Monday, March 28, 2011

WWDC First Timer's Survival Guide, 2011 Edition

Today, WWDC was announced. This is the earliest they've announced WWDC during the iPhone epoch, so there's a little more time to prepare than we've had the last few years. Given how popular it's been the past few years, I thought it was worth updating and re-posting my WWDC First Time Guide from last year and the previous year.

Again, WWDC is different every year, so don't take anything written here as gospel, but hopefully these hints and suggestions will help some of you.

  1. Arrive on Sunday or Earlier. Registration is usually open most of the day on Sunday. You really, really want to get your badge and related swag (bag, shirt, jacket, etc) on Sunday. The line for the keynote will start forming many hours before the doors to Moscone West open up on Monday (the past three years, people started lining up before midnight Sunday). If you do not have your badge when you get to Moscone on Monday morning, you will almost certainly end up in an overflow room for the Keynote and may even miss part of it. Even if you don't care about being in the main room, there's still a lot going on on Sunday and it's a good time to meet new people and catch up with old friends. You really 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 schooled. Sure, you'll still be able to attend the unofficial after-hours goings-on (but not 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). Yes, there have been isolated stories of people managing to convince a sympathetic conference worker to print them a new badge, but don't expect it, those are exceptions. The employees are not supposed to print new badges, and most won't.

  3. 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 most likely 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, need to eat gluten-free, or are an early riser, you'll probably want to eat before-hand. Lunch used to be (IIRC) a hot lunch, but three or four years ago they switched to boxed lunches. They are pretty good as far as boxed lunches go, but they are boxed lunches. A lot of people complain (loudly) about them and 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 often a CocoaHeads meeting at the Apple Store. It fills up crazy fast, so go early if you go. 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. Pretty much any other bar within stumbling distance of Moscone West will be used for planned and informal gatherings. 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... good times.

    At some point, one or more lists will pop up to track the official parties, gatherings, meet-ups, and BOF (birds of a feather meetings - meet-ups for people interested in a particular subject).

  5. 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. It used to take some time before the videos were available, but hopefully they'll continue to get them out quickly. Even so, make sure you write down the information you need immediately.

  6. Collaborative note taking A few years ago, people started taking communal notes using SubEthaEdit and Panic's Coda (they are compatible with each other). That worked out really, really well. My notes from the past few years are ten times better than from previous years. With SubEthaEdit, you don't have to type fast enough to catch every detail. Instead, the audience works as a team and everybody gets great notes. The license fee pays for itself in one WWDC, especially considering you can see notes being taken in other sessions, not just your own.

  7. 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. It's unstructured, hands-on time with the people who write the frameworks and applications we use every day. People start remembering the labs later in the week it seems, but early on, you can often get an engineer all to yourself, though people have started to catch on. Every year the labs fill up earlier in the week.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Thank 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 try and 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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. Check the schedule, some of them are bound to be well worth your time.

  13. Monday, Monday I don't know what to say about Monday. The last few years, people started lining up before midnight the night before. I'm typically on East coast time and usually walk over around 4:15 to see what's going on. I've done the line, and I've done the have-a-leisurely-breakfast route, and both have their merits. If you straggle too much, they may start before you get in the room, however (happened to me two years ago).

    Waiting in line is not really my thing, but you do get to talk to a lot of very cool people 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 tiny percentage who have to go to the overflow rooms (maybe the last 1,000 to 1,500 or so, depending on number of VIPs in attendance). On the other hand, you'll actually get a better view in the overflow rooms unless you get in line 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.

  14. Turn off your MiFi/Clear/other wireless router. I'm so totally not kidding on this one. People will punch you if they find out you've got one on. Last year, so many people had MiFis and other mobile hotspots running during the keynote that it interfered with the conference center's (very good) WiFi network and disrupted some of the tech demos. Once you're in the building, you don't need it. They have crazy fast pipe in the building, so just use the provided WiFi and turn your wireless router off. Seriously.

  15. 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 just too tired to take in the inner workings of some technology. In that case, there are several lounges around where you can crash in a bean bag chair, comfy chair, moderately-comfy chair, or patch of floor. There is good wi-fi throughout the building and crazy-fast 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.

  16. 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. Two years ago, we completely overwhelmed twitter during the keynote. Last year it fared okay, though there were some delays and hiccups.

  17. 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, or you're just too hungover. Just get up and leave quietly and wander to a different session. Nobody is going to be offended if you leave politely and without causing a disturbance.

  18. 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. The last three years featured OK, Go, Cake, and the Bare Naked Ladies. 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, even if you're 70 years old.

  19. 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 wad early in the week.

  20. Get a close hotel If at all possible, try and get a hotel within two blocks and definitely not more than five blocks from Moscone West. Five blocks doesn't seem like a lot, but it can become quite a hassle, especially if you're North of Moscone West because you'll be climbing up a pretty decent hill in one direction.

  21. Official Evening Events In addition to the Thursday night Beer Bash, there are other official activities in the evening that are very entertaining and usually happen in the early evening before the parties really get going. The two stalwarts are the Apple Design Awards and Stump the Chumps (it's actually called "Stump the Experts", but most of the participants refer to it as "Stump the Chumps"). Stump the Experts is an Apple trivia game-show like event with notable tech luminaries and former Apple employees. Lots of sharp wits and deep knowledge of Apple make for some good entertainment. There used to also be a Monday night reception and cocktail hour, but if memory serves, it hasn't happened in a few years.

  22. Take the BART If you're flying into either SFO or OAK and are staying near Moscone West (or near any BART station) there's really no reason to bother with renting a car or taking a cab from the airport. Just take BART and get off at the Powell Street station and walk up 4th street (South). Moscone West will be about four blocks on your right.

  23. Bring a Sweatshirt or Jacket A lot of first-timers assume that it's California in the summer so it's going to be hot. Well, it could be, during the middle of the day, but look up Mark Twain's quote about San Francisco in the summer. It can be downright cool in San Francisco in the summer time, especially in the evenings and early morning. Bring a sweatshirt or light jacket, and wear layers because the temperature differential over the course of the day can be forty or fifty degrees.

  24. Sample Code Many sessions will have sample code, usually downloadable from the schedule or class descriptions web pages. The sample code will stay up for a while, but may not stay around forever, so it's a good idea to download any code samples you want as soon as you can. Edit: It looks like starting with 2009, you can get to the old source code for years you attended by logging in to ADC on iTunes, however I always save off a copy just in case.

  25. Get a Battery Pack You might want to consider a battery pack for your iPhone. You'll be in for some very long days, and it's not uncommon for your phone to be bone dry by early evening if you don't remember to charge it during the day. AT&T reception in San Francisco is notoriously bad, and that takes a toll on battery life.

  26. Don't Sound Like a N00b It's technically called the "World Wide Developer's Conference", so logically, you'd expect people to refer to it as "the WWDC" (e.g. "I'm going to head over to the WWDC")… only nobody does. It's just "WWDC" ("are you gong to WWDC this year?). Less commonly, it's also called the "Dubdub", with or without the "the": ("Man, what an awesome Dubdub that was", or "What time are you heading over to the Dubdub?").

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


Joe said...

I can't echo Jeff's sentiments about the labs strongly enough. They're so very worthwhile. Bring your Xcode projects, and prepare a laundry list of your trickiest questions well in advance. You'll be glad you did. Split them up by category if necessary (Core Data, UIKit, etc.) and then conquer each group as the opportunity arises.

Matthew said...

When does registration close typically on Sunday?

Jeff LaMarche said...


We won't know until Apple announces. Historically, it's been something like 10:00 to 4:00 on Sunday for registration, however last year the hours were longer, more along the lines of 9:00 to 7:00.

Lesmond said...

Great post Jeff!

Any tips on securing the mac so it doesn't get hacked on the wifi!

Jeff LaMarche said...


Other than turning off everything in the Sharing System Preferences, nope.

Eduardo said...

Thank you so much Jeff! Very useful! Cheers

masto said...

If I hear anyone call it "dubdub", I will personally poke them in the eye.

Can't wait to see you all there!

Jeff LaMarche said...


You may want to reconsider that. I hear Dubdub most often from Apple engineers, and I make it a policy not to poke them in the eye.

It's also easier to say than WWDC, which is eight fucking syllables. That's a lot when you've had a few beers.

Richard Earney said...

Don't drink the coffee supplied, it is horrible. Peet's is close by and, even better, is The Blue Bottle cafe.

Jeff LaMarche said...


You know, I think I've heard that before. I'm not a coffee drinker, though.


MJ said...

Beware of the Irish as well. They can be found in either Daves, the Chieftain the fire pit outside the Westin on 3rd St. Bring your singing voice.

Paul Goracke said...

One correction on the ID for Thursday night: You need to present your ID to a counter in Moscone during the day Thursday, where they will give you a wristband. Having it on hand only for the evening will mean you just have to go back to Moscone, then Yerba Buena.

That's how it's worked the last few years at least, and I can't see why they'd change it.

Joseph said...

Thanks a ton Jeff! This will be my first WWDC experience so any tips are useful. I am also on eastern time and will be flying out of Atlanta. Just hope I can find some cheap tickets cause lately the prices have been terrible. Need that extra money to party it up!

38leinad said...

Hi there;
Will be my first time at the conference and will be coming alone; so, i have question, that might be stupid, but I will ask it anyway:

I will break your rule to book a hotel close to the conference (because it want something close to the marina that i can more easily go for a run in the morning).
So, I will have the problem in the evening that I might want to go for a beer, but don't want to take my laptop and stuff with me, but also don't want to go back to the hotel. Does there exist a possibility to store/lock your stuff at the moscone center?

As said: would be uncommon, but just for planning...

thanks in advance and looking forward to meet interesting people.


Jeff LaMarche said...


If my memory serves, the only day they do bag check is Friday because a lot of people fly out that day. I think your best bet is to find a friend who's staying closer, because there really isn't any place to store your stuff near Moscone that I know of.


Allan said...

Another comment about labs: all the labs have a schedule. Review the schedule (when published) to know when the engineer(s) you need to talk to will be there.

Sad Keanu:
Q: "Hi, I need to talk to an OpenGL engineer"
A: "Um.. The OpenGL lab was yesterday.."

Happy Keanu:
Q: "Hi, it's 2pm Wednesday, are those the OpenGL guys?"
A: "Yep!"

Review the schedule. :) said...

Ha ha ha, you used the definite article before "BART".

Shibboleth FAIL! said...

re: Item 25 - If I go sans battery pack, how hard is it to find an outlet in Moscone West? At SXSWi, sponsor Chevy had power strips all over the place. Does anything similar happen for WWDC?

Jeff LaMarche said...


The past several years, outlets have been really easy to find at WWDC with one big exception - the Presidio, the big room up on the top floor where the Keynote and a lot of the more popular sessions are held, don't have very many. Most other rooms will have power strips attached to every third or fourth chair, and all the lounge areas have plenty of outlets.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Dude, get a fucking life. I lived in the Bay Area for eight years. it's an area filled with transplants from around the country (well, world, really). People say "Take BART", but it's not at all uncommon to hear "Take the BART", so why don't you pack up your little high horse and go back to 4chan where people appreciate that kind of pedantic asshattery.

David Rupp said...

Plan to get in line early for some of the labs. The UI lab in particular always has a long line starting the second they open the doors for breakfast.

David Rupp said...

Re: power. In-session you're out of luck, but there are lots of tables set up throughout Moscone Center with plentiful access to power outlets and (working!) ethernet connections. I've never had trouble accessing either, but then I've not really tried during lunch or other open times when there might be more competition.

Hendrik said...

I think using a VPN might be a smart move. With 5000 geeks on WiFi I'd say there is a pretty good chance that quite a few copies of FireSheep (or other tools) will be in use, some just for fun, but some possibly for nefarious purposes.

David Rupp said...

Bring cash. Or be prepared to run up your credit card a little. Last year they had a satellite version of the Apple Company Store in residence at Moscone Center. I still try to get down to the Cupertino campus on my own at some point during the week, but you can stock up on Apple branded clothing and such right at the conference (assuming they do this again, which I really hope they will).

chrispix said...

Great writeup, Jeff. Hope to meet you in person this year.

I work right down the street, and I can tell you if you turn off 3G on your iPhone while in downtown SF, you'll get better reception and better battery life.

Joseph said...

When should I leave? Anything I shouldn't miss after dubdub is over?

Irene said...

Though I'm sure there were hardware announcements in the past at WWDC, by-and-large it has been about the OS, not hardware. Not sure why everyone (general public at large) got their panties in a bunch thinking there might be a new iPhone announced, or updated Macs.
buy cell phone jammer

easco said...

Lunch did used to be a hot lunch. I asked why the change was made a couple of years ago. The answer that I got was that the hot lunches required so much seating that the lunch room was at capacity with respect to fire codes. They switched to the box lunches because folks can grab them and take them out of the big room if there are no seats.

Just FYI.

Laura said...

You recommend getting there on Sunday. What about leaving. is it better to leave Friday night or sat morning.
I wonder if the conference wraps up early on Friday.

Brian Lewis said...

Right out of the box, clean up after yourself. In line for the keynote last year, as we moved toward the entrance I was astounded by the amount of trash just left. San Francisco is a beautiful city, don't trash it.

Take notes. Lots of notes. Sure, there will be videos later, but you don't get the presenter just the slides on the video. Some presenters really let loose and you pick up more than just whats said.

At breakfast and lunch, don't be a hermit. Mingle. Find a table with just one spot and dive in, especially if it's your first trip out. A big part of these conferences are the connections you make, sometimes more than the sessions you take.

Avoid Anchor Hope for dinner.

Go to the stump the experts "session" after the app awards. It's a long slog late at night after it's all said and done, but it's well worth it. Try to stump them. Last year someone asked how many iPhones it would take to circle the earth. They were not stumped. The questioner was mocked for not providing concrete requirements, such as orientation.

Grab at least two of the odwalla drinks after lunch. They get you through the afternoon sessions, especially if they involve advanced core data.

Finally, if Jeff makes it happen, travel to the mothership on Sunday. Snag a picture in front of one infinite loop.

Lun Esex said...

If you live locally but didn't get a ticket because they sold out so fast, is there any way you can go by and participate tangentially? Aside from standing around outside wearing a sad puppy face?

I've never been to WWDC, even though I live in San Francisco. I keep thinking "next year...," but this time it was pretty much too late before I even got a chance to seriously consider it.

Stuart said...

As per usual, great information Jeff. Thank you!

Looking forward to my first WWDC! If you're around, I'll buy you a beer.


Davidfro said...

This will be my first year, just wondering, how useful is it to have a mac laptop at WWDC? Would you say it is optional or essential? Currently I was just planning on bringing my code on some thumb drives.

Jeff LaMarche said...


For me, the laptop is essential. Two years ago, I think it was extremely rare to find someone in a session without a laptop. Last year, it was a little more common, but mostly because some people were using iPads.

Even if I didn't prefer taking notes on a physical computer, I'd still consider the laptop essential because I can't be away from work for a week plus two weekends without the ability to write code.

I'll be bringing a MacBook Air 11" myself.

Ted said...

Thanks Jeff, very informative post. I'll be flying in all the way from London - these tips will definitely help me make the most of it.

AllanF said...

Thanks Jeff for the great tips. Just changed my plans to arrive Saturday night in order to get badge on Sunday.

Question -is it complicated to get to Cupertino / Apple mothership from Moscone Center via public transportation. Don't see how There would be time but just wondering.


Jeff LaMarche said...


You can't make it the whole way using public transportation. You'd have to take a cab for the last leg (train station to campus), and it's a lengthy process.

But, we're going to be having buses running on Sunday from Moscone down, and maybe one from SFO.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the helpful information! This is my first time attending so your survival guide will be put to the test.

Rocko said...

Great Post! Thanks for the info. This will be my 2nd "dubdub." 2009 was the my first. I've been looking forward to it from the moment by boss said "sign up!"
One of the best tips that I always remember from the last dubdub and from other conferences is "drink water every chance you get" So often you forget to eat/drink that you find yourself "bonking out." stay hydrated, eat/snack every chance you get and definately grab an extra odwalla!

Cheers folks, see you all there!

Ted Moskalenko said...

This is probably the best survival guide I've come across for WWDC, I hope it's still relevant for WWDC 2013!