CocoaConf Raleigh 2011

This weekend I was a speaker and attendee at CocoaConf; a 2-day conference series for Mac and iOS developers. It was a small conference that left time for people to actually meet each other and had many great sessions from great developers. Here I’ll review the conference, a selection of my favorite sessions, and a post-mortem of my sessions.

The Conference

After having been to Autodesk University a couple years and then WWDC this year, it is refreshing to go to a conference where you can actually talk to every attendee. This conference shines in that arena. I think there were around 60 people there from all over the country and while I didn’t talk to everyone - I could have. I’m really impressed with how many good speakers and topics where put together. I really have to hand it to the Klein family for running this conference. They drove from St. Louis and still had enough energy to run a 3-day conference. I really hope they continue bringing these conferences around the country (and back to Raleigh).

For 2011, CocoaConf Raleigh was hosted in the Holiday Inn Brownstone Doubletree by Hilton near NC State University. While I’m happy the conference came here to Raleigh, I was underwhelmed by the hotel. I can’t tell if it was years of believing that the Brownstone was a high class hotel or if they were just undergoing major renovations. The constant musty smell, the lack of cell service, and the odd layout of the conference weren’t the biggest problem though. You just can’t have a technical conference without Wifi. I’ve hosted a few CocoaHeads events without Wifi and people start getting twitchy after an hour. Now imagine 2 days. The hotel failed horribly here. Next time the conference comes to Raleigh, I hope to help find a better conference facility.

The Sessions

I was able to attend 8 sessions and most of them were great. I’ll cover a few that stood out in my memory but that doesn’t lessen the others in any way:

NSPredicates For Fun and Profit by Josh Smith (@kognate)

NSPredicates are a big part of fetching data from a Core Data context. It is really easy forget that it is not a part of Core Data but rather another great part of Foundation. This session reminded me of a lot of great things about NSPredicates and showed me a few things I hadn’t seen before.

MacRuby by Jonathan Penn (@jonathanpenn)

I’ve long been interested in finding more out about MacRuby. We had a speaker lined up to discuss it at our local CocoaHeads but it fell through. Jonathan’s excitement about MacRuby and his presentation style made the session fun and exciting. It had me downloading and playing with MacRuby over the weekend.

Storyboards by Daniel Steinberg (@dimsumthinking)

This year at WWDC, Apple announced many new features of the iOS SDK. Storyboards was one of the biggest news items that week and I missed it. In fact, I missed the talks on ARC and Storyboards. Daniel’s presentation reminded me what all the hype was about. Storyboards look like a great addition to the framework and I’m excited to start a project using them. That coming from a guy who likes to build things with code.

Documents by Bill Dudney (@bdudney)

For yet another iOS 5 topic at this conference, Bill Dudney talked about using UIDocument with iCloud. I had only seen a little information about Documents and iCloud and seeing just how easy it is to set up was great. It is just another thing that I want to use in a project now.

My Sessions

I had two sessions on the schedule and they ended up with mixed results. One of my goals is to become a better speaker, not only for these types of things but also for the challenge. In school, I was the kid who trembled during public speaking assignments. It is a fear I have overcome, but now drive to be better at communicating ideas. The biggest thing that helps me is visualizing the whole talk and practice.

Background Saving with Core Data

My first idea for a session was to cover something more specific than other sessions. Instead of a complete rush through a whole framework, what about focusing on one area. I was working on a project that used Core Data at the time, and with the current drive for concurrency in apps I thought it would be a great session for people. I think I was right, this session seemed to go well. I had practiced a lot with what I wanted to say and I think I kept the pace going well. Looking at the evaluation forms, most people agree with that. I feel like this is a session I could do again and improve upon it.

You can download the Keynote file from this presentation here

Introduction to Core Location

To contrast the more advanced level of the previous session, I thought I’d do a beginner session on Core Location. It was a good thought, there were more people in that session than the Core Data one. I wanted to cover the basics of receiving location data on the iPhone and review what is new in iOS 5. I think it ended well, people seemed really excited about the geocoding that is possible with iOS 5. The beginning was a bit more painful. Since the internet was an issue, I decided late Friday night to retool my presentation to not have live demos in it. I foolishly did this with out practicing the new flow. I struggled getting going and had forgotten to move some slides in the right place. The evaluation forms seemed to agree with this. Lessons learned: never change your talk at the last minute.

You can download the Keynote file from this presentation here


Overall, I had a great time. I would recommend the conference to anyone looking to learn more about Cocoa development on the Mac or iPhone. I’m looking forward to next year and will be voting for it to come back to Raleigh.