The Epicenter of Change

We’d been waiting a while by this point. Some of us had been here for hours, others anticipating this day for weeks or months. In my place among hundreds of rows and columns of chairs, I became fully aware of the gravity this moment held for me. To the chorus of applause drawn by the man on stage, I fumbled with my phone, frantically trying to capture this instant in time to one day show my daughter — “Look, sweetie, your dad was there.”

I also felt conflicted, acutely mindful of the absurdity which underpinned my feelings of awe. This was a tech conference, and in spite of needing to win a lottery just to have a chance at buying a ticket, it’s a conference that in recent years easily draws a sellout crowd from around the world. We’d awoken early, lined up for hours, and were eventually herded into a large, dark room. Here we’d be shown technology that would baffle, inspire and empower software engineers for the coming 52 weeks. I was there thanks to my gracious employer, as part of my job. For most in the room, this was “work”.

I’ve forever been an admirer of the design philosophy behind Apple’s products, and have shown no restraint when given the opportunity to praise the purity of their products. While I’ve found their software to be occasionally less elegant, it is still the superior option in my eyes. Certain iterations of their hardware will forever live on my shelves as examples of how thoughtful design can transform an industry. I’ll be the first to admit new technology of any flavour piques my interest, and to be at the unveiling of Apple’s latest work was in its own right exhilarating.

The announcements and spectacle did not cause me to draw my phone from my pocket to snap that photo, however. The individual on stage, while inspirational in his own right, didn’t cause my reverie. It’s an undisputed fact Apple has changed the world of personal computing, but I was more interested in the many, many lives that have also been changed as a result — my own included. Technology is largely meaningless without people to use it. As a software experience designer, Apple has had an immense amount of influence on my work in the past decade — both in the tools I use and the way I use them. I guess it was a culmination of both the respect I have for what they’ve accomplished and the opportunities to come which gave me pause.

This year I built and released a video game nearly 1.5M people around the globe played. The child who ran home after school every day to play Mario was given the tools (and distribution!) needed to inspire hundreds of thousands of kids around the world. Yesterday I sat in a session which detailed how to properly design and engineer software that would run on a wristwatch. I learned about APIs that would let me close my window blinds, or monitor my heartbeat. I get to work with a talented team of designers and engineers every day to bring an open, free web to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

These experiences have led to unforgettable moments in my life. I am not a person of any great influence, yet have been able to share ideas and art with others around the world in ways even one generation before mine would have found difficult to do. Musicians, artists and storytellers no longer need publishers or record deals. Like no other time in history, I have the culmination of the world’s experience and knowledge at my fingertips — and I am not alone. Our generation is better equipped than ever to utilize this power for great change.

This gets me excited; these are the things which inspire me to work hard. I believe software can change the world. I was thrilled to see a group of young developers invited on a scholarship program — I know enabling the next generation of minds to not only dream and think big, but to be able to experiment and implement, is crucial. Apple is not alone either, but one of many organizations seeking to inspire and foster a new generation of creativity and innovation. While the open-sourcing of Swift 2.0 or the unveiling of iOS9 won’t likely go down in history as watershed moments of mobile computing, it was still a very memorable experience to be there. This technology has changed my life, and it’s bound to transform many more.

This week was primarily a tactical one, filled with technical sessions and in-depth conversations about new APIs and ideas. Maybe it was all the energy around me, or the chance to step back from the ordered chaos of my usual routine, but I’ll leave full of excitement and with a rekindled curiosity of what’s to come.

I’m well aware pulling out that snapshot in ten or twenty years will not bear the significance I had hoped it would. At best, it will spark in me some fond memory of this point in my life – and maybe I’ll laugh at how we once carried computers in our pockets and wore them on our wrists. My daughter will likely glance quickly at the blurry, unidentifiable man on the stage and say something like, “Oh, that’s cool.”

But maybe, just maybe, she’ll mean it.

Awkward Silence

First published Jun 2015