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Snow*Mobiling in Madtown: Mobile development conference draws interest from far and wide

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Chances are, Smith and Erik Schwartz are living your dream. And with the rise of remote workplaces, there’s a fair chance you won’t be far behind.

Thanks to a communications and computer technology explosion that’s famously shrunk our globe in the last two decades, the Schwartzes are now globetrotters, able to embrace the sort of rootless, carefree, bohemian lifestyle that once seemed all but incompatible with keeping gainful employment.

About a year ago, the couple unloaded the Chicago apartment they had lived in for 10 years, sold most of their stuff, and set out for a life on the road. They started out in Argentina, traveled through Uruguay, Panama, and Costa Rica, and found their way back to the states via New Orleans.

“What’s turned into our mission … is to show people that Madison is a creative and technical community that can compete with a Portland or an Austin.” – Jim Remsik, co-owner, Bendyworks

When IB caught up with Smith, a speaker at the upcoming Snow*Mobile Conference at Union South in Madison, she was in Kauai with her husband, vacationing under a brilliant morning sun as we hardy Wisconsinites toiled gamely under a slate gray January sky.

But that doesn’t mean Smith and her husband are spending all their days sipping mai tais and swimming with sea turtles. Despite living a nomadic lifestyle (Smith refers to herself as a “digital nomad”), the two are fully employed. Before setting out on their adventure, Erik held onto his job as a developer and partner with Chicago’s Table XI, and Smith is currently a freelance front-end mobile developer and designer.

“We’ve just been kind of working and living on the road, and I think that also relates quite a bit to mobile development and how websites go from being these huge, large-scale Web applications to being small enough to fit on your phone,” said Smith Schwartz, who also writes a column called Well-Designed Travel at ApartmentTherapy.com. “And that’s kind of what I feel that our lives have been.”

Schwartz says that to function in their work, all they really need is “a really good wi-fi connection and a coffee source,” but newer technologies (such as Skype and Google Hangout) have also enhanced their work experience – alleviating some of the isolation that can be part of working remotely.

Without a doubt, however, mobile technology has made the couple’s travels easier.

“There are certainly lots of great travel apps out there that have helped us that are very region-specific,” said Schwartz. “We just got a Kauai app yesterday that we’re excited about that shows us where to eat, where to go, and what hike is best. It makes you so you don’t have to bring around these big travel books, you don’t have to bring maps with you. You look less like a tourist.”

Snow*Mobiling in the city

Smith’s presentation – which will examine the parallels between a trimmed-down, vagabond lifestyle and the ways in which successful apps streamline websites into their basic components – represents just a small taste of the smorgasbord of offerings visitors to the Feb. 15-16 Snow*Mobile Conference can expect.

Jim Remsik, co-owner of Bendyworks, who is organizing the conference along with his wife, Jenifer, said the impetus for the event was to allow people interested in the explosion of mobile devices and device platforms – and in how they’re affecting our interactions – to network and contribute to an exhilarating free flow of ideas.

“The conference itself doesn’t have a tremendous amount of focus,” said Jim Remsik. “It’s platform-agnostic and device-agnostic. If we’re focusing on anything, it’s the landscape of mobile devices at the moment. So the one thing that we’re trying to do is show the sorts of problems that people are solving within the industry and showcase the interesting things that people are doing. …

“I think the reason for a conference like this is to keep yourself up to date and to get networked with people who have similar passions, and really the people are the reason to go to the conference.”

Of course, just because the conference doesn’t focus exclusively on one particular topic doesn’t mean there’ll be nothing worthwhile to focus on. Highlights will include everything from a sighted and blind developer discussing how mobile devices have aided the blind community to a neuroscientist’s take on how to drive key metrics in mobile apps using contemporary research on the human brain and behavior.

Another presentation, by Tim Kadlec, an independent Web developer from northern Wisconsin and the author of Implementing Responsive Design, seems to dovetail somewhat with the Schwartzes’ experience. Kadlec will discuss how mobile technologies are changing lives around the world by “providing connectivity to people who wouldn’t have it otherwise, and empowering everyone from your next door neighbor to farmers in Kenya.”

The conference will also touch on some of the challenges involved in programming in a world that refuses to sit still.

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