by Nathan Chan

Inside the 360iDev conference through the eyes of a first-timer

Keynote by @khanlou — Photo credit: Fuad Kamal https://anaara.com/

I recently spent four jam-packed days in Denver at the 360iDev conference, the largest and longest-running independent iOS/Mac conference in the world.

As a newcomer to the iOS development world, and after chatting and getting to know dozens of attendees, it occurred to me that I was very likely one of the least experienced iOS developers at the conference.

I figured writing about my conference experience could bring a fresh perspective to those just starting out in iOS, as well as to those who have been attending 360iDev since the very beginning.

I’ve been a full-stack engineer for the past few years, but recently took the plunge and quit my job to pursue a career in iOS. I’ve now been working in iOS and Swift for about three months, and wrote a bit about my experience ramping-up here. In the past, I’ve attended Python and web conferences, but never one related to iOS.

360iDev was the most impactful conference I’ve ever attended.

Environment

All of the conferences I’ve attended in the past boasted about having thousands of attendees. 360iDev was much smaller — 270 attendees this year. You start bumping into the same people. You start forming connections. You start building friendships.

Due to its smaller size, the conference felt almost casual, which was an entirely good thing. Many events were organized informally and spontaneously via the conference Slack team and the Beacon app (created by keynote speaker @khanlou).

Lunchtime was a free-for-all at nearby food trucks and restaurants. Interest groups started popping up in Slack and Beacon — there were Magic: The Gathering gatherings, doughnut runs, Pokemon Go raids, and shared rides to the airport. I felt like this casualness brought us all closer together.

MTG FTW

Due to the size of the conference, the amount of physical space needed was relatively small. This year, 360iDev was hosted in a hotel. There was really only one place to mingle, check out company booths, and most importantly, grab some perpetually available coffee (nice work on that, organizers!).

This ensured that you were constantly running into people and made it easy to coordinate interest group meet-up points. It also left plenty of in-between-session time for connecting with others, as opposed to hustling to the next talk across a convention center.

Speakers and attendees

On my count, nearly a quarter of attendees were speakers. I would be chatting with a random attendee that I bumped into in an elevator, or walked with to a lunch spot, only to find out they were giving a talk that I was planning to attend later in the day. This happened to me several times.

I imagine WWDC would be quite different — a conference where the speakers (Apple employees) don’t stick around much, or at all, to interact with attendees. But at 360iDev, I had many opportunities (via Slack or in-person) to reach out and have conversations with speakers.

Being a popular conference in the iOS community, the conference attracts some of the best and brightest in the industry as both speakers and attendees. I must warn you as a newcomer: it might get surreal. You’ll see folks you’ve been following on Twitter sipping a Coke across the lobby, tying a shoelace in an elevator, or even peeing in the urinal next to you (this happened to me!).

So instead of “putting your heroes on a pedestal,” you’ll see them do normal, human things, and have an opportunity to talk to them.

Talks

The conference had three or four tracks, meaning there were typically three or four talks/sessions happening at the same time. With so many enticing talk descriptions posted, naturally, FOMO enters the mind. Which talks should I attend? What if that one is better than this one?

Luckily, recordings of the sessions are posted online in the coming weeks, and speakers posted slides and other material on the conference Slack channel.

Full house for @_aijaz_’s session on Advanced Debugging with Xcode — Photo credit: Fuad Kamal https://anaara.com/

The speakers at 360iDev (at least the ones I went to) typically started with why they were speaking about their topic. They then discussed why it was important to them personally or professionally, rather than jumping straight into what they were talking about.

This format differs from the sessions at WWDC. Those are more focused on the future and what’s new. Watching the speakers at 360iDev talk about what they are working on right now really resonated with me. As a newcomer to the field, it helped me understand their daily struggles and thought processes as iOS developers. And I heard so many tips and strategies to overcome those struggles.

The tracks were also structured so that each session was suitable for developers at all levels of expertise. The talk descriptions were clear when topics were advanced, and I didn’t feel like any of the presentations I attended were too far over my head. None of the speakers assumed extensive prior knowledge on their topics.

Did I mention the occasional mind-blowing talk? This is what the chatter in the conference Slack looked like during @_aijaz_’s talk.

For a great overview of talk highlights, see this post from attendee, speaker, and podcaster @timmitra.

(My) Themes and Takeaways

The state of the union keynote had a slide that rang true for me at 360iDev. It simply said: “Help others become who they are.

Throughout the conference, I would bump into attendees I got to know. They would then introduce me to others they thought I should meet. They pointed me to open-source tools they thought I should check out for my projects. And I even got offers to proof-read this very article you’re reading right now. There was an atmosphere of helpfulness that carried through those four days.

I also felt a sense of enthusiasm that I really hadn’t felt at a conference before. Evening social events were filled with conversations about current projects, ideas for next projects, newly discovered features of the Swift language, and a general excitement for iOS development.

The nature of the fast-paced app industry likely has a lot to do with this. Still, it was hard to come away from 360iDev without feeling inspired and motivated within the firm embrace of the community.

I cannot recommend 360iDev enough to those considering attending an iOS conference in the future. For an introvert like myself, I know full days of conference socializing can be exhausting. But 360iDev broke many of those barriers and created a particularly friendly and inviting environment for its attendees. Denver’s also a pretty cool spot :)

Until next time, @360iDev!

You can reach me on Twitter @nathanwchan, or leave a comment below.