Do you believe in magic? The making of try! Swift Conference Tokyo 2016


I cannot think of a bigger personal accomplishment than making try! Swift – my very first conference… in Japan… in two languages… with 33 speakers… with 500+ attendees from all over the world – a reality!

Sure, there were AMAZING technical talks and (almost) everything went as planned, but the main reason I’m so proud of this event is the fact that we were able to break language and cultural barriers to create a really great feeling of community in only 3 days.

try! Swift was a pretty crazy impossible idea that I had (even though now it seems obvious as many have pointed out), so I wanted to document the journey about how it happened!

The Why

I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I decided to put on try! Swift assuming I have a smart logical explanation. Or an evil plan to take over the world or something! I’m sorry to disappoint…

Last year, I went on a two-week vacation to Japan to eat Jiro’s sushi and see the amazing cherry blossoms all over Japan – both are experiences I cannot recommend enough! At that time, I knew absolutely NOTHING about Japan. It was so intimidating to me, I hired an expensive travel agent to plan the trip for me and my friend.

I learned that there was nothing to be intimidated about. Japan is AMAZING and I immediately fell in love with it! The food, the culture, the nature, the city, EVERYTHING!!!

For the rest of the year, as I traveled around the world giving talks at different iOS conferences, I couldn’t help but talk about how amazing Japan is. In response, everyone said “I’d go to Japan if there was a conference there….”.

One day, as this conversation happened again (this time on Twitter I think), I just thought – I’ll do it 🚀!!!

So I started by reaching out to all the speakers who said they’d come to Japan if there was a conference there…

@k_katsumi & @realm 💖

In my discussions of Japan and how we should put on a Swift conference there, the amazing Swift ninja @modocache (seriously, Apple just gave him commit access to Swift!!) mentioned that he knew someone in Japan. So when I started planning the conference, @modocache was the first one I went to for advice. He turned me to @k_katsumi, a famous iOS developer in Japan, but I didn’t know that at the time of course!

Also, another surprise! @k_katsumi happens to work for @realm – a mobile-first database company based in San Francisco that hosts the best Swift meetup in the world – I attended and spoke there several times when I lived in San Francisco.

In the meantime, I also asked @realm’s Swift lead @simjp to speak at try! Swift, since he’s one of the best Swift developers I know out there! Another speaker that was recommended to me, @TimOliverAU – also happens to work at @realm. Seriously – they only hire the best!

With all this, @realm reached out to me more officially and we talked about them getting more heavily involved in organizing try! Swift – with @k_katsumi being the main organizer! The cool part was that they really wanted to get their hands dirty and do the actual work to organize the event – not just throw money at me to do it. It was a win-win partnership and try! Swift couldn’t have happened without @realm!


If I knew what I know now about organizing try! Swift, I wouldn’t have gone ahead and actually done it! Sometimes, naïveté works in your favor like that.

For example, when I started planning the try! Swift budget, I assumed conference tickets would cost the same as they do at conferences I’ve been to in the U.S. and Europe. @k_katsumi very soon told me that that’s not the case in Japan!

In Japan, conferences cost as little as $65 for attendees. $250 is the upper-end, highest-possible cost for a conference there 😬 In addition, the translation service cost triple of what I expected it to cost! Oh, and most companies don’t pay for travel costs for their own engineers to speak at conferences (special 🤗 to supportive companies that do!)!

So that’s just some of the little snags that came up when reality hit…

@cjwirth & @tasanobu & Cyber Agent, Inc 💖

Just as the situation looked hopeless, I met @cjwirth at Swift Summit San Francisco. @cjwirth works for a company in Japan called Cyber Agent, Inc. When I mentioned to him that I’m planning try! Swift and that we need a bigger venue to make it happen (the original venue we had in mind was for only 200 people!), he said that Cyber Agent has an event space for 500 and he could ask if we could use it!

Soon, @cjwirth and @tasanobu joined me and @k_katsumi as organizers of try! Swift. @tasanobu did a lot of work to help translate everything we needed (including speaker bios and attendee communication emails!) from English to Japanese, keeping the time and costs down even further!

I cannot overstate how much Cyber Agent has helped in making try! Swift happen – not only by providing us with a free venue for that many people and becoming an official sponsor, but also by providing the most impressive, hard-working volunteers. Thanks @tasanobu again for organizing all the venue details and volunteers! try! Swift couldn’t have happened without Cyber Agent.

Relying on Others

I’ve never organized a conference before… oh and I’ve only been to Japan for two weeks in my life up to that point… oh and I don’t speak Japanese… All of these things meant that I had to heavily rely on other people – many of whom I didn’t know – to make try! Swift happen (I only met @k_katsumi and @tasanobu in person in January after months of working with them)!

That means @k_katsumi had to the work of getting much-needed sponsors on board – he did a great job! And communicating with them. Also, many attendees needed visas, so that’s not something I could have done. And then there’s the food – @cjwirth & @tasanobu were the ones who had ideas and organized all the conference food. And that’s just part of the work they all did that I just couldn’t have done! And they did an incredible job!

Also, a special thanks to @chriseidhof for jumping on a Skype call with me and giving me great tips from his experience starting UIKonf and Functional Swift Conf and being there as a supporter for try! Swift in general. And a big thank you to @erikpub – one of the organizers of Django Under The Hood – for giving me amazingly detailed tips, including this Less Obvious Conference Checklist.

Usually, relying on others is the hardest thing for me to do – I’m big on getting things done and getting them done quick, and usually on my own! But working with @k_katsumi, @cjwirth, and @tasanobu, I found that I did not have to stress or worry about things getting done at all – I knew they would get them done (and done well!). If you ever get a chance to work with any one of them, do it!

Building the Community

One of my favorite conferences from last year was NSSpain. It is held in this super tiny city called Logroño in the middle of nowhere – seriously, it takes 4 hours to get there from a major city! But since it was in a tiny town, it was a common experience to bump into others randomly all the time! Especially when pintxos tasting! This created a sense of close community – and I wanted that type of feeling to be present at try! Swift.

The first and biggest barrier was cultural. As I sent out several speaker emails leading up to the conference, I included different cultural tips about Japan. In retrospect, I wish I sent that out to all international attendees! Similarly, @k_katsumi wrote a beautiful blog post How to Enjoy try! Swift 2016 200% with tips for Japanese attendees on how to interact with foreigners. In it, he included a section titled “Let’s talk to people”, creating a social expectations of talking to others! I was really excited and grateful to see this blog post!

To start the socializing before the conference even began, we added EVERYONE to the try! Swift Slack. Soon, social leaders such as @mattdelves emerged and started planning impromptu dinners and lunches and excursions. @phillfarrugia even organized a sunrise trip to Tokyo’s fish market (I highly recommend doing this if you’re ever in Tokyo!).

The Slack channel also became the place where internal jokes emerged! When many of the speakers included Pokemon references in their talks, this became a running joke in the Slack channel!

At one point, someone accidentally called @TimOliverAU -> Tom, so this happened…

And of course, during the conference, we had several in-person social events including:

  • The try! Swift International Reception hosted by Pivotal Labs Tokyo for everyone coming from abroad to Japan for try! Swift! We had about 150 attendees arrive from countries including Australia, Ukraine, Italy, Russia, The Netherlands, Lebanon, India, Romania, Taiwan, Colombia, South Korea, Philippines (26 students flew in just for the conference!) & more! Before the official reception started, we watched the sunset 🌇 and saw a dancing cube.
  • The Speaker Dinner included speakers, sponsors, and volunteers. This was followed by an amazing Karaoke 🎤 party with both English and Japanese attendees! I cannot overstate how magical this was!
  • The try! Swift Celebration was a big party on the last night of the conference for everyone!

The best and most rewarding part of the conference was right before the party. As we were finishing up our final closing announcements, @koher took the stage (translated by @cjwirth) and gave the most beautiful speech about how we might all be shy and afraid to go outside of our inner circle, but for the party tonight, everyone should make an effort to try to speak to each other!

A system was immediately created where members of the community who could speak both Japanese and English would wear the below sticker, so everyone would know to approach them to facilitate the conversation between Japanese and English speakers!

As I walked through the party that night, I couldn’t help but feel an tremendous sense of accomplishment as I saw the diverse conversation groups that have formed. Everyone was talking to each other, across languages and across cultures. It was absolutely beautiful.

try? Swift 2017

We are still reeling off the excitement and after-work of try! Swift 2016…

But we’d love to let you know about try! Swift 2017 when we know more 🙂 In the meantime, leave us your email if you want to be the first one to be notified about our try! Swift 2017 plans!


try! Swift happened as a result of an impossible dream, passion, and a magical series of events that have connected me with the amazing @k_katsumi, @cjwirth, @tasanobu and grew into an amazing community that we could only have dreamed of!

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