Wednesday, May 13, 2009

WWDC First Timer's Guide Redux

My earlier WWDC First Timer's Guide posting was so positively received that I've decided to re-post it now that we're only a few weeks out from the conference. I've also made some corrections and additions based on comments and feedback I got. This posting really has been a community effort, so please feel free to ping me if you think there are additions or changes that should be made.

As I mentioned last time, the event changes from year to year, and the only constants seem to be that the event gets bigger, and the bags get worse (and I'm really hoping this year proves the latter statement wrong, since last year's bags were quite horrible), so don't take anything here as gospel.

Many thanks to Simon Wolf for the original suggestion to write this up and for some of the better additions to the revised list. Thanks also to Hall Mueller, Ari Braginsky, and a whole bunch of people I'm sure I'm forgetting for making suggestions on the original post.

So, without further ado, here it is:

  1. Arrive on Sunday or Earlier. Registration is open until 7:00pm on Sunday. You really, really want to get your badge, bag, and t-shirt on Sunday. The line for the keynote will start forming many hours before the doors to Moscone West open up on Monday. If you do not have your badge, you will almost certainly end up in an overflow room for the Keynote. Even if you don't care about being in the main room, there's still a lot going on on Sunday, and you don't want to deal with the badge process on Monday.
  2. 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 it has sold out, no amount of money will get you another one, either. And that would suck. Treat your badge like gold. No, like platinum. When I'm not in Moscone West or somewhere else where I need the badge, I immediately 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).
  3. Eat your fill. They will feed you two meals a day, you're on your own for dinner (though the Monday night reception will probably have heavy hors d'Ĺ“uvres. Breakfast starts a half-hour before the first session (8:30am), 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 or have other dietary restrictions, you probably want to eat before-hand. Lunch used to be (IIRC) a hot lunch, but last year they were boxed lunches. They were 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.
  4. 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 one night. 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.

    Check here for WWDC parties.

  5. Take good notes. You are going to be sucking information from a firehose, and we're talking a large diameter firehose. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Thanks your hosts. The folks at Apple - the engineers and evangelists who give the presentations and staff the labs, really do 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 just try. And if you see one of them at an after hours event, it's quite alright to buy them a beer to say thanks.
  10. 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 outside Moscone all about it. Don't. Everything, from morning to night except the Keynote and the Thursday night party are under NDA.
  11. 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.
  12. Monday, Monday I don't know what to say about Monday. Last year, people started lining up before 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, most 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. At ten minutes before 10:00, they set all four escalators to go up, and unleashed the hounds of war. Then it was a mad scramble for seats.

    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 will 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 small percentage who have to go to the overflow rooms (maybe the last 1,000 or 1,500 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. Unfortunately, Steve is not giving the Keynote this year, Phil Schiller is. Phil did a great job at Macworld, so I'm sure it will be entertaining, if not quite as good as a Stevenote would have been
  13. 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 (worst case scenario) 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.
  14. Twitter is invaluable, but don't expect it to stay up during the keynote. There's really no better way to hook up with people you didn't travel with than Twitter. But, last year, we overwhelmed twitter during the keynote. Some of my tweets disappeared completely into the ether, some got through, and some showed up hours later having apparently gone through a rip in the space-time continuum.
  15. It's okay to leave. 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. Nobody is going to be offended if you do it politely and without causing a disturbance.
  16. Bring proof of age on Thursday night. The official party is always on Thursday night, and it's always a blast. There's good food, good drink, great company, and usually a pretty good band. It was the Bare Naked Ladies last year, and they put on a great live show, even if you're not particularly a fan of them. They're also Mac geeks themselves, which gives them bonus points with this crowd. The event is one of the few (and the only official one) that non-attendees can go to (you do have to pay to bring guests though), and they are pretty strict about making sure only people who are over 21 get alcohol. So, if you want to have a drink or five on Thursday, don't leave your license or passport in your hotel room.
  17. It's okay to take breaks. Your first time, you're going to be tempted to go to every session you possibly can. Somewhere around Wednesday or Thursday, though, that effort combined with lack of sleep, is going to take its toll on you. If you're too tired or overwhelmed to process information, it's okay to hole up on a couch or at a table instead of going to a session, or even to go back to your hotel (you did get a close one, right?). In fact, it's a darn good idea to map out a few "sacrificial" time slots that won't feel bad about missing just in case you need a break. You don't want to burn out and then miss something you are really interested in. And some of the best, more advanced sessions fall at the end of the week, so don't shoot your whole wad early in the week.

Have more suggestions for first-timers? Add them to the comments!


Chris Ryland said...

Actually, a few years back I did lose my badge (for a while), and they were fairly reasonable about it, giving me a new one after a stern talk. (I did find the old one, and returned it as promised.)

Jeff LaMarche said...


I've heard from more than one person who lost their badges in recent years and were told they were SOL. I don't know if policy has changed, or if you got lucky or what, but treating your badge like gold is still a good idea even if it is conceivably possible that you could get a possibly new badge.

Bill said...

One thing that has bugged me about WWDC as the crowd has grown: the practice of taking a seat at the end of an empty row before a session begins.

You walk into a session, the room is still fairly empty, and there are people sitting in the aisle seat on both ends of a row. Not just one row – many rows. The bigger the room, the more obvious this practice is to behold. Increasingly, these folks are parked at the end-caps with their stuff all spread out around them and a laptop open.

Making oneself an end-cap doorstop is a common WWDC attendee behavior.

What does it mean for the first-time attendee? Be prepared for the end-capper to look completely put out that you are walking all over their stuff so that *you* can sit in *their* row. Not that you didn't pay $1295 for the experience of stepping on someone's toes, their bag, their drink, etc.

The first-time attendee will want to be polite and apologetic as they maneuver their own bulging bag, laptop, drink, and body around the Mr. End-cap. Veteran attendees can just trample over the git.

These are intelligent people, and yet, they are seemingly unable to fathom that everyone's conference experience will be joyously upgraded to civil if they would take an available seat in the middle of an empty row.

First time attendees should gear up for a people-climbing adventure in the session rooms.

Jeff LaMarche said...


Yeah, that's true - you do see a lot of end capping. Perhaps I should add another item to the list "Don't be a douche" or something along those lines.

Jane said...

Bill: I like to sit at the end of a row when I'm not sure if I'm going to like that session or not over a different one, I've switched sessions occasionally. I'd rather have people stepping on my toes in the beginning than me stepping on theirs in the middle of a session - the latter of which I think is more rude. (Although I wonder what kind of end-capper-people are rude about others trying to sit in a seat near the middle, it's a fact of life sitting at the end. I'll stand up/make myself smaller with no complaint if I am one so they can pass, regardless of how full or empty the room is.)

Also I wonder if that practice depends a lot on where the available outlets are. They tend to be more plentiful towards the end of the rows and on the edges of the rooms.

Steve said...

Does anyone happen to know if the Mothership (aka the store at the Apple campus) will be open to attendees the weekend prior to WWDC this year? I know a few years ago they used to run a tour of the campus (but it got too big when attendance spiked). I've heard that the store was open last year, but I didn't know about it until the conference began on Monday.

I hope they're going to be open this year (since the weekend befoe I'm staying in a hotel right down the street before moving into SF proper on Sunday night),..

Chris Ryland said...

Jeff: Yes, I would encourage everyone to treat his badge like gold, but, then again, don't despair if you do happen to lose it.

Todd said...

I've been to quite a few WWDCs.

It's never been possible to get a non-attendee into the Thursday evening bash.

The Company Store down in Cupertino is open extended hours during the week, but it's still M-F only.

There has never been any sort of tour of the campus. However, the Thursday bash was held there until a couple of years ago and you could see the inside courtyard and Caffe Macs, at least.

End-capping, as a poster calls it, is, indeed, about being able to get out if you need to and getting power. Only the Presidio was wired up for power in the middle of rows in the past. If you sit at the end of an empty row, you expect to have to make way. Anyone who cops an attitude is lacking in social skills. (imagine meeting someone like that at a tech conference!)

Jeff LaMarche said...


It is definitely possible to get people into the WWDC party. It is not advertised, but it is possible. I spent a long time talking to a guy last year who had his whole family with him, and how they were able to attend was the topic of discussion for a while. I don't know exactly how it works, how much it costs (I think it was like $100, but don't quote me since it was a year ago and I was drunk). It definitely is possible for an attendee to bring a non-attendee to the party Thursday night.

End-capping is mildly annoying but, as Bill points out, there are some people who do it and then are assholes about letting other people by. There's no excusing that behavior. Last year, most of the larger rooms had power available to every seats, usually attached to the back leg of every fifth chair or so, in every other or every third row, so everybody could reach an outlet and there were enough for most if not all people, so there was no power excuse for end-capping last year in most rooms. I'm assuming it'll be the same this year, though power was a more scarce resource prior to last year.

But it's going to happen, it's just a fact of life. People just don't like to go to the center unless they think they have to. But if the end-capper doesn't mind making room for my fat-ass to squeeze by, I'm not all too bothered by it.

Matthew said...

Don't forget the WebKit Open Source Party at the Thirsty Bear -

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