The Swift Alps 201624 Nov 2016
I attended The Swift Alps on November 11-12, 2016. The event was an experimental conference that the organisers of App Builders wanted to make together with some of its speakers. The goals revolved around three main concepts: experimenting, broadcasting and socialising.
There were no talks, at least in the style of the typical conferences. Instead, every mentor introduced a topic which would be explored later in workshops during two-hour sessions. At the end of every session we changed to a different workshop to explore another topic.
For mentors, doing something like that must have been a challenge. They didn’t know who their audience was going to be. From beginners to experts, there were different expectations. How deep should they go with theory? How difficult should the exercises be? How could they keep experts engaged while at the same time spend time teaching more basic concepts to newcomers? They didn’t have either the safety net of a rehearsed speech nor the figure of a moderator. They were getting tons of questions and were expected to answer all of them. Can you imagine yourself in that position?
Besides that, there’s also the diversity of the audience. Attendees worked most of the times in teams formed by strangers, with different backgrounds and personalities. Some people liked to work alone, some in pairs and some others enjoyed big, messy groups. There were amusing people, introverts, extroverts, reflective, optimists, pessimists,… you name it.
For all the reasons above, I found that measuring the success of the conference solely based on my personal experience is not the right approach. A workshop that was brilliant in one session could have been a disaster the next one, just because:
- Something was causing some kind of disruption.
- I paired up with someone and we did not form a natural fit.
- I decided to work alone while the topic was more suited to a team.
- The topic or the exercises didn’t match my expectations.
- I couldn’t go too far because I had to teach someone or someone had to teach me.
However, there was something in common to all workshops that I liked, something that had its biggest expression during the one run by Ash Furrow: creating a learning environment where making mistakes was OK. There’s no learning without exploring and trying. Of course not every idea will be valid to solve a particular problem. But often times you will not know that until you actually try at least some of them. Working in an environment where making mistakes is rewarded as failure will undermine any attempt of learning and improving.
I also liked how Ash structured his workshop. Using the workflow of contributing to an open source project, he prepared coding exercises to be completed on several iterations with increasing complexity. That way, newbies could learn basic concepts without being overwhelmed while experienced developers could progress with more advanced stuff. That helped create an atmosphere where everyone would feel comfortable.
So I’m happy to have been part of The Swift Alps experiment and I would like to thank every mentor of the workshops I attended: