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If the 4 major mobile providers in the US were cast as the four houses at Hogwarts, Sprint would certainly be Hufflepuff. And not top-tier Hufflepuff, either, but their remedial class. In the Parade of Losers, Sprint are the baton twirlers:

Sprint’s satisfaction ratings are so low that even Boost Mobile has higher scores than they do.

On the other hand, T-Mobile (full disclosure: I’m a happy customer) consistently has the highest satisfaction scores.

I’m certain I’m not the only person asking this question about the merger that was just rubber-stamped: Forget about 5G for a moment — will combining the two make Sprint better, or T-Mobile worse?

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How to “work the room” at Synapse Summit 2020

by Joey deVilla on February 10, 2020

Synapse Summit 2020, Tampa Bay’s annual technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation conference will bring thousands of people to Amalie Arena — and all sorts of opportunities to meet up with them.

It’s been my experience that some of the most important things I’ve learned and all the connections I’ve made at conferences didn’t happen at the presentations. Instead, they happened between presentations — in the hallways, lounges, lunches, and social gatherings, where I had the chance to chat with the speakers, organizers, and the other attendees. This observation is so common that it’s given rise to “unconferences” like BarCamp, whose purpose is to invert the order of things so that the conference is more “hallway” than “lecture theatre”.

It’s especially important to talk to people you don’t know or who are outside your usual circle. Books like The Tipping Point classify acquaintances with such people as “weak ties”. Don’t let the word “weak” make you think they’re unimportant. As people outside your usual circle, they have access to a lot of information, people, and opportunities that you don’t. That’s why most people get jobs through someone they know, and of those cases, most of the references came from a weak tie. The sorts of opportunities that come about because of this sort of relationship led sociologist Mark Granovetter to coin the phrase “the strength of weak ties”.

The best way to make weak ties at a conference is to work the room. If the phrase sounds like sleazy marketing-speak and fills your head with images of popped collars and wearing too much body spray, relax. Working the room means being an active participant in a social event and contributing to it so that it’s better for both you and everyone else. Think of it as good social citizenship.

If you’re unsure of how to work the room, I’ve got some tips that you might find handy…

Have a one-line self-introduction

A one-line self-introduction is simply a single-sentence way of introducing yourself to people you meet at a conference. It’s more than likely that you won’t know more than a handful of attendees and introducing yourself over and over again, during the conference, as well as its post-session party events. It’s a trick that Susan RoAne, room-working expert and author of How to Work a Room: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections In-Person and Online teaches, and it works. It’s pretty simple:

  • Keep it short — no longer than 10 seconds, and shorter if possible. It’s not your life story, but a pleasantry that also gives people just a little bit about who you are.
  • Make it fit. It should give people a hint of the cool stuff that you do (or, if you’re slogging it out in the hopes of doing cool stuff someday, the cool stuff that you intend to do.)
  • Show your benefits. Rather than simply give them your job title, tell them about a benefit that your work provides in a way that invites people to find out more. Susan RoAne likes to tell a story about someone she met whose one-liner was “I help rich people sleep at night”. That’s more interesting than “I’m a financial analyst”.

My intro these days is something along the lines of “I’m a rock and roll accordion player, but in my side gig, I’m a mobile/wearable/AR app developer who builds apps for Lilypad, Tampa’s coolest software company.”

How to join a conversation

At Synapse Summit 2020, you’ll probably see a group of people already engaged in a conversation. If this is your nightmare…

Click the photo to read the Onion article.

…here’s how you handle it:

  1. Pick a lively group of people you’d like to join in conversation. As people who are already in a conversation, they’ve already done some of the work for you. They’re lively, which makes it more likely that they’re open to people joining in. They’ve also picked a topic, which saves you the effort of having to come up with one. It also lets you decide whether or not it interests you. If they’re lively and their topic of conversation interests you, proceed to step 2. If not, go find another group!
  2. Stand on the periphery and look interested. Just do it. This is a conference, and one of the attendees’ goals is to meet people. Smile. Pipe in if you have something to contribute; people here are pretty cool about that.
  3. When acknowledged, step into the group. You’re in like Flynn! Step in confidently and introduce yourself. If you’ve got that one-line summary of who you are that I talked about earlier, now’s the time to use it.
  4. Don’t force a change of subject. You’ve just joined the convo, and you’re not campaigning. Contribute, and let the subject changes come naturally.

Feel free to join me in at any conversational circle I’m in! I always keep an eye on the periphery for people who want to join in, and I’ll invite them.

More tips

Here’s more advice on how to work the room:

  1. Be more of a host and less of a guest. No, you don’t have to worry about scheduling or if the coffee urns are full. By “being a host”, I mean doing some of things that hosts do, such as introducing people, saying “hello” to wallflowers and generally making people feel more comfortable. Being graceful to everyone is not only good karma, but it’s a good way to promote yourself. It worked out really well for me; for example, I came to the first DemoCamp (a regular Toronto tech event back in the 2000s) as a guest, but by the third one, I was one of the people officially hosting the event.
  2. Beware of “rock piles”. Rock piles are groups of people huddled together in a closed formation. It sends the signal “go away”. If you find yourself in one, try to position yourself to open up the formation.
  3. Beware of “hotboxing”. I’ve heard this term used in counter-culture settings, but in this case “hotboxing” means to square your shoulders front-and-center to the person you’re talking to. It’s a one-on-one version of the rock pile, and it excludes others from joining in. Once again, the cure for hotboxing is to change where you’re standing to allow more people to join in.
  4. Put your stuff down. Carrying your bag or other stuff is a non-verbal cue that you’re about to leave. If you’re going to stay and chat, put them down. When you’re about to leave, take your stuff and start saying your goodbyes.
  5. Show and tell. Nothing attracts our eyes like shiny, whether it’s an interesting pieces of tech, a new book, a new t-shirt you’re fond of, or even some local knowledge, such a new restaurant, cafe, or bar that just opened. It’s why I carry my accordion around; I think of it as a device that converts curiosity into opportunity (and music as well). Got an interesting thing or idea? Got a neat project that you’ve been working on? Whatever it is, park yourself someplace comfortable in the hallway, show it off and start a conversation!
  6. Save the email, tweets and texts for later, unless they’re important.They’ll draw your attention away from the room and also send the message “go away”.
  7. Mentor. If you’ve got skills in a specific area, share your knowledge. Larry Chiang from GigaOm says that “It transitions nicely from the what-do-you-do-for-work question. It also adds some substance to party conversations and clearly brands you as a person.”
  8. Be mentored. One of the reasons you go to Synapse Summit is to get exposed to new ideas. As I said earlier, learning goes beyond the talks. Try to learn three new things at every event.
  9. Play “conversation bingo”. If there are certain topics that you’d like to learn about or people you’d like to have a conversation with, put them in a list (mental, electronic or paper) of “bingo” words. As you converse at the conference, cross off any of those topics that you cover off the list. This trick forces you to become a more active listener and will help you towards your learning goals. Yelling “BINGO!” when you’ve crossed the last item on the list can be done at your discretion.

The “How to work a room” poster

If you want to learn how to work the room and prefer absorbing your information from graphics, you may find this poster helpful:

Click the poster to see it at full size.

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Try out my Apple Watch app for Synapse Summit 2020!

by Joey deVilla on February 9, 2020

If you have one of these... [Photo of Apple Watch]

...and you’re attending this... [Photo of keynote speech at Synapse Summit]

...then you’ll want this app! [Screenshots of “Big Event 2020” Apple Watch app]

If you read this blog regularly, you might have heard that I’ve got a personal initiative to complete 20 projects in 2020. Here’s the latest one of those projects: an Apple Watch app that shows you the Day 1 and Day 2 schedules of the Synapse Summit 2020 conference, which takes place this Tuesday and Wednesday.

What’s this app all about?

This app — which goes by the name Big Event 2020is as about as simple as it gets. (It had to be simple — I had to start and complete it on Saturday afternoon.)

When you launch it, you’re taken to the main screen, shown below:

Screenshot of the home screen of “Big Event 2020”, showing buttons labeled “Day 1 - Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020”, “Day 2 - Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020”, and “About this app”

Tapping the Day 1 or Day 2 button takes you to a screen listing that day’s events:

Screenshot of “Day 1” screen showing a list of Day 1’s events.

Tapping on an event takes you to a screen with the description of that event:

Screenshot showing details of an event.

The app’s completely independent — the schedule’s built into the app, and it doesn’t connect to any networks. It doesn’t collect any personal information, doesn’t show you any ads, and won’t cost you anything.

If you have an Apple Watch, this app simply puts the schedule for Synapse Summit 2020 on your wrist and always within easy reach. Think of it as my way of contributing to the big event of Tampa Bay’s booming tech/entrepreneur scene.

How do you get this app?

Open the App Store app on your Apple Watch:

Tap the Search button:

You’ll be presented with two ways to search for apps:

These ways are:

  1. Dictation: You can speak the search term.
  2. Scribble: You can write the search term with your finger.

If you really want to feel like you’re living in the high-tech future, go with the first option. Tap Dictation:

Speak the words “Big event twenty twenty” into the watch. The words will appear at the top of the screen as you speak them. Tap Done when the words Big event 2020 appear at the top of the screen.

You’ll be presented with a list of matching results. Big Event 2020 should be the first one:

Tap on the Big Event 2020 result, which will take you to its screen:

Tap on the icon to download and install the app on your watch. When the process is complete, the icon will be replaced by a button labeled OPEN:

Tap the OPEN button to launch the app. You can also launch the app by tapping the icon on the Home screen.

How do you get an app like this for your event?

Drop me a line at joey@joeydevilla.com, and let’s talk!

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It’s going to be a busy week in Tampa Bay, with the Synapse Summit taking place at the start of the week. Even if it weren’t happening, there’d still be lots to do — the scene here is growing in leaps and bounds. Make sure you get out there, catch an event that interests you, learn something, and make connections and friends!

Here’s what’s happening in Tampa Bay this week!

This weekly list is posted as a voluntary service to the Tampa tech community. With the notable exceptions of Tampa iOS Meetup and Coders, Creatives and Craft Beer — both of which I run — most of this information comes from Meetup.com, EventBrite, and other local event announcement sites. I can’t guarantee the accuracy of the dates and times listed here; if you want to be absolutely sure that the event you’re interested in is actually taking place, please contact the organizers!

Monday, February 10

Tuesday, February 11

Wednesday, February 12

Thursday, February 13

Friday, February 14

Saturday, February 15

Sunday, February 16

Do you have an upcoming event that you’d like to see on this list?

If you know of an upcoming event that you think should appear on this list, please let me know!

Join the mailing list!

If you’d like to get this list in your email inbox every week, enter your email address below. You’ll only be emailed once a week, and the email will contain this list, plus links to any interesting news, upcoming events, and tech articles.

Join the Tampa Bay Tech Events list and always be informed of what’s coming up in Tampa Bay!


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If you read only one piece of tech punditry today, make sure it’s Benedict Evans’ slide deck, Tech in 2020: Standing on the shoulders of giants. Evans is a partner at Andreesen Horowitz (a.k.a. a16z), and it’s his job to try and figure out where tech is going next. Despite being 128 slides long, the deck is a quick read thanks to Evans’ concise slide-making style. More importantly: There’s a lot of useful information in them! I’m going to spend this week highlighting some key lessons from this deck.

Today’s lesson: Always bet on the toy.

The S-curve is a recurring image in Evans’ slide deck. S-curves describe a process that starts off slowly, picks up speed in the middle, and slows down near the end. It describes a non-linear growth process that you’ll see everywhere, in both natural and artificial systems.

Evans observes that the adoption of new technologies tends to follow an S-curve. In the beginning, a new technology’s adoption is slow, as it’s considered too silly or toy-like to actually be useful. Then it hits a tipping point where it becomes the hot new thing, and adoption ramps up quickly. Finally, the market for the technology becomes saturated, growth slows, it becomes “old news”, and people ask “What’s next?”.

Consider desktop computing. When it got started in the late 1970s and early 1980s, desktop computers were derided as toys. The fact that the IBM PC was developed by IBM’s Entry-Level Systems division indicates that they thought of the PC was something to tide their lightweight customers over until they were ready for a real computer. We know what happened in the end: people in offices found all sorts of uses for PCs, they became ubiquitous, and now they’re boring.

On slide 7, Evans points out that the history of computing technology has been a series of S-curves, with each S-curve spanning a period of about 15 years. The image above shows slide 7, with annotations that I added to spell out the overall trend. With each technology, the following happens:

  • Size, cost and power consumption decrease
  • Ubiquity, use cases, and power increase

With that in mind, Evans presents four major categories of what could be “The Next Big Thing”, which are:

  1. Frontier tech
    • Quantum computing
    • New battery chemistry
    • Neural interfaces
    • Autonomy
    • AR optics
  2. Important but narrow
    • Drones
    • IoT
    • Voice
    • Wearables
    • Robotics
    • eSports
    • 3D printing
    • VR
    • Micro-satellites
  3. Structural learning
    • Crypto?
    • 3G / 4G / 5G
    • Cloud, still
  4. The next platform?
    • AR glasses?

Note that all of these technologies are easily dismissable as “toys”, “silly”, or “not yet ready for the real world” — for now. If you want to be ready for the upcoming 15-year S-curve, make sure that you’re keeping an eye on trends in these areas, or similar topics.

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Welcome to the second month of 2020!

January has come and gone, and it’s been a busy month for me. Among other things, I’ve been working on an update to the book on iOS programming that I co-authored, gave a presentation with Anitra on iOS usability, met with a number of people who’ve moved to the Tampa Bay area and whom you’ll hear about soon, held the first Coders, Creatives, and Craft Beer meetup of the year, got an offer to head up a high-profile tech event this summer, cheered on friends at the LaunchCode graduation ceremony, wrote my first Apple Watch app, attended a brand-new meetup — and those are just my extracurriculars!

After having been there since September, I suppose I should stop referring to the mobile developer position at Lilypad as “the new gig,” and it’s both fun and challenging. While I’ve always been able to fit programming into the jobs I’ve had for the previous dozen years — CTO, developer evangelist, marketer, project manager, and product owner — it’s nice to be able to get my hands dirty in the nitty-gritty of the code and directly turning ideas into working software that’s out there, being used by people to get their job done. It’s also great working with a very product-oriented team in a company that’s undergoing a big transformation and on an upward trajectory.

I hope your January was as productive and fun as mine. If you’re looking to kickstart your after-work time — and possibly your career — be sure to check out the tech, entrepreneur, and nerd events taking place right here in the Tampa Bay area! It’s things after-work events, networking, and learning that metros that once had moribund tech scenes have transformed themselves into tech powerhouses. I saw this during my time in Toronto, and I see the same elements coalescing here in Tampa Bay. It’s up to us to #MakeItTampaBay!

Monday, February 3

Tuesday, February 4

Wednesday, February 5

Thursday, February 6

Friday, February 7

Saturday, February 8

Sunday, February 9

Do you have an upcoming event that you’d like to see on this list?

If you know of an upcoming event that you think should appear on this list, please let me know!

Join the mailing list!

If you’d like to get this list in your email inbox every week, enter your email address below. You’ll only be emailed once a week, and the email will contain this list, plus links to any interesting news, upcoming events, and tech articles.

Join the Tampa Bay Tech Events list and always be informed of what’s coming up in Tampa Bay!


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Last night, Anitra and I gave Tampa Bay UX Group’s first presentation of 2020: An overview of the accessibility features in iOS 13, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.

A good crowd — including a handful of people new to the Tampa Bay area — were in attendance at the event, which took place at Kforce, who have a very nice meetup space. I’ll have to talk to them about using their space for Tampa iOS Meetup:

Anitra and I tag-teamed for our presentation. She presented from the ux/ui specialist point of view, while I presented from the programmer/implementer angle:

Photo by Beth Galambos. Tap to see at full size.

Here are the slides from our presentation:

We started with a couple of definitions of accessibility:

  • The ISO 9241-20 definition: “The usability of a product, service, environment, or facility by people within the widest range of capabilities.”
  • A more general definition, and a good way of approaching the topic: Accessibility is making your apps usable by all people.

We then provided a set of personas, around which we based the demos:

  1. Jacob, a 32 year-old paralegal who has been blind since birth. As a paralegal, he’s college-educated and writes case law summaries. He lives with a roommate. He’s tech-savvy and an early adopter with the latest gear.
  2. Emily, a 24 year-old college student with cerebral palsy. She finds it difficult to use her hands and has occasional difficulty speaking clearly. She wants to be independent and lives in a small, independent living facility.
  3. Trevor, an 18 year-old student with autism spectrum disorder who is uncomfortable with change. He loves videogames, but strongly prefers ones with which he is familiar. In fact, he prefers having an established routine.
  4. Steven, a 39 year-old graphic artist who is deaf. He is annoyed by accessibility issues, which include video without captions and other systems that require hearing.

Our first demo was of VoiceOver, the gesture-based screen reader. We demonstrated its ability to not only read text on screen, but to facilitate navigation for people who have no or low vision, as well as to describe images — even if no “alt text” is provided. If you’re curious about using VoiceOver, you should check out this quick video guide:

Our second demo was of Voice Control, the new voice command system, which is separate from Siri. It offers an impressive amount of control over your device using only your voice; I was even able to demonstrate playing Wine Crush, a Candy Crush-style app that I wrote from Aspirations Winery, using only my voice. To find out more about Voice Control, see this promotional video from Apple:

We also wanted to show that accessibility can be aided using iOS features that weren’t specifically made for that purpose. We demonstrated this with an app that allows users to click on buttons using a head-tracking user interface based on the face-tracking capability built into Apple’s augmented reality framework:

I’ll post of video of this demo in action soon, but if you’d like to try it out for yourself, you can find it on GitHub: it’s the HeadGazeLib project.

We followed these feature demos with a couple of coding examples, where I showed how you can use SwiftUI’s accessibility features to further enhance the accessibility of your apps:

One of the coding examples from our presentation. Tap to see at full size.

And finally, we closed the presentation with links to the following resources:

We’d like to thank Krissy Scoufis and Beth Galambos for inviting us to present at the Tampa Bay UX Group meetup. They’re a great group that promotes an important — yet often neglected — part of application development, and we’re always happy to take part in their events. We’d also like to thank everyone who attended; you were a great audience with fantastic questions and comments!

More photos from the event

Joey deVilla and Anitra Pavka present to the Tampa Bay UX Group Meetup. Taken January 30, 2020 at Tampa Bay UX Group meetup at the Kforce office in Tampa.

Photo by Krissy Scoufis. Tap to see it at full size.

Joey deVilla and Anitra Pavka present to the Tampa Bay UX Group Meetup. Taken January 30, 2020 at Tampa Bay UX Group meetup at the Kforce office in Tampa.

Photo by Krissy Scoufis. Tap to see it at full size.

Joey deVilla and Anitra Pavka present to the Tampa Bay UX Group Meetup. Taken January 30, 2020 at Tampa Bay UX Group meetup at the Kforce office in Tampa.

Photo by Krissy Scoufis. Tap to see it at full size.

Close-up of the presentation screen, showing Joey deVilla demonstrating the head-tracking app. Taken January 30, 2020 at Tampa Bay UX Group meetup at the Kforce office in Tampa.

Photo by Beth Galambos. Tap to see it at full size.

Close-up of the presentation screen, showing the presentation title slide: 'iPhone accessibility: What's New? by Anitra Pavka and Joey deVilla'. Taken January 30, 2020 at Tampa Bay UX Group meetup at the Kforce office in Tampa.

Photo by Krissy Scoufis. Tap to see it at full size.

Recommended reading

You might also want to check out the other presentations we did at Tampa Bay UX Group’s meetups:

  • Building Augmented Reality Experiences: Our presentation on building AR apps for iOS devices using ARKit
  • Apple TV: Our presentation on building good interfaces for Apple TV apps. I had to attend a work event that evening, so Anitra ended up presenting this one solo.

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