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On Meeting Other Developers

Everywhere I travel I generally try to find some local meetup of iOS developers to hook up with. Let me be honest, admittedly, one of the reasons why I like to do this is that often developers would mention in passing that they have heard about my blog or know me from following me on twitter. One word: ego.

But this is not the sole reason for this interest. I am possessed by the idea that if developers in any field – iOS in my case – would organize and socialize more then the resulting network of knowledge and opportunities would generally benefit everybody. I might tend to extremes, here I am working out of my home office for the most part talking about the greatness of a social network.

So far I have found three kinds of formal and informal meetings which different kinds of agendas and structures. One such group that has sort of the same blueprint across the world are the Cocoaheads. I’ve visited several events by the chapter local to Vienna and from this I came to expect certain features that I was disapointed to find lacking in other groups. But don’t get me wrong, certainly there are different way to approach the general idea of getting together like-minded developers. The Cocoaheads approach is to have some topical talk to get started and then transition to something informal from there. This is generally the structure of monthly meetings. A more informal, work-focussed kind of Cocoaheads event is called “coding kitchen”. There you have no structure at all, but instead bring your Mac and something you’re working on and somebody might be present to help you if you got stuck.

The second big group with a global name are the NSCoders aka NSCoderNight. I’ve been to one event of theirs so far and generally it seems to be structured identically to the “coding kitchen” mentioned above. Depending on the weather you might have a couple other developers working on their own apps get together in a small café. What I have been too might not be representative of NSCoders events in general, so take this with a grain of salt.

Generally one problem that all of these groups have in common appears to be some sort of loss of molecular cohesion. You can google all you like, the websites you’ll find in general have not been updated in years. When I asked about this I got two answers, one that groups generally organize via Twitter. The other that groups generally organize via MeetUp, a meeting web site.

Speaking of which, this is how I found one meeting that did not fall under the Cocoheads or NSCoderNight moniker. Via MeetUp I found “The Silicon Valley iOS Developers’ Meetup”. This kind of get-together does not want to belong to an umbrella, but wants to stand on it’s own. There are half a dozen events like this in and around San Francisco, let’s take this one (the biggest) as an example of the third category.

I had an opportunity to sample such an independent meetup at the Skype Headquarters, which was funny in itself, because we had to sign a short NDA with Skype in order to enter their cafeteria where the meeting took place. But hey, anything to be there and check it out. This meeting had by far the largest attendance of all such events that I ever attended. With some positive and many negative side-effects. While it might be interesting for many people to hear about the business pitches of some companies, generally the feeling I get is that our industry is hungry – if not desperate – for fresh blood.

It must have been like 5 companies that took the microphone after the main presentations to quickly mention that they are looking for iOS engineers. Makes me wonder: if it’s hard to find hard good people in Silicon Valley, how much harder must it be everywhere else. Companies in general are interviewing dozens of candiates until they find somebody who has the skills and somebody who is “a good fit”. (Whatever THAT means)

Having a hard time hiring good people also means that there is fertile ground for companies that specialize in re-selling iOS developers, i.e. recruiters. The farther the number of able developers is from the number of companies looking for them, the more you will see companies enter the field of vision that are trying to make the connection and earn money through this. Obviously those are the people that interest me the least, there is little that separates them from used-care salesmen.

If I myself were in the position of looking for getting hired by a company to do what I love, then I would probably want to work for one of the well-known names, not some small startup that might shutdown their business if they run out of seed money. But then again, having the luxury of actually getting paid while you learn might be a good reason to start with any company willing to hire you to do iOS. You can still switch to a more interesting company one year later. While working at old-world telecom  companies the average turnover time was more close to 3 years, but I’m told that the churn rate at US companies is way faster.

My heart aches whenever I hear that a young company finds it hard to staff their iOS team. I would want to help all of them, but I simply can’t. Until human cloning becomes possible I will forever be damned to only be working within my own human limits. This is one of the driving reasons behind me writing this blog. Even if I cannot clone myself, maybe I can clone bits and pieces of my body of knowledge. It is my hope that these bit-sized pieces, when properly digested, can teach some nifty tricks to most developers.

One piece of advice that I myself got a couple of years ago is that you don’t owe the company you work for anything. You work and at the end of the month you get paid restoring equilibrium. If anther company is able to pay better and interest you more, then why shouldn’t you change? This is also proven by the fact that as Apple matures as a company you see more and more Apple-alumni “doing their own thing”. People may find it odd that anybody might ever want to leave the mothership, but it turns out that there is a plethora of reasons why people actually do leave Apple. Or any other big established company for that matter.

But nobody is worthless, he might still have some “social redeeming value”. Another term I recently learned. I think the same is true for any situation where more than 2 developers meet. So if you ware willing to patiently endure the boring parts you are almost guaranteed to make contact with truly interesting people or interesting insights. For example we met an industry veteran who basically invented a method for LEGO to store all building blocks in relational databases. Ok, that has nothing to do with iOS, but still it’s a geeky delight!

I encourage you to take matters into your own hands if you don’t yet have contact with other local iOS developers. I still believe in the idea that it’s more inspiring having a live person in front of you to share experiences with, bounce ideas off each other or simply ask technical questions. Two make a party. Just set a date, decide which of the three mentioned categories you want this to be under and then publish it a sufficiently public fashion as to allow traveling developers to join you. Like me, when I’m the next time in the neck of your woods.


Categories: Education

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