There’s an incredible conference for iOS and Mac developers in Philly called CocoaLove. I had the immense pleasure of getting to attend its first year last year and want nothing more than to attend again this year. For me, right now, being able to attend means getting a scholarship. While I was working on my application I noticed that Basel Farag—a super passionate and friendly student I met last week at 360iDev who is also applying for CocoaLove—had posted his CocoaLove application on his blog, which inspired me to do the same. (I held off on reading his ‘til I’d finished mine, but I really like how he approached his as a letter—I just took the boring old “respond to each prompt” approach. Either way, if reading other people’s scholarship applications is your thing, which I’m guessing it is if you’re here, go read his—I think he totally nailed it with his emphasis on vulnerability, which I didn’t directly mention even once.)
Tell us a bit about yourself. What are you studying? What have you worked on related to iOS / Mac, in your free time or professionally?
I’m a student at Swarthmore College, studying—so far—education, cognitive science, music, statistics, philosophy, anthropology, and psychology. I’m considering a Ph.D. in Undecided. I’ve never formally studied computer science (although that will be changing next semester) but I’ve long had a passion for software development, especially on iOS. When I do actually have to choose a major at the end of next year, what I really think I’ll end up pursuing is something related to education (and, of course, everything is related to education, providing the true reason for my wide array of choices so far). And why? Well, I know I’m not the only one sensing that education in the United States really needs some love right now. (More specifically, I think we need a big move away from the so-called “corporate ed. reform movement” which is turning public education into a testocracy that values teachers’ abilities to raise test scores far more than any real learning. Ultimately I’d like to see the end of standardized tests and grades entirely, and I’d like to see students being the primary determiners of the content of their own curricula. I’d like empathy to take pedagogical precedence over notions of academic accountability, and I’d like the arts to have a much more prominent role in schools. But I digress—this is a topic for a blog post.) More broadly, I look to education as a form of leverage in making a real positive impact on the world: no one person can fix all the problems there are to fix, but a well educated society of passionate and creative people sure can. “Transforming education” isn’t exactly a clear-cut career path, however, and software development gives me a good practical starting point that I love enough to do for fun whenever I can.
I started programming in middle school, at first making AppleScripts with my close friend Carter Allen to respond to texts, do our math homework, and automate online games, among other often ridiculous things. Soon after, the iOS SDK was announced, and we both knew we had to make an app. At our elementary and middle school, the Logan School for Creative Learning, every student chooses their own individual unit to focus on for the whole year, so that year I made mine software development. I started by taking a simple file hiding script I’d written and turning it into a full AppleScript Studio application, called Ghost. I released it for free and then rewrote it entirely in Objective-C, pushing this as an update. Each iteration was aimed at acquiring some piece of knowledge—first, Xcode, next, Objective-C, and so on—that would get me closer to being able to write and release an app for iOS.
By winter of the following year—my freshman year in high school—I’d met my goal and released an app on the iOS App Store, working closely with Carter the whole time. Writing Five Square (now very out of date) taught us the foundations of iOS development, and rewriting it a year later taught us the importance of being intentional about the architecture of our code (i.e. not putting it all into MainView.m).
Since then I haven’t released anything new, but neither have I stopped learning. Between high school and college I took a gap year to work on a new project—a modern solitaire app for iOS—which is still unreleased, despite how much I’ve given to it and how much it’s given to me. (I absolutely still intend to release it, and have lately been focused on what I can cut to bring it down to a minimum viable product. I imagine this sounds familiar to many other developers.) Much of what I now know about software development has come from working on this app, including my entire knowledge of Swift, which was announced after I’d already been at it for months.
I hope to intern next summer at Khan Academy, where I could bring together my experience in programming and my desire to transform education. This summer I’ve begun to work my way through SICP, and I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time watching recordings of talks and even reading a book about the merits and practices of functional, declarative, value-oriented programming. While the aim of this research has been to build the background I’ll need to be ready to contribute and learn at Khan Academy, I’ve found it quickly spreading into all of my existing code.
What do you hope to get out of attending CocoaLove?
A vast part of my learning has come from the conferences I’ve attended on scholarships—WWDC, 360iDev, and last year’s CocoaLove—as have countless connections with others in the software community. In isolation, each of the talks offer important and unique perspectives on so many topics, and together, in the company of such a huge community of passionate people all craving to make something meaningful, these conferences are perhaps the most valuable thing the tech world has to offer. I’ve fallen in love with this community, and I’m always wishing to see it again.
Having been there last year, I can also speak to what I love and seek out of CocoaLove in particular. Unlike other conferences in the tech community, CocoaLove is focused exclusively on the community itself—on our relationships with our craft, with each other, and with the world. I left last time with a new awareness of how my decisions, my words, and my actions impact others. I was brought to tears by Laura Savino’s talk on “less judgy code reviews,” called “Hate the Code, Love the Coder”. I was deeply stirred and inspired by William Van Hecke’s talk on being healthy in our communications about design, called “Your App Is Good and You Should Feel Good”. CocoaLove launched me into an internal campaign to be more authentic and empathetic on Twitter. If CocoaLove did all of this for me, I can only begin to imagine what it did for everyone else there. What I know for sure is that it created a lot of good, and if we take my philosophy professor’s word that a meaningful life is a good life, well, then, CocoaLove quite literally contributed to the meaning of life.
So, now if you ask me what I want out of CocoaLove, the answer is simple: a meaningful life! :)
What excites you about being a part of the Mac and iOS community and working in this industry? What do you think you can contribute to the Mac and iOS community?
Really, it’s not just CocoaLove that’s all about making meaning—it’s our whole industry. Even our most technically oriented conferences are always sprinkled with lunch sessions, keynotes, and events that are ultimately about how we can make our world a better place. CocoaLove is unique in concentrating only on these talks, but they’re really what’s fueling everything we do, even the custom UINavigationController transitions and AutoLayout conflict resolutions. That’s what I see, at least, and it’s a big part of what I love about this community. We use the tools we have as a means to make things that are genuinely good.
Another thing I’ve recently come to appreciate about this community is its increasing ability to turn inward and work towards improving itself—its communal growth mindset, so to speak. We are a strikingly non-diverse community, and it’s taken far too long for us to acknowledge that and truly begin to work on it. Yet, just over the past year I’ve seen a considerable push towards fixing the problem, acknowledging the importance of diversity, and striving to be more inclusive. We still have a long, long way to go, but we finally seem to be making steady progress, and that gives me hope. And from each of our failures and our successes along the way, we can learn things that can translate to the work we all need to do in our society at large.
I hope, studying the wide range of things I’m studying outside of technology, that what I can bring to this community is a continued and deepened connection with what it already values most—the issues that matter, and the ways we can impact them for the better. I hope, over time, that I can contribute to addressing these issues using the knowledge I’ve acquired from so many wise and far-seeing members of our hopeful and ambitious community. And, in the meantime, I hope to see you all at CocoaLove in October. <3