360idev Denver: A Personal Review

A couple of weeks ago I attended 360idev in Denver. The conference was one of the best developer conferences I have ever attended and the best one I have attended in recent years. What made this conference so good? A number of things (in no particular order):

1) The people

2) The sessions

3) The Game Jam

4) The community (aka the people)

My conference experience started Saturday night when I met up with fellow iPhone developers from the Boston area. Prior to leaving for Denver I knew 1 other iPhone developer in the area, but by the time I left I had 6 new friends all building and publishing iPhone apps. Working from home for the last 5 years can get lonely so making new friends made the trip worth while even if the conference had suck, which it did not.

The conference kicked off on Sunday with a day of hands-on lab. This was actually Day 0 of the conference since these pre-conference sessions were held the day before the official conference start. I attended the advanced debugging and hacking the iPhone sessions. Both were amazing. I learned many new ticks in the debugging session, and I was blown away by Jay Freeman who hacked the Maps app.

The bar by which all other conference sessions would be judged by me had been set on that day, and the bar was set high. Admittedly I expected the rest of the conference to not be nearly as good. Boy was I wrong.

The next 3 days were packed with extremely helpful, useful, and insightful sessions. The sessions covered everything from business and marketing related topics to hands-on tech talks on topics such as Core Data, Core Animation, game development, and more. It’s hard to say what was my favorite session given that all the sessions I attended were outstanding sans 2 sessions. Those 2 sessions were still good, just not as good as the other sessions I attended.

A true highlight of the conference for me was the Game Jam. The Game Jam was the brain child of @SnappyTouch and it was a total hit. The Game Jam was open to all, not just game developers. I’ve never done game development before but I’ve been interested in game development for quite some time now. So I attended. I joined forces with another Boston area developer. Our game ended up not being much, but that was fine. We had fun, and I totally enjoyed the experience. Just watching the other developers crank out some amazing work in the late hours of the night was a real thrill for me.

The number one lesson I got out of the Game Jam is to push myself beyond my comfort zone. I’ve been doing software development for more than half of my life and I’ve become comfortable with the type of apps I tend to write. The Game Jam reminded me of what it was like programming 20 years ago, back when I would write code just for the hell of it, when I would write tons of small programs just to learn something new or to trying something I thought was cool, and not worry if or how I could make money off the program. In some ways, you can say the Game Jam has re-kindled a lost spirit in me.

If I had to pick the one thing I liked the most about the conference I would have to say the sense of community. It has been a long time since I felt like a part of a community. This is due in part to me working from home for a number of years, but also in part to the difficulties finding a group of people who share a common interesting and passion. In ways it reminded me how I felt in the 90s attending BorCons and discovering the Delphi community. But this new iPhone developer community that I discovered at 360idev is different. Like me, almost everyone I met is an indie developer or is working for a small (2 to 5) person company. Also I was surprised, and a bit jealous, of the number of husband wife teams present at the conference.

As I said, 360idev Denver was the best developer conference I have attended in recent years. The people, the sessions, the community all helped make it a great conference. I’m not sure if I will be able to attend the next 360idev conference. I’m hoping to attend NSConference in February and I’m saving money for next year’s WWDC, which I definitely will be attending. But with luck I will hopefully make it to San Jose in April.