The Appsmiths: Community, Identity, Affect And Ideology Among Cocoa Developers From Next To Iphone

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This dissertation is an ethnographic study, accomplished through semi-structured interviews and participant observation, of the cultural world of third party Apple software developers who use Apple's Cocoa libraries to create apps. It answers the questions: what motivates Apple developers' devotion to Cocoa technology, and why do they believe it is a superior programming environment? What does it mean to be a "good" Cocoa programmer, technically and morally, in the Cocoa community of practice, and how do people become one? I argue that in this culture, ideologies, normative values, identities, affects, and practices interact with each other and with Cocoa technology in a seamless web, which I call a "techno-cultural frame." This frame includes the construction of a developer's identity as a vocational craftsman, and a utopian vision of software being developed by millions of small-scale freelance developers, or "indies," rather than corporations. This artisanal production is made possible by the productivity gains of Cocoa technology, which ironically makes indies dependent on Apple for tools. This contradiction is reconciled through quasi-religious narratives about Apple and Steve Jobs, which enrolls developers into seeing themselves as partners in a shared mission with Apple to empower users with technology. Although Cocoa helps make software production easier, it is not a deskilling technology but requires extensive learning, because its design heavily incorporates patterns unfamiliar to many programmers. These concepts can only be understood holistically after learning has been achieved, which means that learners must undergo a process of conversion in their mindset. This involves learning to trust that Cocoa will benefit developers before they fully understand it. Such technical and normative lessons occur at sites where Cocoa is taught, such as the training company Big Nerd Ranch. Sharing of technical knowledge and normative practices also occurs in the Cocoa community, online through blog posts, at local club meetings, and at conferences such as Apple's WWDC, which help to enroll developers into the Cocoa techno-cultural frame. Apple's relationship with developers is symbiotic, but asymmetrical, yet despite Apple's coercive power, members of the Cocoa community can influence Apple's policies.

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Science & Technology Studies; Apple, Inc.; Cocoa programming


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Pinch,Trevor J

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Prentice,Rachel E.
Kline,Ronald R
Sengers,Phoebe J.

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Science and Technology Studies

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Ph. D., Science and Technology Studies

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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