Note from Ray: At our recent RWDevCon tutorial conference, in addition to hands-on tutorials, we also had a number of “inspiration talks” – non-technical talks with the goal of giving you a new idea, some battle-won advice, and leaving you excited and energized.
We recorded these talks so that you can enjoy them, even if you didn’t get to attend the conference. Here’s our next talk – raywenderlich.com Folklore by Marin Todorov – I hope you enjoy!
I often speak at iOS conferences in Europe and people always ask me:
- What is it like to write for raywenderlich.com?
- How many people are on the team?
- Does Ray actually exist?
I thought it would be cool for my session for RWDevCon to answer all these questions and give you some behind the scenes stories and give you some folklore from the raywenderlich.com team.
If you attended Ray’s Keynote, you know that the site started as Ray’s personal blog and grew to be 100 people plus team, scattered around the world.
In my talk, I’m going to revisit the same timeline, but I’m going to try to highlight some interesting stories along the way and fun moments.
How It All Began
To actually do this, we’re going to going back to the very beginning of time.
We’re going to go back to January 24, 2010. This is how it all starts.
It’s still online, you can still go to the website and read through it, but it’s just mostly Ray ranting about how web technology advanced since the 90’s and he has to learn many new stuff to put his blog online. It also features this weird image of bursting water.
After posting this, Ray probably worked very hard throughout the night to make the website work.
On the next day, on the 25th of January, he was like, “Duh, this is not what your blog post should be.” So he posted, “What is this Blog About?” which is good, but the post itself is mostly about how he much he loves C++, and Python. And he used this weird PHP code image on the side.
He just slightly mentions that he also does iPhone apps. It’s really funny; it’s a shaky start at best. But it was 2010, so nobody knew that this was going to be the most popular iOS development blog on the internet.
There was no team behind the launch, there was no product of any kind. It was just Ray in his mother-in-law’s basement.
He was just there putting what he thought was best online.
Not only that but he wasn’t the best designer either. I’m sure how his website was designed, and particularly how he snipped off the top of his own logo, really sent people around the globe into seizures.
Ray Has Fun
Not only this, but he wasn’t really the business type that will have a successful blog. In fact, he was pretty goofy.
When he first said that he was ditching iOS development for Android, many people didn’t exactly know what to think. He was making some pretty solid points:
- One app store just isn’t enough
- Java is the bomb
- Visual interface design is for pansies
Of course, that was the April Fool’s hoax for April 2011, but it still told a lot who Ray was.
The Team is Formed
Seemingly against all odds, it turned out that content is king and people really liked what Ray was writing. The website started gaining popularity.
In 2011, as Ray mentioned in the keynote, he finally realized that he cannot do it on his own.
He did a call for authors on the website in 2011, so that’s how the tutorial team was born.
A Store is Born
With the help of the tutorial team, the website started rolling out products.
The first newsletter came out in August 2011, and also introduced the idea of The iOS Apprentice coming out soon. Another feature that was possible thanks to the tutorial team the same year, a little bit after the newsletter came out was the raywenderlich.com store page.
If you have been recently to the website and have been looking to the store, this old page is hilarious because it has this one single product in the top left, kind of like suggesting there’s going to be more, but actually everything else is just empty.
That image shows the first product for sale, which was the Space Game Starter Kit for the iPhone and iPad.
Matthijs Writes The iOS Apprentice
Speaking about early team members, I want to take a moment to speak about Matthijs Hollemans.
He has been on the team from the very start, and he has a story of one of the early team members.
He quit his job in 2010, and wanted to make it on his own as an iOS indie. In 2011, he joined the team, and shortly afterwards, he wrote the missing book on beginning iOS development: The iOS Apprentice.
For sure, many of you recognize the bull’s eye app, which is the first part of the iOS Apprentice.
Many people started developing for the iPhone with exactly this tutorial.
Not only did Matthijs write the book, but he also keeps updating it. He wrote it and released it for iOS 5. Then he updated for iOS 6. Then he updated for iOS 7. Last year, he updated for iOS 8. And because he is just that crazy, he updated all source code to Swift. It’s a thousand page book!
Every year, he says, “No more!” but Apple introduces something and he’s like, “Okay, let’s do it.” This is one of the things people really love about the raywenderlich.com books because they come with free updates each year, just like this one.
iOS 5 by Tutorials
Speaking about team, the first team book was iOS 5 by Tutorials. It’s a funny story how it came together.
Let me rewind a little bit. I’m going to go back to June 23, 2010.
There is an email from me in 2010 to Ray. It says, “Just an idea, have you thought about putting together all of your great tutorials like maybe in a downloadable pdf, have some exclusive, extra nice stuff?”
I thought it was a good idea and he was like, “Oh that’s a great idea, definitely something I’ll have to consider.”
So nothing afterwards and now we jump back to 2011, fifteen months later, in a Steve Jobs-like way, he pitches it back to me:
“Hi guys, we’ve been discussing the idea of joining together to write an eBook about iOS 5. So far there are three of us interested, me, Felipe, and Steve.”
The best thing, I totally bite back, “Hey Ray, that’s the best idea I’ve heard.”
But seriously, Ray was the one that actually got us together and organized the first iOS Feast, and the launch, and we did the book together.
He was really the one that started it for all of us iOS book authors. This was fantastic.
Too Much Awesome For One Book
Interesting story, at the time, we made a total rookie mistake. Of course as it was our first book together, we didn’t really have a process.
There was about ten guys around the world. Our plan was:
- We start writing.
- In two months, everybody sends in their chapters.
- Ray puts it together.
- We put it on the website.
We ended up with so much material that when we had to print the book, we had to do two volumes because the printer couldn’t bind one out of all the content we had.
If you ordered the print version of iOS 5 by tutorials, you actually got two volumes because of this.
I don’t know what we were thinking.
Felipe Joins the Team
Speaking of early team, remember how I mentioned that one of the three authors on the original book pitch was Felipe? Well, he is also one of the early members of the team and here’s how he took over the team in one swift motion. :]
That is how August 2011 looked for Felipe.
August 1st, he’s about to join the team. He’s promised to write a tutorial. In a way, he’s not really a tutorial member. He’s a pending member so to say.
On the 12th, I got an email from a cool company called Lextech. They’re actually one of the conference sponsors. They were like, “Yeah, Marin how about working for us?”
I’m like, “Well, I’m just trying to make it as an indie, maybe later, not right now.”
So I just forward it to guys on the team. Felipe was a pending member so he got the email. Actually, that’s what started for him at Lextech. He still works there this very day.
Then, Felipe was officially announced as a member on the 23rd. Then Ray sent the email I was talking about earlier, and Felipe was one of the three authors that were mentioned on the 25th.
In one month:
- He got a job.
- He became an author to-be.
- He joined the team.
That was only August of the whole year!
It’s not a coincidence because Felipe is adorable and brings a lot humor, passion, and Apple fun into the team.
A final fun fact about him, there’s a game on the app store called Flappy Felipe. It’s a flappy bird clone with Felipe with a sombrero.
But seriously, Felipe made one very important contribution to the team at about that time. He was the first to go “out of line” from an online acquaintance to a friend.
After we were done with writing on iOS 5 by tutorials, he sent to everybody on the team this email where he shared he needed some guidance and some help about the universe, life, and everything else.
Some authors on the team, we just play along, and shared some of our experience with him and guided him. This is the very first time where we stop being just some guys around the world and we actually became a team. He was the one that made this first step, and it was a very emotional thing for all of us that were there.
The Fun Continues
While the website was rapidly changing and growing. Ray somehow managed to remain goofy and oblivious of all design trends. Not to mention the hilarity of the nerdy Christmas song he posted on the website.
For the April Fool’s joke for 2012, Ray told people that there was an undocumented thermometer sensor in the iPhone. He put out this post where he said that he figured it out.
He’s selling a thermometer app starter kit. Using the starter kit, people would develop all kind of applications from thermometer app. Basically you would:
- Stick your iPhone under your tongue and measure your temperature.
- Stick the iPhone in the turkey, and the turkey in the oven and the phone would let you know when it’s done.
Quite a lot of people tried to buy this.
iOS 6 by Tutorials
In 2012 we wrote iOS 6 by Tutorials. This time we did it professionally, editors and all.
This is important because the editors at raywenderlich.com are known to be sticklers for detail, and they write pages of feedback. For example, when I had my first feedback about iOS 6 by tutorials, I was in a café. I was about to burst in tears.
Just to make clear what is here. The black text is my text. Everything else is edited. These are all the edits that’s been done to just these two paragraphs.
Not to mention that this is just my text. Then comes the feedback from the editors. This feedback for a simple tutorial was 2,300 words.
Yeah, but what can you do?
You buckle up, and you up your game and that’s it.
But let’s not get too emotional.
Brian Joins Razeware
In 2012, Ray figured they needed to make another huge step and hire their first employee who turned out to be Brian Moakley, whose workshops you probably attended today or yesterday, and you probably met him around.
The question is, what made Brian the one?
Although Brian looks adorable, he’s one tough cookie. Besides being a brilliant iOS developer and web developer, he also has a minor in creative writing. And a high point for Ray, who is a huge Walking Dead fan, Brian has a zombie blog with over 1000 posts.
He had to survive all the interviews, all the many interviews that Ray and Vicki had plotted out for him. The last one of the series of interviews took place in DC in a hotel and lasted five hours. This is the agenda for the interview.
Brian had to do:
- iOS programming
- Algorithm development
- and more!
All of this was on Brian’s ancient MacBook with missing on the keyboard, and seg faulted every now and then.
But luckily Brian made it, and one of the first things that he took on when he joined the team was integrating the new design for raywenderlich.com. I’m happy to report that somebody else other than Ray was in charge of cutting the logo.
The Two Book Summer
2013 was the year where the team really came together. This was the summer, when we decided to write two books because we’d already wrote one book per year. Why not do two at the same time?
These two books, iOS 7 by Tutorials and iOS Games by Tutorials, involved more editors and authors than ever. This thing, it really pushed us to the edge. Then some of us, over. But you know what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so we did the two books about iOS 7.
This brings us to the launch day of iOS 7 in 2013. We had the books prepared, everything’s ready to go, we’re just waiting for Apple to actually release it so that the NDA has lifted.
We’re in IRC and we’re all just nervously chatting and waiting for it to go. Greg Heo, one of our editors, sent me this screenshot from our actual conversation that night. It reads:
- Marin (me): Guys I really need to go to the toilet, but I’m afraid I’ll miss the big moment. Can you hold the release another ten minutes please?
- Ray: Haha
- Felipe: Marin, take us with you, you’ve got WiFi.
- Greg: No! Do not take us with you.
- Mic: Marin isn’t really to the loo, he’s actually the chap at Apple responsible for flipping the switch.
- Greg: In that case, hurry to the “toilet” and “flush” iOS 7 already.
You see when there’s enough editors in the chat room, every line is a pun.
As soon as I was off my laptop, of course, iOS 7 came out. It was Greg actually who was screaming, “Marin come back.” I came back and the launch was awesome.
This brings us to Christmas time 2013.
Let’s go to November 18th. A message comes around to a secret team from Marin, me, called Xmas surprise for Ray. Read inside and keep quiet about it. It reads: DO NOT TELL RAY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. It’s in caps and it has umbrellas on the sides, it’s top secret.
It reads further, “I thought it would be funny if a number of us send a Xmas care package to Ray and Vicki so that everyday they will have a new present on the door and so forth.” I thought it was fun. On the next day, I had 10 people participating so we set this conspiracy in motion.
Let’s jump to December 2nd. I was at the post. I sent my package and I thought I’ll write to the guys to remind them. Here’s what I wrote, “I sent mine today, and the not-so-nice lady at the post said it’s gonna be there in about ten days.”
While we were basically chatting about it and planning how we’re going to send our packages and things like that, then Matthijs comes on December 6th with this, “Okay, Ray got my package. It’s for the Sinterklaas holiday which we celebrate in the Netherlands. It’s on the 5th of December, not the 25th. So he got it right on time.”
Yeah well, everybody else sent it for 20 days later, it still worked. :]
As each package arrived to Ray’s home, Ray sent back a thank you Xmas card. It was at the time when he had bought his green screen as you can see:
It was a great Christmas!
A More Diverse Group
This brings us to the present day. Do you remember how we all started? It was Ray in his mother-in-law’s basement. Now it looks pretty much like this:
We have all kinds of bright people joining in, all kinds of skills. If you’re interested in joining the team, ping Ray. He’ll tell you if you’d be a good fit or not.
It’s really a community effort, so everybody joins and brings something to the team. We’re open to folks from all backgrounds.
For example, Darryl Bayliss is one of our most recent team members and he’s our resident Android correspondent.
He had one thing to tell us iOS devs, “I hope you enjoy AutoLayout. We’ve dealt with this pain for years. :]”
Is Ray Even Real?
At last, let’s bring this right around and look into does Ray exist? and what is he like?
It was last Autumn when Ray and I, after four years of working together, met for the first time, to record the iOS Animations video tutorial series.
We decided to meet in the middle between where he lives and I live. We met in a beach house in Portugal. We would combine recording videos throughout the day and hitting the beach later on.
For me, it was an emotional event. I was one of the first people on the team, and yet I hadn’t met Ray at all.
He existed and he was still a down to earth guy. It was also a lot of fun. We
- played board games
- drank wine
- rode around in a car
It was really awesome.
Since I probably really don’t have so much time left, I’m just going to tell you a quick story from this time we spent together in Portugal.
We were coming back from lunch, and we were almost through recording the videos and it was the very first time that we spoke about the book that you saw earlier yesterday, the iOS Animations by Tutorials book.
That was just an idea back then. I felt really overwhelmed. I said, “Thank you Ray. Without the team, and the editors, and your leverage, this would never have happened to me.”
He said, “That’s one of my goals for raywenderlich.com: to empower developers like you, and to help them grow and make a living doing what they love to do.”
He said it very simply and honestly as it was like really nothing. You could never imagine this guy has built and run a 100 plus team that is spread around the world.
After Portugal, we started preparing for RWDevCon, of course, but I don’t really need to tell you about RWDevCon, right? You’ve been here the whole time, you’ve experienced it yourselves.
What do you think? Our hope was that it would be very memorable and it will add a lot of stories to our raywenderlich.com folklore, even for the years to come.
Join A Team And Join In On The Fun
Just to wrap up, the whole point of this talk is:
- not to brag about our accomplishments
- not to make fun of Ray’s design skills
Instead, it was just to show you that if you team up with friends, if you work towards a common goal, then:
- you build up experience together
- you have fun
- you dream bigger
- you achieve more
Just reach out to your local community, or Stack Overflow. Get up! Team up with friends. :]
When you work enough time together, when you make a team of friends, then you will also build up your own folklore and one day you can share it with everyone like we did here today.