Do you know how many conferences out there focus on mobile development? And more specifically on Apple's ecosystem?
The WWDC is very famous but surely it is not the only one.
CocoaConferences, Confs.tech/iOS and Paul Hudson's annual collection of must-visit events are great sources of initial inspiration. But some events there don't have Call for Paper dates (or public CfPs at all), some are listed there too late or even get cancelled.
If you look through them and find everything that happened over the last few years with more than 200 attendees, seems like there are around 50 conferences worldwide every year. Two thirds of them are taking place in Europe, more than 20 are in different cities.
We use someone’s work every day, whether it’s something from Stack Overflow, or an open-sourced tool, or blog articles. However people tend to consume way more than to produce. Unfortunately if we won’t start producing something today, the next generation (or even our future selfs) in ten years won’t have the same variety of content to look up.
And it’s for us to fix.
When it comes to attending conferences (not even giving talks there), the hardest bit is reasoning. I spent years advocating for at least attending them despite lots of people telling that in most cases it's a waste of time. They'd usually argue about things you can build instead of flying to the middle of nowhere, about talks being recorded and available for free, about benefits of reactive learning, yada-yada.
It takes time to realise that conferences are not about talks, they are about the community.
Now, there are different communities.
Some of them might be toxic or boring, while the others will sparkle joy even in simple things. Some communities care about inclusion and diversity, warmly welcome newcomers and happy to help whenever you have a questions.
The others might be different. Luckily this story is not about them.
If you haven't been to a conference before, visit one. If you didn't give a talk yet, send a proposal. All in all, this post is about what I did, and what I learned, and what I will most likely do again; ultimately doing two things I care about the most: sharing knowledge and giving back to the community.
Back there in Russia I helped with organising CocoaHeads Moscow, then founded CocoaHeads St. Petersburg. A year later we've rebranded into CocoaHeads Russia and keep gathering hundreds of folks all over the country every months. I've used to teach at Summer Informatics School for three years, a summer camp for children from everywhere aimed at bringing their coding and algorithms skills during three weeks of intense study (and lots of fun). I've built from scratch and taught a course on iOS development for VK University.
All in all, I had some speaking experience indeed but I didn't have it in English and 2018 proved that starting from zero is very hard: waiting for invitations won't work. That's why I tried a slightly different approach in 2019.
Traveling to an event is time- and resources-consuming, even though almost all organisers are kind enough to cover the accommodation and transportation costs. The transport to airports (a huge problem in London) and visas (a huge problem for a Russian citizen) are rarely covered, so I ended up with around 35 events happening in the nearby countries, which is still quite a lot.
All of them were listed in a Google Spreadsheet. I've added the dates and CfP spans for those announced. I've added reminders to check every two months for all not announced yet but happened over the previous two years.
The Call for Papers. The Call for Presentations. The Call for Speakers (is it even a thing?!).
Judging by my "dataset", its lifespan varies from 30 days to 5 months, with slightly more than 2 months being the average length.
Half of the events didn't have a public CfP. Some of them were happy to reply to me by email, some of them dropped a note on Twitter. Some never got back.
I divide interesting to me topics into three categories:
- Things I am really good at.
- Things I am interested in but not motivated enough to explore.
- Things I really have to tell.
I wrote down all of them and got 13 talk ideas. Two were too niche. 11 different proposals.
Thanks for coming to my talk on building independent watchOS apps at @mobiconf.— Vadim Drobinin (@Valzevul) October 4, 2019
Slides are already here:https://t.co/SZcwxJCNAy
Looking forward to all the exciting apps you'll build now :) #mobiconf2019 pic.twitter.com/Mil6Jcjnas
I polished them over and over. Prepared a doc with photos, past talks (one in English, dozens of dozens in Russian just in case), drafted structures and key points. Kept sending them to a conference after a conference. Sometimes, ten events in a row. Sometimes ten talks to an event.
I did focus on making sure talks are tailored to each, though. I didn't want to give the same talk twice.
I didn't give a single talk twice.
I am terrible at waiting. Once all events were covered with my CfPs, and once all reminders to stay up-to-date with the next announcements were set, I started to wait for approvals and rejections. All conferences were marked with number of CfPs sent. Whenever I'd get a reply, I note the time it took from closing the CfP, and then briefly described out interaction.
Some conferences never got back. They announced speakers on Twitter. They didn't comment on rejected proposals. They posted agendas (sometimes) with a few empty slots called "Speaker TBA".
If you ever had to plan time off a few months prior, reply to other organisers, think about a vacation... not knowing yet, whether you are approved for some over event or not, you most likely feel me. I won't apply to these events again.
The majority replied with automatically generated messages. Rejections didn't explain anything. Approvals felt good.
Some emails were great. In a few I got separate feedback about all proposals I've sent. I improved them and they got accepted by other events. They felt personal.
I've seen a human being on the other side of the screen. I didn't feel a soulless machine from a huge outsourcing agency.
Given that my list narrowed to 36 events, I applied to each event with multiple proposals and averaged at 4 proposals per conference which resulted in 6 invites (16% conference acceptance rate).
I gave very different talks this year:
- Debug like a Pro (v2)
- iOS Security 101
- Big ѳ Notation in your average app
- NLP in Swift
- Independent watchOS apps: principles and practices
- The Nomadic approach to teaching iOS development
I did live-coding. I talked about new and forgotten frameworks. I inspired (hopefully) and raised awareness. I argued and speculated. I learned from attendees and fellow speakers. I did my best giving back and sharing knowledge.
First time at the stage is scary. Second, third, fourth, etc times at the stage are... scary as well but slightly less. The more you present, the less nervous it is, and yet it’s still pressure.
Some of these talks took less than a few hours of preparations. I could've presented them without slides. I didn't need speaker's notes. I really had to say those things out-loud.
Some of these talks took mere days of polishing slides and drafting up the structure. I didn't need speaker's notes for them either. I am really good at those topics.
Some of these talks took weeks or even month for a deck of slides. I really wanted to learn and approved proposals were the best kind of motivation.
I used Deckset for all of them. It was fast: markdown behind the hood and no need to care about animation. There are talks out there with beautiful animations. Sometimes it doesn't matter though.
On that note I also think that if you can turn your talk into an article, most likely you should just make a great article. People come to the room to learn things they can’t quickly google and consume, they need a tad of your personality as well.
Whole life on the road
I traveled a lot and I am very grateful for the opportunity.
I've been to Welsh hills, Spanish vineyards, Italian provinces, all thanks to the conferences. My backpack reduced significantly over the year. I used to bring a laptop stand and a remote keyboard and whatnot. Now it's only t-shirts and socks.
I met wonderful people on the way. We keep meeting. Some of them visit us in our tiny London bar. The others recognise us at other conferences half the way through the globe.
And obviously kudos to fellow speakers, our impromptu pre-party and after-party were a blast. pic.twitter.com/su1xKC7qrw— Vadim Drobinin (@Valzevul) November 16, 2019
I learned more about others' experience, best practices and so on from our midnight dinner conversation than from watching dozens of recorded talks.
I am tremendously thankful to everyone who takes part in making these events so special: fellow speakers, organisers, video operators, volunteers and so on. You are all awesome and I am really happy we have you in the iOS community.
In the end
I can talk about this year for hours. I sent hundreds of emails but even though I got accepted only to six conferences, it's still quite a lot. Now I understand that it's not about quantity but quality and mutual fit for both attendees and organisers.
I do feel tired but I don't regret it at all and really grateful for the opportunity.
CfPs for 2020 are coming up, and my spreadsheet just got another table.
Feel free to use it, by the way.