Hello from Big Nerd Ranch!

[Editors note: Big Nerd Ranch has sponsored two posts on 9to5mac allowing readers to go to Nerd Camp for free]

Hello, 9to5mac readers.

It is a privilege and honor to be invited to provide a few guest blog postings for 9to5mac.

I imagine the following has been a common experience of many of you: you wake up one day with an idea for an iPhone or iPad app that you would just love to see. Checking the App Store, you realize, to your happy amazement, “Hmmm, there ISN’T an app for that.” And in that thought is born the dream of some how, some place, some time creating iOS apps of your own.

If you’re someone like that, or someone who can imagine having that sort of experience, then my blog entries this week might be of special interest to you. That’s because I will be reporting to you about my experiences at Big Nerd Ranch, one of the premiere facilities for training in iOS application development. Big Nerd Ranch was founded 10 years ago by Aaron Hillegass, who has written or co-written books that are widely considered to be bibles of Mac and iOS programming. “The Ranch” is the sort of place that might one day help your iOS app dream to become a reality.

I’m writing to you this evening from my log cabin at the Ranch, after a coding- filled first day of Big Nerd Ranch’s iOS Bootcamp. I’m particularly fortunate to be able to attend the Bootcamp, as it is part of the benefit of my having been designated the winner of Big Nerd Ranch’s “Mobile for Greater Good” contest, a competition that solicited proposals for an app that benefits some charitable organization. I feel richly blessed to have been chosen for the honor and the opportunity to create a charity-minded app in consultation with the Big Nerd Ranch experts.

The iOS Bootcamp is one of Big Nerd Ranch’s most popular courses. It offers the aspiring iOS programmer a five-day, comprehensive look at every aspect of the iOS app-writing experience.

And I do mean comprehensive. By the end of their week of classes, Bootcampers have knowledge of all the basic tools needed to create just about any iOS app. Amassing that body of information and skills requires each day to be scheduled to the brim with programming sessions: what amounts to a semester course’s worth of info is being packed into five days. Following a hearty breakfast at 8:30 a.m., bootcamp class sessions begin at 9:00 a.m. and extend right up to 6:30 p.m., with breaks only for lunch and a short afternoon nature hike. And then after dinner, many students continue coding and working through programming exercises well into the evening hours.

It’s a testament to the structure of classes and the skill of my iOS Bootcamp’s instructor, Joe Conway, that the day of classes does not feel nearly as long as it may appear. By profession, I’m a philosophy professor, so I can certainly appreciate how difficult it is for students– any students, young or old– to maintain attention and concentration for long periods of time. I’ve found that what’s key to keeping students engaged is making the learning sessions interactive. Big Nerd Ranch’s classes have capitalized marvelously on that lesson. Following short but clear and informative lectures by Joe Conway, we students get the chance to put the information from the lectures to good use in the writing of short apps sharply focused on the new programming techniques. It’s a good thing we have those hands-on experiences– not only do they keep all of us engaged, but they help us better to absorb the tidal wave of great info we’re getting exposed to.

Here’s a photo of the classroom where the coding magic happens!

The well-timed afternoon nature hike is also a welcome respite to recharge the ole programming batteries. And there are few more scenic locales in which to take such a break from coding. Big Nerd Ranch’s US bootcamps are located on the grounds of Historic Banning Mills, a paper-mill-turned-retreat-center about a 50-minute drive southwest of Atlanta, Georgia. The lodge and surrounding cabins are situated on the top of a pine-crested ravine, at the bottom of which is a picturesque creek with small rapids. I’m writing this entry now from the balcony behind my cabin, looking out over the ravine. Here’s a picture of how things look from here:

… and a pic of the historic paper mill:

Such a wooded, remote environment provides an ideal location for a distraction- free learning environment. It also fosters in the Bootcamp attendees a general sense of peace and quiet that keeps all of us here feeling well-rested and energized despite the dense schedule of lessons.

Speaking of dense schedule, I’m afraid this entry is all the time I have for this evening, as I need to look over some course material for tomorrow’s class. Good evening to you all, and more on my Big Nerd Ranch experiences to appear on 9to5mac soon!


Update:  August 19th

Hi again, 9to5mac readers.

After giving you a general sense of Big Nerd Ranch’s iOS Bootcamp in my last entry, I’d like to devote this one to a bit narrower topic: who might optimally benefit from the Bootcamp, what sort of preparation you should have before coming, and how– if you have that preparation– you will thrive here. Even in just the two days I’ve been here, I’ve gained a boatload of knowledge that I didn’t previously have. But to be in a position to acquire that know-how from the iOS Bootcamp, I think it’s important that you’ve already had at least some programming experience: preferably, some experience with an object-oriented programming language– most optimally, Objective-C, the object-oriented programming language that is the lingua franca of iOS and Mac software development. Without that prior experience, you’ll likely be hanging on for dear life in navigating the rapids of the Accelerated 5 day iOS Bootcamp. More likely than not, you’ll be washed out to the proverbial programming sea. The Big Nerd Ranch folks do offer a 7 day course for folks who need an Objective-C primer and studying in advance both iOS Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide (second edition) and Aaron Hillegass’s upcoming Objective-C Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide (to be released in October) could put you in a better position to handle the exhilarating rigors of iOS Bootcamp.

Having said all that, I want to emphasize that the challenging demands of iOS Bootcamp are in no way due to any defect in the course itself. On the contrary, for those who HAVE had some acquaintance with object-oriented coding (as I myself have had), iOS Bootcamp is programming nirvana. As I mentioned in my last post, the high quality of my experience this week is largely due to the course structure and to the skill of the Bootcamp’s instructor, Joe Conway. In my previous entry, I noted that Big Nerd Ranch’s founder, Aaron Hillegass, has written or co-written some of the most important texts in Mac and iOS programming. Well, Joe Conway is the other half of that writing team, having co- authored with Aaron the extremely popular (and extremely good!) text, iOS Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide. That text, in fact, is the underlying course of instruction for the iOS Bootcamp. In the class sessions, Joe adeptly guides us through the text, demonstrating a commitment to the kind of clear and articulate exposition that pervades the book.

Every question put to Joe by the sharp group of programmers here is one that he has been able to answer in a lucid and illuminating way. In fact, having the opportunity to ask questions of an iOS expert like Joe is, I think, one of the most valuable parts of the iOS Bootcamp. Joe has a way with colorful metaphors that effectively shed light on important concepts in iOS software design. As just one example…. memory management in iOS is one area that takes some getting used to for those not familiar with iOS. Joe’s image of a dog being “en-leashed” by multiple “owners” is quite useful in describing the way that programming objects should acquire and give up the ownership of other objects held in an iOS device’s memory.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add that Joe’s general casual affability, his great enthusiasm for his teaching, and his sharp wit make each class session an altogether pleasurable experience. As an instructor myself, I know how those qualities can make or break a course; Joe has a buffer overflow of ’em (much to our benefit). I also know the amount of time and effort that must go into preparing for teaching. It’s quite obvious from the quality of the class sessions that Joe has invested considerable energy in making sure the classes are optimally tuned for producing good results in his students.

While the week continues to be jam-packed with programming goodness, I imagine I will have the time later this week for at least one more report to you “from the cabin” here at Big Nerd Ranch. Until then, happy computing!

Written by Chad Mohler Aug 18, 2011

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