Monday, March 30, 2009

WWDC First Time Guide

Simon Wolf suggested via Twitter that I write up some info for first timers to WWDC. There are plenty of people who have been going longer. Heck, I can think of a few people I follow on Twitter who have been going since it was held in San Jose, and at least one who remembers when it was just called the Apple Spring Developers Conference. The event changes from year to year, and the only constants seem to be that the event gets bigger, and the bags get worse.

So, I don't want to pass myself off as an expert here, at least relative to several others I can think of. But I can think of a few pointers that may help first-timers.
  1. Do not lose your badge. If you lose it, you are done. You will spend your time crying on the short steps in front of Moscone West while you watch everyone else go in to get edumacated. Sure, you'll still be able to attend the after-hours and unofficial goings-on (except the Thursday night party, which is usually a blast), but you'll miss out on the really important stuff. No amount of begging or pleading will get you a replacement badge, and since they're likely to sell out, no amount of money will get you another one, either. And that would suck. Treat it like gold. When I'm not in Moscone West or somewhere else where I need the badge, I put it in my backpack, clipped to my backpack's keyper (the little hook designed to hold your keys so they don't get lost in the bottom of your bag).

  2. Eat your fill. They will feed you two meals a day, you're on your own for dinner. Breakfast starts a half-hour before the first session, and it's probably going to be a continental breakfast - fruit, pastries, juice, coffee, donuts, toast, and those round dinner rolls that Californians think are bagels, but really aren't. If you're diabetic or need to eat gluten-free, you probably want to eat before-hand. Lunch used to be (IIRC) a hot lunch, but last year they were boxed lunches. They were pretty good as far as boxed lunches go, but they were boxed lunches. I know a lot of people choose to go to a nearby restaurant during the lunch break, which is pretty long - at least 90 minutes.

  3. Party hard (not that you have a choice). There are lots of official and unofficial events in the evening. There's usually a CocoaHeads meeting at the Apple Store. It fills up crazy fast, so go early if you go. It's usually on Tuesday, and it's usually competing with several other parties, but it starts earlier than most events and finishes early enough for people to go to other parties when it's done. Best bet is to follow as many iPhone and Mac devs on Twitter that you can - the unofficial gatherings happen at various places downtown, often starting with a few "seed crystal" developers stopping for a drink and tweeting their whereabouts. The unofficial, spontaneous gatherings can be really fun and a great opportunity. The parties often start before WWDC - there are usually a few on Sunday, and there have been ones as early as Saturday before. The Harlot at 111 Minna is a common place for parties, as are Jillians in the Metreon, and the Thirsty Bear on Howard. There are other common spots that escape me right now, but as we get closer, there will be lists and calendars devoted to all the events and parties. Some are invite-only, but many are first-come, first-serve. Although there's a lot of drinking going on, these are worth attending even if you don't drink. Great people, great conversations... completely good times.

  4. Take good notes. You are going to be drinking knowledge from a firehose there. The information will come at you fast and furious. As an attendee, you will get all the session videos on ADC on iTunes, but it takes months and months before they become available, so the things you need to know now, write down.

  5. Labs rule. If you're having a problem, find an appropriate lab. One of the concierges at any of the labs can tell you exactly which teams and/or which Apple employees will be at which labs when. If you're having an audio problem, you can easily stalk the Core Audio team until they beat the information into your skull, for example (that example is from personal experience - those guys are awesome, by the way). It's unstructured, hands-on time with the people who write the frameworks and applications. People start remembering the labs later in the week it seems, but early on, you can often get an engineer all to yourself.

  6. Buddy up, divide and conquer There will be at least a few times when you want to be at more than one presentation at the same time. Find someone who's attending one and go to the other (Twitter is a good way to find people), then share your notes.

  7. Make sure to sleep on the plane. You won't get many other chances once you get there. Everybody is ragged by Friday, some of us even earlier. Everyone remains surprisingly polite given how sleep-deprived and/or hungover people are.

  8. Thanks your hosts. The folks at Apple - the engineers and evangelists who give the presentations and staff the labs, kill themselves for months to make WWDC such a great event. So, do your mother proud and remember your manners. Say thank you when someone helps you, or even if they don't. And if you see one of them at an after hours event, it's quite alright to buy them a beer to say thanks.

  9. Remember you're under NDA. This one is hard, especially for me. We see so much exciting amazing stuff that week that it's natural to want to tweet it, blog it, or even tell the guy handing out advertisements for strip joints on the corner all about it. Don't. Everything, from morning to night except the Keynote and the Thursday night party are under NDA.

  10. Brown Bag it. Most days there are "brown bag" sessions. These are speakers not from Apple who give entertaining, enlightening, or inspiring talks at lunchtime. Unfortunately, my favorite brown bag session isn't happening this year, which is the presentation by Dr. Michael "Wave" Johnson, head of the Moving Pictures Group at Pixar. Despite that, check the schedule, some of them are bound to be well worth your time.

  11. Monday, Monday I don't know what to say about Monday. Last year, people started lining up at midnight the night before. I was still on East coast time, so for grins and giggles (since I was up anyway), I walked over at 4:15 to see if anyone was in line, not expecting to find more than a couple of insane people. I found a several hundred insane people, so I stayed and became an insane person myself. By 6:00am (when the line used to start forming), the line was five-wide and went around the corner. By the time they let us into the building at around 7:00, many of us had to pee awfully bad. They wound us around the first floor, then up the escalators and around the second floor, letting us go a little further every once in a while until we were about a hundred feet from the escalators going up to the third floor.

    Personally, I'm not sure I want to get up quite as early this year, but I did get to talk to a lot of very cool people last year while waiting in line, and there is a sense of camaraderie that develops when you do something silly with other people like that. Some people probably want me to suggest what time to get in line. I have no idea. Most people will get into the main room to see the Keynote. There may be some people diverted to an overflow room, but because the number of attendees is relatively low and the Presidio (the keynote room) is so big, it's a tiny percentage who have to go to the overflow rooms (maybe the last 1,000 worst case scenario). On the other hand, you'll actually get a better view in the overflow rooms unless you get there crazy early - you'll get to watch it in real time on huge screens and you'll get to see what's happening better than the people at the back of the Presidio. So, go when you want to. If you want to get up early and go be one of the "crazy ones", cool! If you want to get up later, you'll still get to see the keynote sitting in a comfy room with other geeks. And no, I have no idea if Steve is returning for the keynote

  12. Park it once in a while There will be time between sessions, and maybe even one or two slots that have nothing you're interested in. Or, you might find yourself too tired to take in the inner workings of the Shark performance tool. In that case, there are several lounges around where you can crash in a bean bag chair, comfy chair, or moderately-comfy chair. There is wi-fi throughout the building and wired connections and outlets in various spots on all floors. So, find a spot, tweet your location, and zone out for a little while or do some coding. You never know who you might end up talking with. If you move around too much, well, let's just say a moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one.

Have more suggestions for first-timers? Let me know and I'll add them.

Update: Check the comments for more great tips. One in particular I wanted to highlight - make sure you register on Sunday. Registration won't open on Monday until long after most people have gotten in line. Registration is usually open until 4:00pm, so try and get over there to pick up your badge, t-shirt, and bag so you'll be ready whatever time you decide to get in line.


abraginsky said...

Tip: DO NOT RELY ON AT&T AT ALL if GDC was any indication this past week :p

Hal Mueller said...

I was in an overflow room for the keynote last year. It was a fine view but Apple botched the crowd management. I arrived and was in line, in the building 1 hour before the keynote began. We didn't get into the overflow room until 5 minutes after the keynote started, though.

Bring specific problems. Lay out for yourself 2 or 3 specific bugs or optimizations that you want to solve during the week.

The interface design reviews are awesome. You get 30 minutes of one-on-one critique of your finished program's UI by an Apple designer. Make sure that you have an app ready to take advantage of this advice.

sgaw said...

Great article Jeff and exactly what I had in mind. WWDC 2008 was my first one and although I'm not going to be there this year I'm planning on being back in 2010. In addition to your comments here are a few of my own...

1. If you can, pop along to the Moscone Centre on the Sunday to register and collect your badge, t-shirt, etc. It will save a load of stress on the Monday and mean that you're ready to go from the moment you get up on the Monday morning.

2. I had the advantage of jet-lag last year having flown out to San Francisco from the UK on the Sunday and was therefore up early on the Monday and queued early. Seeing Steve present a Keynote in person was great but it was a bit of a press event and so if you're not jet-lagged or super-keen I'd recommend having a more relaxing morning and aiming to get into an overflow room. You may be lucky and get into Presidio anyway but at least you won't have stood in line for hours and hours.

3. As Jeff says, Twitter becomes invaluable during WWDC and it's a great way of finding friends there. It's also a wonderful way of meeting new ones and if you don't really know any other people who are going to be there I'd actually recommend finding a handful of people who are also going and make friends on-line before you go. You can then meet up once you get there and even if you don't all get on you'll have people to talk to, grab a coffee or lunch with and hang out with.

4. Don't worry if a few minutes into a session you decide that you've made a horrible mistake and it's too boring/advanced/simple/etc. Just get up and leave quietly and wander into a different one.

5. Plan what sessions you want to attend and make a note of some fall-back alternatives. I drew up a timetable in a Moleskine notebook which was very handy and the notebook actually became my little black book (literally) of the whole week. It's not very high-tech but it contained my packing list, emergency numbers, hotel and flight details, schedules of events, maps of San Francisco, etc. and was immensely helpful.

6. Make some preparatory notes before you go. I spent some time gathering information about what parties and events were taking place and I also wrote down the names of people I'd arranged to meet along with a brief note about who they were. I'm terrible at remembering names so having a list of people to prompt me was very helpful.

7. When you go to the Thursday night party take some form of proof of age (passport or driving license). I forgot so other people had to go and collect beers for me and I don't exactly look underaged.

8. Take some time out. WWDC is a mind-blowing, intensive experience but you will need a break. Go for a walk one lunchtime or evening (or early morning if you're an early riser) and get a feel for some of San Francisco. If you're there the weekend before or after do some sightseeing and make it more of a trip than just visiting the event itself.

9. Most of all have a fantastic time and think of those of us who can't make it this year.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Thanks Hal & Simon, those are great additions. Especially that tip about registering on Sunday - that's really important and I can't believe I didn't think of it. They will open the doors before they open the registration booths, so no matter how early you get there, you're going to be near the end of the line if you wait until Monday to register.

abraginsky - WWDC is considerably smaller than either Macworld or GDC (< 6000 attendees, no vendors or show floor). Last year we didn't have problems with AT&T and I'd guess that 95% or more of the attendees had at least one iPhone. For Macworld, people with first generation iPhones had some sporadic issues, but nothing too serious. Unless there's another big conference with disproportionate iPhone representation, I think it'll be okay. Plus, the wi-fi inside Moscone West was awesome last year.

StuFFmc (.com) said...

Thansk for this Post, Jeff. I recommand to take the badge on Sunday also, and it also gives you an opportunity to meet with some guys beforehand. Last year we did a Santa Clara Valley "Geek Trip" (Oh, you know, checking the Garages and stuff...) with 3 other folks (we rented a car).

I'm flying this year on June 6th (from Frankfurt - check this thread here: - here's my flight, United 8829 , if anybody wanna join. I'll only get back on June 29th! So once WWDC is finished, I have plenty of time to go Interview some people in the whole Bay Area.

I'l also fulfill my wish to going to Yosemite this year I think. If you can afford it, just don't go to SF *only* for WWDC, plan some holidays, before or after. It's so wrong that some of us have not seen anything else than the Moscone Center although they've been 10 times to SF :(

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