Indie Devstock 2016 Conference Highlights

Tim Mitra

IndieDevstock-featureI recently got back from Indie Devstock: a small conference focused on indie developers, held in Nashville Tennessee.

The conference was born with a simple idea: organizer Tammy Coron was chatting on Slack about how fun it would be to have everyone come hang out at her farm, eat some BBQ, shoot off some fireworks, drink some beer, and maybe talk about Xcode and Swift.

Well, that simple idea morphed into Indie DevStock. Organizers Tammy Coron and Angela Scott pulled out all the stops, holding an amazing event at the beautiful Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, with over 60 attendees and 13 speakers.

The subjects covered were a mix of technology and inspiration talks. The talks included many tips on how to succeed as an indie developer, how to build a business, and how to foster creativity. There were lots of laughs and at least one talk drew some tears.

In this post, I’ll share some of the highlights of the conference, with the goal to give you a sense of what the conference was about, and which talks you should watch.

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Keynote: We Are All Mad Here – Tammy Coron

Tammy-250

Tammy Coron likes to borrow from Lewis Carroll saying, “We’re all mad here.” In her keynote she spoke about this mad idea she had: organizing Indie DevStock itself!

Tammy mentioned that ideas are often too loud to be ignored, yet all ideas need help to be nurtured so they can grow. Listen to your ideas, and share them with those you respect. Try not to get bogged down by others who may dissuade you, even while they are trying to protect you. Ultimately you are responsible for the life and death of your ideas.

Tammy listened to her mad idea and as result held this amazing gathering for over sixty attendees, giving us all a place to share ideas, learn some code, enjoy some southern hospitality.

All of us at Indie Devstock were certainly glad grateful that Tammy carried her “mad” idea to fruition! :]

No One is an Island – Joe Cieplinski

Joec
Joe Cieplinski is a designer, developer and podcaster based in New York City. He opened his talk with two opposing poems on isolation: ’No Man is an Island‘ by John Donne and ‘I Am a Rock” by Paul Simon.

In general, indies, designers and developers tend to be introverted. “We enjoy being alone,” he continues, while in many ways, the extroverts in society seem to suck out the introverts life force.

Technology enables us to appear anti-social. We hide with our noses buried in our devices, isolated by our headphones. However it is the technology that we seem obsessed with that actually connects us.

We now live in a world where we can communicate with anyone instantly, regardless of where in the world they may live. So although we may be solo as an indie developer, we can still leverage technology to get the help we need – through the power of people.

  • Customers. Customers are the first obvious group of people we need. It’s important to consider what that customer will want from your apps. You need to provide value to them, outside of what you might want. You also need people to want to share your products with their friends. You need their feedback, to make the your apps better. Engage your friends, followers and fans.
  • Journalists. Reach out the journalists and in turn share their work with others. It’s a two way street.
  • Collaborators. As an indie, you’re also going to need collaborators. Connect with others to assist in aspects of the apps; code and design. To be successful be prepared to give up some power.
  • Tool builders. The tool builders are also vital – Apple most of all in the our world.
  • The community. Finally, join the community, such as local meetups and attend conferences to learn from and share with others.

This is a people business, he concludes, and a lone wolf won’t survive alone. You need others to grow and be successful. Be part of the pack.

Taming the Massive Controller – Mohammad Azam

Mohammad Azam’s first talk was a technology demo covering cleaning up code.

azam-tw-250

Generally, we start with an Apple template and add function after function. Soon our applications grow and become more complex – a typical view controller can grow to many lines of code. Values can easily get buried making it difficult to come back to work on later.

Using a simple grocery list application, Mohammad demonstrated how common functions can be collected either by putting chunks into separate classes. He showed various techniques, such as using extensions to break down the complexity.

By the end of this talk, you learned how using clean code practices makes large projects easier to manage.

26 Techniques To Improve, Learn, Create, Share and Ship – Simon Allardice

Simon

If you have a chance to see Simon Allardice speak in person, be sure to take it! You may have seen his online classes, and you would be delighted to see his enthusiasm in person.

Simon started by reviewing his four principals for effectively explaining something:

  1. You are in the way.
  2. Teach the priorities, not the facts.
  3. Structure is your friend and enemy
  4. Focus on getting the correct result.

Instead of teaching the facts and figures, teach what the student needs to know now. It’s not about what you know, but what the students will learn to build.

Among his other points were: keep the lessons short and try to encourage the students. Our job as instructors is to illuminate the subject. Remove any complexities as they can get in the way, however keep the necessary complexities.

Overall, Simon, gave one of the most interesting and animated talks. I can’t wait to see his talk again when the videos are published. Conference organizer, Tammy, is a big fan and sees him as a mentor. We are certainly richer since she was able to share Simon with us.

Swift Playgrounds Workshop – Simon Allardice & Tammy Coron

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Simon and Tammy teamed up late in the day to give a workshop on Apple’s new Swift Playgrounds for iPad in iOS 10. Simon explained that the included lessons are not representative of the full power of Swift Playgrounds. Playgrounds in Xcode are more like a blank space to work out ideas, Swift Playgrounds are more like a workbook. Resources and many frameworks and classes can easily be incorporated.

There are two important things to understand about Swift Playgrounds:

  1. Swift Playgrounds are not a simulated environment. You are not working in a “locked down” environment with what you can accomplish. The only exclusions are privacy frameworks.
  2. Swift Playgrounds are not fully cross platform. That said, there is a lot of overlap between the two versions. You can move playgrounds back and forth from Mac to iPad.

You can author Swift Playgrounds and playgound book files, in Xcode 8. This is special file type that creates a self contained folder structure. There is no authoring tool at the moment, other than Xcode on the Mac.

Unlike the Xcode counterpart, a Swift Playground book can also include a live view that can render the code in a true REPL like environment. Views can be created, sprites can be added and all of which can be animated. Playground books which include multiple chapters, pages and swift file benefit from a built in navigation. Cutscenes can also be added using HTML5 to add more dynamism when navigating around a book.

Even if you have the mildest interest in Swift Playgrounds, this workshop was well worth it. Simon and Tammy’s easy rapport made for another delightful session.

LIVE Podcast – Joe Cieplinski, Tammy Coron, Greg Heo, Jaime Lopez Jr and Tim Mitra

“Three podcasts go in. One podcast comes out.” – Greg Heo

At the end of the first day, members of the three podcasts: Release Notes, Roundabout Creative Chaos and More Than Just Code, gathered to record a special live podcast:

Joe Cieplinsky, Tim Mitra, Jaime Lopez Jr, Tammy Coron & Greg Heo

Joe Cieplinsky, Tim Mitra, Jaime Lopez Jr, Tammy Coron & Greg Heo

Hosted by Greg Heo, the discussion focused on a couple of questions from the MTJC fans. The speakers discussed whether refactoring old projects was necessary or to be avoided. They discussed Sticker Packs in the Messages framework in iOS 10. Joe Cieplinski was asked about his own recently published sticker pack, Leo Collection.

Digging deeper Tammy and Joe discussed the challenges of diversity in tech conferences. They spoke about their efforts to be inclusive, as well as, the challenges of attending conferences for parents.

As a special surprise Tammy Coron was asked the 13 questions from her own Inside the Chaotic Studios, which she puts her own show’s guests through. The crowd had thinned but those that stayed had the treat of seeing the podcasters in IRL as Greg would say. The episode is published on the More Than Just Code website.

Staying Indie – Curtis Herbert

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Another great talk was given by Curtis Herbert, successful independent developer and creator of the Slopes app. Slopes combines two of Curtis’ favorite things: snowboarding and development. In this talk, he examines the history of the App Store, the perceived problems and what Indies can do about them.

The App Store has been in existence for 8 years now and the market has certainly matured. There has been an ongoing discussion along the the same theme: does Apple need to “fix” the problems for indies to succeed, or is that not their problem?

There are a lot of challenges indies face with the App Store: no paid upgrades, no trials, and no customer info, weak App Store discovery, and that customers expect apps to be free.

Curtis maintained we need to challenge the belief that the issues we face are Apple’s fault: that’s simply baggage that is holding us back. Curtis said we need to unpack that baggage and realize that the market is the true enemy, not Apple.

As a success story, Curtis shared his experience with his app, Slopes, where he was able to move with the market and adapt his pricing strategy over time:

  • Paid app. He first introduced the app in 2013, as a paid app for $3.99.
  • In-app purchase. When Slopes 2 was introduced, he included a free trial scheme that provided the full experience for one day, with an in-app purchase to upgrade to the full app afterwards.
  • Subscriptions. Later, Curtis added subscriptions to the app for recurring revenue.

Curtis gave some other great tips, such as how to encourage users to leave ratings and reviews. This is important, because unfortunately reviews suffer from a negativity bias. One tactic that Curtis has tried is to add a view that appears explaining that he’s just “one guy working hard”. He also has tried less obtrusive dialogs that can be scrolled past and even offered stickers. Snow boarders love stickers!

Curtis argued that as an indie developer, sometimes you have to force yourself to step away from development, and spend some time working on the business of your apps. Like eating your vegetables, it may not be enjoyable but is vital to the overall health of the app.

If you’re an indie developer trying to make a living, this is definitely a video you want to check out.

Mindful Developers With A Champion Heart – Francie Van Wirkus

“I don’t have time to learn to swim. I’m too busy drowning.”

Francie
Francie Van Wirkus is an ironman competitor, agile coach and co-host of the Agile Bettys podcast. Her talk was about the importance of mindfulness.

Francie related the story of the 1995 ironman competition where the incumbent champion, Paula Newby Frazier, was expected to win. However she miscalculated the conditions of the race environment, wasn’t focused and living in the moment, and ended up collapsing in the race. She did finish but only with encouragement from her supporters.

We are surrounded by a lot of noise in daily life. This can distract from what need to focus on right now. In this talk, Francie argued that we should avoid asking “what if?” as the what-ifs can block our progress. Instead, living in the moment gives us greater clarity, fosters creativity and aids in problem solving.

We consider ourselves to be experts in technology. We should be able to put the technology away from time to time. How can we be experts, in fact, if we can’t put it away?

One of her favorite excuses is “I don’t have time to learn to swim. I’m too busy drowning.” She suggests that we start with 5 minutes away from our devices. We need to stop thrashing ourselves with life and work on our relationships with others. Work on mindfulness and seek out or become epic people.

Other Great Talks

“I enjoyed learning something new with each presentation.”
Tammy, Angela & Delia

Tammy, Angela & Delia

By all accounts, every talk was great and inspiring. This article has covered some of the standouts, but you should definitely check out the rest of the talks, available with the Remote Access Pass:

  • Greg Heo spoke about Cross Platform Swift.
  • Janie Clayton who spoke about the challenges of mental health vs and work environment.
  • Ellen Shapiro spoke about being a part-time indie because sometimes you need a steady income.
  • Michelle Titolo gave an awesome talk about the history or tools, from the knife to the computer.
  • Ben DiFrancesco gave a tech talk about creating a compiler to convert a contrived language into Swift code.
  • Angela Scott spoke about sometimes needing to get lost before you can find your way.
  • Mohammad Azam gave a second talk on the new hotness; Messages extensions and sticker packs.

Venue – Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

“OMG! The venue is great!”

Opryland

Before we wrap up, I just wanted to note that the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center is spectacular. It contains three enormous green houses with 9 acres of lush indoor gardens and tropical plants, amazing waterfalls, and even a riverboat ride!

The resort sits on 57 acres and has 700,000 square feet of convention space. Regular tech conference attendees stated that any other conference would be hard pressed to top this choice of venue.

The Gaylord is so large that guests are each given a map. During the stay at the conference every attendee delighted in getting lost going from place to place. The adventure of the stay was certainly a highlight of the conference. “We wanted to make sure you got your 10,000 steps,” says Angela Scott.

Where To Go From Here?

Overall the response to the conference was very positive. The venue was great and Nashville is a mecca for music. It was two days of great talks, great food and that awesome southern hospitality.

  • Want to watch these talks? Check out the Indie Dev Stock site, where you can purchase a Remote Access Pass that gives you access to all the videos.
  • Want more Tammy and Angela? You can hear organizers Tammy and Angela on Tammy’s Roundabout Creative Chaos podcast, and their joint InvisibleRed podcast.
  • Want to meet the raywenderlich.com team in-person? Come meet us at our own conference RWDevCon 2017 in the DC area early next year, and enjoy some intense hands-on tutorials. Act quick because there are only a few early bird tickets left.

Everyone in attendance is hoping that there will be another Indie Devstock next year – so keep an eye out for that as well! :]

Photo Credits: Tim Mitra, Fuad Kamal, Jeromi Coleman, Janie Clayton, Mohammad Azam & Curtis Herbert
Tim Mitra

Tim is a mobile app developer, podcaster and artist. He also teaches iOS dev, Swift and Objective-C. Tim is a lead iOS developer at TD Bank. He also runs iT Guy Technologies, a software development company in Toronto, Canada. He studied Fine Arts before there were Macs and he's worked for many years in software development, IT, graphic design, publishing and printing. He is also the founder, producer and host of the More Than Just Code Podcast on mobile app development & business. Tim is also co-host of Roundabout Creative Chaos podcast.

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