enough attention. If you lived like this till now, this is your chance to do right by it.

Extending your mobile experience with Google Cloud Functions — great demo provided by the Google representative SEBASTIAN SCHMIDT. He showed us live how easy it is to do English speech recognition and then translate it to Italian using Google APIs only. As far as I understood there are about a 100 languages supported for translation back and forth but 100% reliability is not promised yet. Still pretty cool! But paid 😦. This is the link if you want to check the Google Speech API. If you want to check out others, just google them 😆.

In comparison, Siri is free but it can do only 5 languages. And that is if you speak in English and translate to these 5, not the other way around. You do the math 😃.

Core Data Performance — SAMUEL GOODWIN gave this talk but I ended up skipping it. The reason was not that I am not a fan of Core Data 😅, but because I was given a live demo of AppCode by some of the JetBrains guys that were on the conference. They showed me some pretty awesome features of the IDE such as extracting functions, methods, classses, variables and what not. Definitely worth a shot. Unfortunately, it is not free. So, do check it out for yourself and see if it is worth it. They do have a free trial period.

Back to Core Data, well, you know it is a tough one but often required. So, I am going to watch the video once it is out and I recommend you do the same.

Designing Halide: A Tactile iOS App — Halide is a raw manual camera for iOS . SEBASTIAAN DE WITH was the speaker who entertained us greatly with his story of becoming a designer, working at Apple, turning down a personal offer from Uber and so much more. If you got time for some good Silicon Valley humor, this talk is for you.

How to get started contributing to open source — FELIX KRAUSE, most of us know him because of fastlane. Well, turns out he is also the author of TSMessages, who knew? Definitely the right person to share advice on open source!

YOLO Releases Considered Harmful — CATE HUSTON turns out to be a great leader with some great advice. If you do not get along with your team leader, show him/her Cate’s talk from the Pragma Conference!

Game Development for App Developers — JOHN SUNDELL is already quite famous in the iOS world thanks to his ability to create awesomeness. What about the 2D-games topic then? Maybe you should create your next 2D game with some fast Core-Animation based rendering provided by his ImagineEngine. I know I will do.

You Deserve Nice Things — Swift gives you the ability to add extensions easily but many times you may wonder where the right place for that is. At least I do. Well, SOROUSH KHANLOU has some good practical ideas and code to share.

The second day:

Tales of a rebuild—the second day started out quite fresh with ALAN COOKE from Zendesk and his journey there. In short, it was a small team of just a few people who built the first production version of the Zendesk app which later on turned out not to have the best design and optimizations for adding new features. All that resulted in having to re-build the Zendesk app from the ground up and an awesome start-up story for everyone to hear.

Getting Started with ARKit + Tips and Tricks — GLENNA BUFORD gave us a cool demo of ARKit, something everyone is curious about these days.

Simplifying State by Partially Introducing Unidirectional Data Flow in Your Codebase by BENEDIKT TERHECHTE and Declarative Architecture by CHRIS EIDHOF — these guys are a know-it all in a good way and probably do not need introduction. They did not present together but the stuff they talked about was kind of similar and they both raised some design question every iOS developer faces on a daily basis. So, yeah, what did they talk about? Well, for some it may be old news, but they both spoke about implementing Redux-like architecture in Swift and declarative UI(in the sense of the UI as a function of its own state and re-running the UI on every change of that same state) and the respective problems they faced, solved and could not solve. Both talks are a must-watch!

A Tour of the Photo Capture Pipeline — BEN SANDOFSKY faced a different angle when working on Halide. I will just say that computers and colors turned out to be quite a deep topic. And this talk only scratched the surface but it is a good start for anyone like me(meaning someone who does not know much).

Building buddybuild — CHRISTOPHER STOTT gave us an all-around view of buddybuild and the reasons behind creating it.

How to instrument code like you mean it — hands down the best talk at the conference given by PAUL HUDSON, the guy behind Hacking with Swift. Must be enough for you to trust me that what he shared about Xcode’s Instruments and how to start using them was top-notch 🔩!

Gems of GameplayKit — turns out GameplayKit is not all about creating games. You do not believe me!? Watch this great talk garnished with sleek humor provided by TOBIAS DUE MUNK that will leave you both entertained and more knowledgeable 😃 📚.

When Will We Use This — DANIEL STEINBERG is both funny and educational in every talk I have seen from him. This one was no different, so just chill 🍸.

Closing of the conference — stick around for that, there were prizes! I got a free code for AirMail, an app that won one of Apple’s iOS design awards for 2017. Other people won codes for other various apps, lectures, books, tutorials. Those that won but had already left were skipped. So, yeah. stick around to the end!

Conclusion and final advice

Going to a technical conference for the first time is certainly exciting and overwhelming. It was for me! Indeed, I could have just waited for it to end and watch it all afterwards. There is one obvious extra I would have missed if I did not go, and that it is creating a valuable network of contacts — Stackoverflow is not always enough after all. I got to speak to a whole bunch of other developers with various years of experience and various areas they work in and I managed to see where I stand — I am not that bad as a techie, it turns out 😃. And if I am actually stuck at something, there is so many people to ask for good advice now!

Get out there, grow your network!

And if you ever wonder if it is too costly, well, think twice and see what I paid. If you get a nice and cheap Airbnb, fly low cost, find an inexpensive rental car, plan well ahead, stay for the the closing note and follow the conference slack channel, you might end up at a pretty cool conference, among quite knowledgeable people with a fancy freebie app in your pocket.

Lots of ifs! But good stuff does not come easy, right 😉?

Well, thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. If you have some advice, positive or negative, please do comment. Don’t be cheap with 👏 👏 👏 if deserved. Do find me on twitter if you need me. Till next time!