While It’s Compiling: Skills Matter interviews Daniel Steinberg


While It’s Compiling is a series of interviews with experts across a range of bleeding-edge technologies and practices, exclusive to Skills Matter. Be sure to subscribe to this blog for future interviews, or follow us on Twitter.

Find out who we’ll be interviewing next, and get a chance to put your questions forward with the hashtag #whileitscompiling.

We’ve been very excited this week as we got the opportunity to talk to Daniel Steinberg. Daniel consults through his company Dim Sum Thinking, and is the author of the book Developing iOS 7 Apps for iPad and iPhone – the official companion text for the popular iTunes U series from Stanford University.

Daniel will be giving a talk about the motivations for iOS developers at iOScon, our first ever iOS conference. Check Skills Matter for updates and tickets!

1. You’ve been writing and teaching about programming for the iPad and iPhone since the SDK’s first appeared. How did that journey begin?

I was a Java developer and very involved in that community but I was always a fan of the Mac. In the late 90s I wrote for JavaWorld magazine about the state of Java on the Mac. I was lucky enough to be the editor who got to launch java.net for Sun and O’Reilly. It was a great site with a fantastic core of contributors serving a wonderful community. I had written Pascal and C on the Mac but preferred to work in Java.

I’d gone to WWDC’s each year even when they were in San Jose and didn’t sell out. I was excited by Mac OS X and played around with Cocoa a bit. The moment of change for me was when two friends at Apple took me to lunch and told me that if I wanted to work on the Mac then they recommended that I embrace Objective-C and Cocoa.

So I did.

Thank goodness.

I loved the ease of coding and the thought put into the APIs. Not only that, but two years later the iOS SDK appeared and the environment was familiar and comfortable. Bill Dudney and I wrote a Mac and an iPhone class that we taught the fall that the iOS NDA was dropped. I signed and edited a series of books on Mac and iPhone programming for the Prags. I’ve since started my own line of books and was picked to write the books that accompany the Stanford iTunes U iOS course.

2. What have been the biggest changes and developments for you over these years?

Years ago I was a high school math teacher. We bought some Apple II’s for our lab. In the early days, so much of what was available on computers were just sexier versions of things we can do in printed matter. That problem persists to this day but you’re also seeing the opposite – and that excites me. You’re seeing people embrace the devices that these apps run on. An iOS version of an App will look and feel different than the Mac version. Apps now take advantage of the fact that our phone knows where we are and whether or not we’re seated, on foot, or in a car. Touching an app is completely different than using a mouse.

I think about that in my book writing. I’m writing books that are specifically designed to never be printed. What does that mean that I can now do differently. So for me the biggest changes are we can now take advantage of the context available to us.

3. With this in mind, and considering the focus of your keynote at iOScon 2014, what do you feel motivates iOS developers today, and how can these same developers ensure they keep focussed and creative?

There are a ton of stories about Pixar. Their movies have consistently pushed the envelope of what technology can do. They invent and refine significant improvements in rendering and animation for each movie – and yet – technology isn’t the point. What makes Pixar movies so great is their focus on story. The point is not the technology.

The same is true about us and our apps. We live our days in Xcode and we can lose sight of the fact that we can improve some aspect of some person’s life. Focus on that person. Focus on the change you are making in their world. It’s not about delegates vs. reactive cocoa, it’s about the power you have to change the world for one person.

4. Aside from your own talk, what jumps out to you at iOScon – what are your must-see talks?

That’s so hard to answer. I look down the list and there are speakers I’m really looking forward to seeing because of who they are. In addition, there are speakers I’ve never heard of who are speaking about topics I’m really interested in. I think it’s going to be a great conference and, of course, we’re in the time running up to WWDC so you know the hallway conversations will be filled with speculation about what’s coming at WWDC.

5. We’ve got some amazing experts, workshops and tech coming along to the iOS Hackathon weekend too! What kind of developments would you like to see come out of this?

I remember the old Mac Hack where devs would work for three days straight and sleep was for the weak. The final presentation started at midnight and went until all of the developers were done presenting. What I love about these Hackathons is that some apps will make us laugh and others will make us think. I love the ones that make us look twice and say “that’s so cool, I never would have thought of that.” I would love to see an app that makes clever use of the multipeer technology. I think there is a lot of potential that hasn’t been explored there. In addition, I don’t think we have nailed how to use iBeacons. I’d love to see apps that use them without trying to get them to be more than they are.

6. Thank you so much for answering our questions Daniel – final word – what do you want to hear from our community (if you could ask one question of our community, what would it be)?

Thank you. I love the iOS and OS X community. If I could ask them one thing I think it would be, “what have you either seen lately or been thinking about recently that really excites you?”

Got a question for Daniel? Leave us a comment below!

Daniel will be giving a talk about the motivations for iOS developers at iOScon, our first ever iOS conference. Check Skills Matter for updates and tickets! 

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