NSConference 7: A Look Back

Last fall, I received an email that read, “I would like to invite you to be a speaker at NSConference 7”.

In the invitation email, conference organizer Steve ‘Scotty’ Scott (@macdevnet) described his intent for the conference:

“At NSConference I want the speakers to be with the attendees all the time. I want you to be at the sessions, I want you to be at the meals, I want you to be at the events. I want you to mix, eat, drink and chat with as many attendees as possible.”

“What I require most in an NSConference speaker is enthusiasm and a love of being with the OS X and iOS developer community. Right now I am not looking to pick talk topics, as it’s all about people first.”

I accepted the invitation immediately.

All About People First

In his opening remarks, Scotty expressed the same intent in a different fashion. He said that the speakers and topics were, of course, important, but the real heart of NSConf was creating an environment where members of the developer community could interact.

Leicester Athena

Leicester Athena
Photo by NotFromUtrecht via Wikimedia Commons

The format at NSConf was unlike other conferences I have attended. Each segment began with a 30-minute talk followed by two 10 or 15-minute blitz-talks, followed by a 30-minute break. This approach packed three topics plus plenty of time to talk with fellow attendees into a 90-minute block.

The venue was the Leicester Athena, a gorgeous 1930s art deco theater re-styled to host events. The seating was at round tables, giving folks a chance to talk with one another. There was a massive stage with great lighting and sound (and yes, a full bar on stage too). It is truly a beautiful venue, well-suited to Scotty’s goals for the event.

The days were filled with speakers giving talks, conversations with attendees and lots of coffee and tea. In the evenings, good food and more conversation. The first night was the banquet, each table set with a candelabra, with wine and a meal served at your table. The second night was the party, with a buffet meal and mingling.

It was after folks had a chance to be fed at the party that we launched into our Breakpoint Jam.

Breakpoint Jam: NSConf Edition

The idea behind a Breakpoint Jam is that the band is made up of whoever happens to be in town for a conference. Folks practice up some James Dempsey and the Breakpoints songs on their own before arriving, we do a quick rehearsal the day of the show, and then we perform.

I find the most stress-inducing shows are when all the musicians are new to the Breakpoint Jam — this was one of those performances.

It takes a leap of faith to get on a plane in San Francisco and fly over 5,000 miles to England, knowing you will be performing for a theater full of people with musicians you have never performed with, rehearsed with, or in some cases even met before.

Kevin Cupp on guitar, James Dempsey on vocals, Jonathan Fox on drums and S ‘Scotty’ Scott on bass at the Breakpoint Jam during NSConference 7

Kevin Cupp, James Dempsey, Jonathan Fox and Steve ‘Scotty’ Scott kick off the NSConf 7 Breakpoint Jam
Photo by Cathy Shive

That leap of faith was rewarded by musicians that pulled it all together amazingly well in the rehearsal time allotted.

Guitarist and iOS developer Kevin Cupp (@kevincupp) did perhaps the best walk-on guitar part in Breakpoint Jam history, having learned every nuance from the rehearsal tracks I had sent.

Longtime NeXT and Apple indie developer John Fox (@djembe) added a full drum kit to a Breakpoint Jam for the first time, skillfully playing the varying musical styles from the driving beat of Goto Fail to the Hawaiian breeze-inspired Liki Song.

Rounding out the core trio of Conditional Breakpoints for the evening was NSConf’s own Scotty on bass. (It is no coincidence that Scotty was positioned closest to the on-stage bar.)

For The Liki Song, backup singers arrived in the form of Laura Savino (@savinola) and Ruotger Deecke (@roddi) making their Breakpoint Jam debut, and Uli Kusterer (@uliwitness) whose bass voice is perfect for the ‘object alloc’ chant beneath the choruses.

And, on the ever-important slide-advance keyboard, the incomparable Daniel Steinberg (@dimsumthinking).

Kevin Cupp playing guitar, James Dempsey singing and playing ukulele, Jonathan Fox playing drums, Laura Savino, Ruotger Deecke and Uli Kusterer singing, Steve ‘Scotty’ Scott playing bass.

Left to Right: Kevin Cupp, James Dempsey, Jonathan Fox, Laura Savino, Ruotger Deecke, Uli Kusterer, Steve ‘Scotty’ Scott.
Image by Marius Ciocanel

It was tremendous fun to play on that big stage, in that beautiful theater, complete with lighting effects (and a fog machine, I think). The show was only possible because of all of those who joined in the jam—a big thank you to them for lending their talents to the show. And of course, a giant thank you to everyone the audience, it was a privilege to play for you all.

The Future: A Look Back

Scotty had stated that this year’s NSConference would be the last. When I looked at the schedule, I saw that Scotty had chosen my session The Future: A Look Back to be the last talk of the last day of the last NSConf.

The talk took a look back to the Apple/NeXT merger and the history of some of the technologies that we use today. After the talk, some old-timers told me that they enjoyed the walk down memory lane, while some more recent arrivals to iOS and OS X development commented they appreciated hearing some backstory on the technologies they are using today.

James Dempsey Presenting ‘The Future: A Look Back’ at NSConf 7

The Future: A Look Back at NSConf 7
Photo by Raphael Sebbe

Scotty had also announced that, although this was the final NSConf, he hoped to do another event in the future that took the best of NSConf, but proceeded in a different way — different enough that calling it ‘NSConf’ would be misnomer.

With that in mind, I closed my talk as follows:

“As we wind down to the last session of the last NSConf, I’d remind you that in this developer world of ours, nothing is ever truly gone. Specific implementations come and go, particular instances are created and released, but the underlying themes stick around. That’s true whether we are talking about technologies, or the community of people that use them to create magnificent things.”

Almost Like Being There

Being at NSConf was a fantastic experience — I learned a lot and had the chance to meet and get to know people I would likely not have met otherwise.

I’m very grateful to Scotty for inviting me and to the entire conference team for doing a fantastic job and for treating the attendees and speakers very well. NSConf had an easy-going feel, but everything hit its mark. It takes a great team to make it look that easy.

The next best thing to being there would be watching the amazing talks. And as of last week they are available to everyone on the NSConf 7 channel on Vimeo. I encourage you to check out all the talks, including my talk The Future: A Look Back, which I’ve included below. •

NSConference 7 was held March 16-18, 2015 in Leicester, UK.

Going Upthere

I’m very happy to announce that I have joined the team at Upthere.

Here’s the gist from upthere.com:

Our team is hard at work in Palo Alto, CA, building out the future of the cloud. We can‘t wait to tell you more, but right now we‘re working very quietly. Some really great engineers and designers who‘ve built some of the world‘s most successful products are already here.

Even though I’m now at a stealth mode startup, I’m not dropping completely out of sight.

I’ll still be speaking at conferences and James Dempsey and the Breakpoints will continue performing and writing new songs whenever inspiration strikes.

In fact, I’m gearing up for a spring tour that starts in England and then criss-crosses the USA. At each stop I’ll be speaking and performing in a Breakpoint Jam — a set of songs from our iTunes chart-topping album Backtrace.

I hope you are able to make it out to one of these excellent conferences. If you do, please say hello! •