Philly CocoaHeads: History

Being the lead organizer of the Philly chapter of CocoaHeads, I always welcome the opportunity to chat with members of other meetups. It’s great to compare notes on how we run our groups, what’s worked and what’s failed. In particular I’ve recently chatted with the leadership of the Nashville CocoaHeads and was also able to attend an Atlanta CocoaHeads meeting while visiting Big Nerd Ranch. It was a great experience and has me inspired to capture some of my thoughts here on the blog. This first article is a walk down memory lane to document the history of Philly CocoaHeads.

Getting Started

The Philly chapter of CocoaHeads started out of IndyHall in 2008. IndyHall is a coworking space, a place for people who can work from home but choose not to; perhaps because they want a work/home separation or just to participate in the greater creative community. Back then IndyHall was still fairly young but had attracted together a strong tech following including:

  • Andy Mroczkowski and Far McKon who were working for the local company Neat, and their Mac software / scanner combo.
  • Jason Allum who was working on RipIt (which would later be sold to The Little App Factory).
  • Dave Martorana who had a few apps, including MultiFirefox and Multiplex (a media server app ahead of its time).
  • Joah Aas, who worked for the Mozilla organization and is now most known for his help with the Let’s Encrypt project.
  • Randy Zauhar, a local professor teaching Bioinformatics and Chemistry at University of Sciences. Randy had previous help run and host a group called: PHAD, Philadelphia Apple Developers.
  • And myself. I was a basic IndyHall member and was working on ProfitTrain updates at the time.

Philadelphia Apple Developers (PHAD) never grew to be anything very large but I remember it fondly. It would usually be about 4-6 of us sharing a pizza and showing each other our Cocoa projects. I vividly remember Randy showing off his spreadsheet app which listed chemical equations on one side and then had an OpenGL cell rendering the compositions on the other. I also remember doing talks on Subversion and then Core Data. Again, they were small meetings but having even a few people who were interested in or working in Cocoa back then to bounce ideas off was a huge win.

The early meetings of our group were ran by Andy Mroczkowski and actually marketed under the name PhillyCocoa and not CocoaHeads. The meetings were very demo heavy with lots of roundtable questions and discussions filling in the cracks. Some members took to working on a side project, a calculator, outside of the meeting. The project didn’t get too far but the remanence of it have been preserved on GitHub.

Early IndyHall

This is a photo of IndyHall, Strawberry Street Edition. The first “CocoaHeads” meeting was held in that back meeting hut.

As the iOS SDK (or iPhone SDK as it was called back then) was announced there was a serge in new members and interest in the group. The biggest hurdle seemed to be Objective-C itself so we planned and ran a workshop.

Over two Saturdays, mixing lecture time and coding exercises from Learn Objective-C on the Mac, by Mark Dalrymple, Scott Knaster we got 12 or so people a head start on iPhone programming.

New Leadership

Meetings continued, now at IndyHall’s new home on 3rd Street (or N3RD Street as it would come to be known as). Eventually a December meeting was announced and Andy let it be know that if you were interested in the future of PhillyCocoa to attend. At the meeting Andy announced his upcoming departure to head to San Fransisco to be apart of a startup. Two volunteers came forward to help organize the group in his stead, myself and Mike Deaven.

Meeting Format Changes

Over the next year me and Mike enacted a handful of changes we’d hope improve the group.

An Early IndyHall Meeting

One immediate change we did was move the website to WordPress. Previously Andy had a custom Ruby CMS / publish thing going and it wasn’t easily portable. I was able to get all of the old post converted into WordPress. The main goal here being enable multiple people to post and not have the code be machine dependent.

Another change was subtle, but I started to embrace the CocoaHeads brand in our naming and introductions. I always was aware of them and to me it seemed helpful to take the name and have our chapter listed on the main global site.

We also started to fiddle with the meeting format itself. Moving the pizza / social time to the front end of the meeting. This helped since we usually had a lot of stragglers arrive between 6:30 and 7:00, so by having the pizza upfront we could make sure to start the meeting with everyone present.

I also started to be a little more rigid in the introductions, making sure to repeat the basics of the group, who we were, what we did, when we met. I wanted new people to quickly get a sense of expectations.

Another IndyHall Meeting

The hardest thing back then was getting people to do talks. There were many meetings in the early days where we did not have a formal speaker and so it was on my shoulders to build a presentation to keep the group entertained. It was a lot of work but I think a major reason why we were later became more successful. I think it’s incredibly important to be consistent, to have that meeting every 2nd Thursday no matter what. Setting up that pattern and not giving into canceling meetings really helped solidify the group.

To help spur talks we started to request smaller commitments, show and tell time. A short talk or demo usually 5-15m in length. Much less to prepare and much less anxiety. It started slow but eventually kicked off a pattern of people coming forward to do talks, even “main” talks.

Adding Members through Meetup.com

Up to this point Philly CocoaHeads did not promote itself too much. You heard about it through word of mouth or via IndyHall announcements. Looking to grow the community we decided to join Meetup.com for more exposure. It took a few months to get going but eventually started to bring in tons of new faces. Meetings quickly grew from about 10-12 people, closer to 20-25.

As of today we have about 870 registered members on Meetup.com. Now most of them are not active members. I’d guess if you defined “active” as participated in a group event sometime in the last 12 months, you’d probably end up with ~200 members.

Alfie joins us from NY via a Double

Alfie joins us from NY via a Double.

New Events and Expanding the Leadership

When iOS 7 was announced we decided to do a special hack day to celebrate. We sold tickets to help buy a nice catered lunch and gathered at IndyHall on Saturday to hack on new iOS 7 APIs. The event was a huge success.

One newer member wanted to help do this more often and so Tom Piarulli joined the leadership to help run what has now become known as Side Project Saturday. SPS is typically the last Saturday of the month, starting at 10am and running until about 5pm. People come and go, work on their side projects, ask questions and otherwise socialize with their fellow geeks.

Tom at a SPS right after the WWDC announcements.

At around the same time the leadership also welcomed Kotaro Fujita to help run our website and Twitter account.

Kotaro talks about his favorite tool.

Moving to the Apple Store

We are fortunate enough to have a very nice Apple Store here in Philadelphia. Sometime in 2013 I was approached by the business relations manager from the store. He came to a few meetings and introduced himself. He was really impressed with our group and offered to help us out and possibly host the meeting.

I was kind of torn. We had our start at IndyHall and while we were definitely starting to outgrow the space I didn’t want to leave. Me and Kotaro took a trip to the Apple Store to checkout the Briefing Room. The room is incredibly nice. It’s on the second floor of the store, not open to the public. It’s kind of a VIP area for larger demos and meetings. It had 5 mounted TVs, all wired up for AirPlay and sound. A huge wood table with 16 swivel chairs but plenty of space around the edges for fold up chairs. Fully laid out we could host 40-45 people and have a great AV setup to help support the speakers.

We made the move in November 2013 and it’s worked out great. The space is extremely accommodating and many of the members certainly enjoy the prestige of getting to meet in such a private venue.

Apple Store Meeting

Workshops, Suburb Side Project Saturdays, and CocoaLove

In 2014, Curtis Herbert who had already been very active in the community as well as doing some talks for us joined the leadership team and started multiple new projects.

Curtis teaching his ObjC Workshop

Firstly was CocoaLove, which started out best as I can recall as friendly outburst during my “Industry News” section while reviewing upcoming conferences. “Why don’t we have any conferences here in Philly?” — and so it began. CocoaLove is not an official child of CocoaHeads but we obviously share a lot of the same goals.

Curtis also helped spur new educational events we came to call Workshops. Typically one day, 5 hour events with paid for tickets (most money going to the speaker to help compensate them for prep time). We ran about six or so over the last year and a half, covering introductions to Objective-C and then later Swift, App Marketing, UX design, and more. Workshops are incredibly loved by our members and sell out quickly. The hardest part about running them is the custom content creation. We have some ideas on how to improve that moving forward and hope to offer more Workshops in the year ahead so stay tuned.

Marketing Workshop

And finally we have our “Suburb” edition of Side Project Saturday. The city of Philadelphia is very flat and wide, with an extended suburban layout. We have many members who live outside the city and can not always participate with our center city events. To help, we started running a “Suburb” edition of our Side Project Saturday event. These are held at the Apple Store in King of Prussia. We’ve been able to host a few and hope to do more. Again, Curtis has been very helpful in organizing this.

Videos

In 2015 we continued to evolve and expand what we offer, this time with recordings. We’ve been talking about recordings for awhile but in 2015 things started to fall into place. I’ll go into detail as to how we record in a future blog post, but put simply it’s capturing what video we pipe to the monitors and then using a lapel microphone for the speaker to capture their voice. After the meeting we match the two together and then publish to Vimeo. During the fall we also added a custom AppleTV app which streams the content as well (search for “CocoaHeads” and you’ll find it).

Video Capture Setup

Apple TV App

Book Club

Another new endeavor for 2015 was the Book Club. We started it over the summer reading through Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X and then restarted it this winter with HackingWithSwift.com. Book Club basically has members work through chapters and then meet online to discuss how it went. Over the summer we met every other week, while the winter edition has been more aggressive doing it every Monday. A big thanks to Michael Mayer for helping to run the latest Book Club season.

The Future

So it’s 2016 and things continue to look good. I’d say the biggest problem we have is that we occasionally max out of room occupancy at the Apple Store but not enough to really justify a new venue. We also recognize our website could use a lot of work to meet our high standards but it remains a fairly low priority overall.

As the main organizer I’m extremely lucky to have such great support from the members and the rest of the leadership. There is no way we could do this much work if it wasn’t for the many volunteers we have. I’m extremely proud of the community we’ve made and continue to run.

Recommendations

To those running similar meet ups a few closing recommendations:

  • Be consistent with meeting dates and locations.
  • Be willing to do a lot of personal presentations and/or MC of roundtables when other speakers are not available in the early days.
  • Don’t be afraid to shake people down for talks. Also remember it’s much easier to get them to sign up for a talk a few months from now than in a few weeks. Take advantage of that.
  • If meeting after work try to have some food and drink available. We do pizza cause it’s relatively cheap and easy. You want to feed them but remember they aren’t coming for the food. In the early days a donation jar can usually cover most of the costs, later you might need sponsorship. I’ll have more to say on that in the future.
  • Help spread the responsibilities. Even smaller things like handing the food, taking meeting notes or running the group Twitter helps turn “the group” into “our group”.
  • Have fun.

31 Days, 31 Products: Launch Post

At CocoaLove 2015 we had the pleasure of listening to Jaimee Newberry speak and from my notes I recollect the following from her talk:

Just Do It! and more specifically, don’t let your high taste of quality hold you hostage from creating and shipping. Get it out into the world and improve it over time.

Even before the talk, I was already inspired by Jaimee’s “31 days” series of writings and video posts. I’ve been wanting to get more writing practice and have been kicking the can on starting my own series but no more!

Today begins 31 Days, 31 Products — a blog series where once a day for 31 days I’ll post a short story sharing some of the products and services I’ve come to enjoy using. I hope you like it and discover a new helpful tool along the way.

Rebooting My Professional Side Projects

It’s been a little over two years since I put Clickable Bliss, the company name for my personal projects, then self-employment, on hiatus after taking a job at DmgCtrl (which then turned into a job at Big Nerd Ranch). Back then when I wrote about the change, I mentioned that team work was something I was really missing after my group startup Shindig ended. The good news is, in the last 2 years time I’ve gotten to work with some very talented people and have learned a ton from them. The sad news is, the yearning to work on something longterm, something of my own, something I can have a meaningful impact on does not go away. Today I’d like to share my intent to reboot my professional side projects.

I say “professional” side projects because I do want these to be serious projects that result in profitable products. I want to create software that people enjoy using, solve meaningful problems and people are willing to pay for. I’m not looking to quit my job but I don’t want that to be an excuse for lack of progression or service level, I want to make sure my customers are taken care of.

So what’s next? Well right now I’m working on breaking down some project ideas and otherwise trying to get up to speed with some tech stacks I’m considering using. I’m also trying to figure out the legal and branding side of things. Some questions on my mind:

  • Do I continue to do work under the name Clickable Bliss (which is a D.B.A.) or do I come up with a new company name that helps distinguish this new era and long term team intent (I do hope to bring on help for these new projects sooner than later).
  • If I do a new company name, do I run it as an LLC?
  • Do I promote these products under the company brand or just build brands around the project(s) themselves. (The two leading ideas I’d like to work on have fairly divergent audiences although longterm I’d say my interest is in providing tools for people who embrace technology to create things.)
  • I want to start to build up a newsletter as soon as I have some more concrete things to share. How do I migrate those people from the old Clickable Bliss mailing list? Should I?

So that’s what’s going on. Will share more when I have it. If you have any feedback or comments, please shoot me an email!

CocoaLove 2015 Notes

This weekend was the second annual CocoaLove event here in Philadelphia.

A conference about people, not tech. CocoaLove highlights the iOS/Mac community’s passions, challenges, and triumphs.

From all accounts, people had a great time. My very heartfelt “thank you” to the speakers, attendees and organizers for making it such a blast.

Some of my own takeaways and notes:

  • Just Do It! and more specifically, don’t let your high taste of quality hold you hostage from creating and shipping. Get it out in the world and improve it over time.
  • Don’t let the negativity of the web infect you. Be positive; be constructive.
  • Make time to help people out. Mentor them, teach them, guide them. It’s probably the most import work you’ll ever do.
  • Embrace today; do what you love; don’t settle.
  • Don’t let other people define your life’s scope. Poke life.
  • The world is in desperate need of good managers. Managers need not be robots; the best managers can have a huge impact on their team and the product.
  • Don’t let imposter syndrome or other people hold you back.
  • Humanizing the customer support experience is extremely important. These people are calling out for help, treat them right.
  • The developer ecosystem is forever changing. Even today the wheels are in motion and a few years from now it’ll be different. Be prepared for change.
  • Embrace side projects. Start tons of things. Experiment. Do things outside your comfort zone.

While we wait for this years talks to be edited and published, consider stopping by the 2014 video collection. In particular I recommend Joe Cieplinski – The Back of the Fence.

Code Patterns Talk, Video Now Available

We’ve been trying to a better job of capturing our main talks at Philly CocoaHeads. You can find and subscribe to our small but growing collection of videos on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/phillycocoa.

I did a talk last month reviewing a some iOS code patterns. The runtime is about 27 minutes. Feedback very welcome.

Some Code Patterns, Mike Zornek from Philly CocoaHeads on Vimeo.

This talk covers a handful of code patterns that were successful on my recent projects. Some of these patterns include Block Safety, "Tell, Don't Ask", Using DataSources for your network-based *Service objects.

Apologies the audience participation isn't well captured.

Philly CocoaHeads Website Relaunch Project

I haven’t had an active side project in the last few months. When asked I would tell people looking for a new job was my side project. Now that I have that new job search (and my Girl Develop It class behind me it’s time to kick something off; we’re going to rebuild the Philly CocoaHeads website!

When I took over the local chapter of CocoaHeads here in Philly (back in 2010 or so) the previous organizer had a Ruby/Markdown publish system setup. It was kind of neat but involved a lot of setup on the client box to get up and running. I had a few people posting to the site so rather than set up that system on each individual’s box I opted for WordPress. The WordPress site has done ok for us but we’ve been growing a ton and doing a lot more over the last year (workshops, video capture of meeting presentations). I’d love to start to centralize things like keeping track of our members and our money, overall there is a ton that could be automated and it’s time to make it happen.

I don’t want to do this alone and I also would love to start documenting the project as it unfolds. To get started we have a brainstorm session scheduled during Side Project Saturday. If you want to participate please consider stopping by. If you can’t stop by, but want to participate, let me know and maybe we can setup a Google Hangout call-in option. To capture notes I’m going to use Trello. The board is live and open to the public. (You will need to login with a Trello account to edit.) Feel free to start to document your ideas today.

CocoaConf Boston 2014 Recap

After getting a solid recommendation from Curtis, who attended the Washington DC variant, this weekend I headed north to CocoaConf Boston. It was my first CocoaConf and so I went into the weekend with a lot of blurred expectations.

Spoilers: I say first with intention. TLDR; I had a really great time. The talks and speaker quality were really high and with luck I’ll be able to attend again during a future “tour”.

One of my expectations was size. I thought the attendee count was going to be a bit larger. It felt like ~130 but I’m not sure what the official number was. Not that a small count is bad for me but I’m used to educational events hosting more. I suspect part of this is that CocoaConf is hosting lots more venues now (three arguably “east coast cities” during this fall tour alone). This may make some events smaller but overall a win for the community so as to have more access for those who can’t travel far.

One thing that continues to make me proud is the people of our community. The attendees, the speakers and the event staff of CocoaConf are all incredibly friendly, approachable and inspiring. Meeting new people and catching up with old friends is a big reason why I like attending conferences and CocoaConf does a great job at supplying the “campfire” atmosphere to make that happen.

Daniel Jalkut's "Quit Your Job" keynote

As for my favorite talks I’ll mention a few:

Daniel Jalkut’s “Quit Your Job” keynote and Rob Rhyne’s “Make Them Care” session were both very inspirational. I leave Boston really hungry to jump into some side projects of mine and get back into the product game outside of my client stuff at work.

For technical wisdom I have to give it up for the full day “Swift Kickstart” workshop Daniel Steinberg ran as well as the Swift and Objective-C: Best Friends Forever session by Jonathan Blocksom. CocoaConf Boston is now cemented as the place and time where I really started to appreciate what Apple is trying to accomplish with Swift. This isn’t to say we aren’t in for a bumpy ride but at least now I have a good frame of mind as to the “why” behind it all.

Finally, it was great to meet the people that run CocoaConf. Rather than some large corporation, CocoaConf is actually a family affair. Dave Kline and his family run most of the operation and they seemed very dedicated to making sure everyone had a good time. For all their hard work I say thank you and hope to see you all again soon.

Designing & Planning Your iOS App Workshop Recap

Workshops are a new effort from the Philly CocoaHeads group. Basic idea is: one workshop every other month, the workshop is a one day 5-6 hour event, that covers a single topic. Our first one was on Intermediate Objective-C and our second one, which was held last Saturday, covered Designing & Planning Your iOS App.

Kotaro Teaching

Overall the workshop went well. Kotaro Fujita was our main presenter and did a great job of alternating lecture and hands on exercise. At the end, attendees presented what they had worked on and how their app ideas were evolving. The crowd was great with lots of great feedback too. Some of my notes:

  • When brainstorming features consider using index cards or mind mapping software. I like MindNode Pro and Trello.

  • Spend LOTS of time wire framing, sketching, etc. Be mindful to separate your design time from your production coding time. It’s easy to fall into trap where you are coding things that will not work and this is very expensive. Way better to validate your designs with prototyping first.

  • Document what problem each screen is suppose to solve. Also document the emotions you expect the user to have. For example, on first launch what is your user asking themselves, how can you help educate them? Are you using verbiage they understand? How fast can you deliver your first WOW moment?

  • Get users involved as soon as possible. Preferably before you start to code. Should have some level of idea validation before starting.

  • Once you release a build, make customer support your highest priority. Answer every email/tweet within the hour. Let them call you. Doing this is a huge part of getting people to trust you and then later recommending you and your product.

Related Resources

In the spirit of the talk I wanted to share some other related resources.

So there are two great online courses going on right now regarding starting a startup people might be interested in:

Some of it is a little heavy on the VC-funding but otherwise lots of great things to think about.

Another video I find really helpful to watch and re-watch whenever thinking about which projects I want to work on: How great leaders inspire action by Simon Sinek. His explanation of “Why/How/What” is very inspiring for me.

For some design fundamentals consider reading Design for non Designers by Robin Williams and Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

Finally I’ll mention the the Lean Startup Book which I reviewed back in 2013. It still is a favorite book of mine with some awesome ideas on working fast and based on validations and learning.

Quick CocoaLove Recap

CocoaLove was a huge success. All of the talks were well received and the attendee side conversations vibrant and interesting. I think I saw 2 laptops open all weekend which to me is a huge sign people were engaged with our content. If you missed out, check out the CocoaLove site for some highlights of our tweet/photo live stream.

While they’ll never capture the event in its full glory, we did record the presentations and will be editing them over the next few weeks to make the available on the web. To find out when the videos are up I’d signup to the mailing list or follow the @CocoaLoveConf twitter account.

I want to thank my fellow organizers, the speakers and the attendees for helping provide a weekend I’ll remember forever.

In particular I’ll give special props to Curtis whom sacrificed countless hours attending to hundreds of details that resulting in a level conference quality that is hard to achieve. Great job!

CocoaLove Tickets

It’s September, which means next month is October, which means CocoaLove is coming up fast!

We’ve got a great weekend planned and if you haven’t already secured your ticket I’d do so now since we are starting our last marketing push to sell out.

Additionally, if you or a company you know are interested in sponsoring to help show your support for CocoaLove let me know. CocoaLove is passion project from some great folks out of our local CocoaHeads chapter who have donated countless hours in helping to organize this incredible non-profit event. Sponsor support will help us reach our stretch goals and make an already great experience that much better.

See you all soon!