Dutch technology blogger embeds with Big Nerd Ranch Europe

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One More Thing writer spends a week at bootcamp, sharing his journey

****Jan David Hanrath, co-founder of One More Thing, a popular blog serving the Dutch Apple community, spent a week at Big Nerd Ranch Europe bootcamp to become an iOS developer. He blogged daily about his experience, which we’ve translated from its original Dutch.

If you’re interested in attending a bootcamp at Big Nerd Ranch Europe, check out the class schedule here. New courses are added all the time, and include Android, Beginning iOS, Advanced iOS, OpenGL and HTML5.

Part 1: Friday

After a week of intensive private preparation in Italy, the training is going to happen in the next seven days. Eight hours of training a day by Big Nerd Ranch coach Bolot Kerimbaev should make me an iOS developer at the end of the week.

With some basic and well-aged programming experience in Visual Basic and ASP and, more recently, a bit of playing around with PHP, I dive into the world of Objective-C, Xcode and Cocoa (Touch) by following the Beginning iOS course, which consists of two days Objective-C and 5 days iOS. Conference Hotel Villa Heidebad in the ‘Veluwe’ forest should create an environment without the distraction of mobile phones because it is in the middle of a black spot of all mobile networks.

Luckily, Wi-Fi is available, so I can share my experience on One More Thing by blogging about it on a daily basis. Friday night at dinner, I met my 13 fellow students from six different countries. From The Netherlands and Lithuania to England and Abu Dhabi. In addition to writing about the training, I will try to dive into their backgrounds and app plans.

In seven days we will know whether I have made it and whether Rens – the developer of our own One More Thing app – has some competition... Stay tuned!

Part 2 - Saturday

Day 1 of the Objective-C part at Big Nerd Ranch is over. After a brief introduction on how your code uses the computer’s memory we dive straight into Objective-C. Instances, objects, inheritance, common foundation classes, they all come by at a fast pace.

The training is called ‘Beginning’ Objective-C/iOS, but some basic programming experience is an absolute requirement. My week of private preparation pays off immediately. My only concern is that in one day of training half of my preparation has been used up, which is promising for the rest of the week! Fortunately, you can pretty well build upon stuff if you understand some basic concepts.

Instructor Bolot takes the time for anyone who needs extra attention and ensures that everybody stays connected. An excellent lunch, followed by an anti-lunch-walk through the forests of Epe helps us to stay alert for the afternoon part of the training.

My fellow nerds, all men ranging in age from 25 to 56, are self-employed or work for large companies like Philips, PWC and Booz Allen Hamilton. Most have experience with one or more programming languages and develop on a daily basis. For most of them the first day goes by quite easily.

Bolot demonstrates the Objective-C sign.

As an architect (indeed, bricks instead of bits) in real life, I probably won’t be developing on a daily basis, but knowledge of the principles of app development provides opportunities and will bring me onto new paths and ideas. It will also make it easier for me to communicate with app developers and who knows what that will mean for the One More Thing app.

Part 3 - Monday

An important visitor today in Epe. Aaron Hillegass, founder of Big Nerd Ranch and author of books on Objective C, Cocoa and iOS, makes a brief visit to Villa Heidebad over lunch to see how we are doing and to personally check whether the location lives up to his expectations.

It’s not something he does for all his overseas classes, but Big Nerd Ranch Europe is so young that he has not seen it with his own eyes. Due to the increasing popularity of iOS and Mac, Big Nerd Ranch grows rapidly. Besides Europe, Aaron is setting up training facilities in Sydney and Mexico City. The ultimate goal is to offer training and consulting at locations worldwide with a travel distance of maximum four hours.

Before Aaron started Big Nerd Ranch, he worked as a trainer at NeXT. He was involved in OpenStep, the operating system developed for Sun after NeXT had stopped making their own hardware. When NeXT was purchased by the ailing Apple, Aaron moved with Steve Jobs, Scott Forstall, Craig Federighi and a lot of other colleagues to Cupertino.

Working at Apple wasn’t that challenging for Aaron, so he jumped into a gap that Apple itself left: to start Big Nerd Ranch and provide training for Apple users and businesses. In the difficult years of Apple it paid the bills, but with the increasing popularity of Mac OS X (based on the NeXT operating system) it went gradually better. But since the launch of iPhone and the iPhone SDK, Big Nerd Ranch is on a roller coaster that seems unstoppable.

Aaron takes a bite of apple.

After eating a famous Dutch ‘kroket’, Aaron rushes to the airport and we go on with the training under the expert guidance of Bolot. After two days of Objective-C, we move on to our first experiments with the iOS SDK: magically adding a UITabBar to the screen by using code.

Did I mention that it feels quite magical when you see your first app appear on the screen of your own iPhone?

Part 4 - Wednesday

After all the product introductions by Apple (iPad mini and 4th generation iPad) on Tuesday and, as a consequence, an afternoon and evening distraction because I had to present the OMT LIVE talk show from The Hague, it's time for my fifth day of training in the expert hands of Big Nerd Ranch.

My 13 fellow students and I progress steadily on the Beginning iOS course. After a weekend completely dedicated to Objective-C, the language of Mac OS X and iOS, we dive into the iOS software development kit that builds upon Objective-C.

After we learned how the interface is connected with the code (outlets), a number of built-in methods for using the maps functionality in your own app and methods that use various sensors in the iPhone, we started with an application that became increasingly complex along the way. We started with a simple white table with black text (UITableView), added methods to retrieve, add, delete and sort rows, added a screen (UIViewController) to edit the values in the list and added a camera function to add photos to the information. Finally we integrated Core Data, so the information would be stored permanently in a SQLite database on the iPhone.

The story above is an extremely brief summary of the information provided by instructor Bolot. Fortunately it is also bundled in the first 350 pages of the iOS Programming textbook.

Lunch and dinner are welcome and tasty interruptions. The portions are small but refined. Just right when you sit still all day and burn only a few calories.

’Roodbaars’ for lunch.

One of the students was Laurence Gooch, 30 years old, from England. He had just graduated from the artificial intelligence and computer science program at the University of Edinburgh and follows the Big Nerd Ranch training because he will develop an iOS app for Recycled Renewables, a parts supplier in wind turbine components. They search for a better way to do their inventory management and iOS should provide the solution.

Objective-C is new to him, but with his background, the object-oriented principles of programming are fully grasped. He has prepared for this week with the free iTunesU classes from Stanford University and the Objective-C programming book by Aaron Hillegass that I also used.

After lunch, we start moving objects around the screen (core animation), we draw a line with one and then with more fingers (multi-touch and core graphics) and miraculously at the end of the day we are ahead of schedule. That means more time for storyboards and web services tomorrow.

Part 5 - Friday

This is the last update with my experiences as an iOS developer in development, following the Beginning iOS training of Big Nerd Ranch in Epe, The Netherlands. It has been a very intensive week. Six-and-a-half days from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the expert hands of trainer Bolot Kerimbaev.

After making multilingual apps, reading XML and JSON feeds from web servers and setting up local caching to avoid extensive mobile data usage, iCloud integration is also discussed. Summarized in one sentence, it might not look like much, but with all the information processed in the previous days, my head is now really full.

After this week of training and one week of individual preparation, the big question is whether I can make my own apps. After explaining the principles of Objective-C, the training guides you through a lot of frameworks and classes – the building blocks for your apps – and shows you how to use them. I understand the principles and how they work, but to find out when to use which method will still prove to be a challenge, but that has to do with my limited programming experience and not with the training. It is essential to know your way around the extensive documentation by Apple and for the rest it, of course, practice makes perfect.

For me, this means I will reserve a few hours every week to start on a project of my own, backed up by the extensive documentation of Big Nerd Ranch and Apple. It is certainly nice to know that I can contact Bolot after the training when I get stuck.

The time I invested this week was time well spent!

The Nerds of Beginning iOS training.

If my experiences have made you curious, then you should know that Big Nerd Ranch has its own office and trainers in Amsterdam. If you have questions, please contact Marcel Speller, the driving force behind Big Nerd Ranch Europe.

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