I'm a little slow in getting this up this year, but given how popular it's been the past few years, I thought it was worth updating and re-posting my WWDC First Timer's Guide (2011, 2010, 2009).
Remember that WWDC is different every year, so don't take anything written here as gospel. Things changes every year, and I expect the first WWDC of the post-Jobs era will change things up a little, just as they've done every year. Hopefully these hints and suggestions will help some of you.
- 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 (usually a bag and shirt or jacket, etc) on Sunday if you plan to get in line for the keynote. The line for the keynote will start forming many hours before the doors to Moscone West open up on Monday (the past four years, people have started lining up before midnight Sunday, last year the line started late afternoon on 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. Developers, especially those coming from overseas, will start coming into town much earlier, so it's not even a bad idea coming in Saturday or even Friday.
- 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 many of the unofficial after-hours goings-on (aka "showcializing"), but not the Thursday night party, which is often a blast. Without a badge, you'll miss out on some of the really important stuff if you're a first timer. No amount of begging or pleading will get you a replacement badge, and since they sold 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.
- Eat your fill. In the past, they've provided 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.
- Party hard (not that you have a choice). There are lots of official and unofficial events in the evening. A list of WWDC events is maintained at http://wwdcparties.com/, but your 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 to meet people. The parties often start before WWDC - there are usually a few on Sunday, and there have been ones as early as Friday before. Pretty much any other bar within stumbling distance of Moscone West will be used for both 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, whether you imbibe or not. And even if you do enjoy alcohol, it's not a bad idea to take a night off during the week. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
- 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 as they have the last two years. Even so, make sure you write down the information you need immediately.
- 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 collaborative note taking, 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.
- 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. It used to be that people started remembering about the labs later in the week, but now they fill up from the get go. Sign up early!
- 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. Also, see #6 above.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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), but you'll be much better rested for the rest of the day.
Waiting in line is not really my thing any more, 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.
- 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. Two years ago, so many people had MiFis and other mobile hotspots running during the keynote that it interfered with the conference center's (usually 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 or wired connection and turn your wireless router off. Seriously.
- 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. 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.
- 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. Three years ago, we completely overwhelmed twitter during the keynote. Two years ago it fared okay, though there were some delays and hiccups. Last year it wasn't bad. If this year is okay, I'll remove this, but I want to good consecutive years from Twitter before I tell people to rely on it.
- 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.
- 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 sometimes a pretty good band. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Take 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.
- 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 chilly 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.
- 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.
- Get a Battery Pack You might want to consider a battery pack for your iPhone and/or iPad. 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.
- 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", usually but not always without the "the": ("Man, what an awesome Dubdub that was", or "What time are you heading to Dubdub?").
- American Drinking Age if you're coming from a country with a civilized drinking age, and you're under the age of 21, you're in for a bit of an unpleasant surprise: You won't be allowed to drink here, and most places are very strict about it because they will lose their license to serve alcohol if they're caught serving to an underage person.
- Clean up your mess! I never thought I'd have to say this, but last year, I noticed a disturbing thing. People leaving trash and garbage all over Moscone. It was especially bad during the keynote line. Don't. Just really don't. There are garbage cans and recycling bins. Use them. You're an adult, and even if you weren't, your mom's not at Moscone to clean up after you.
Have more suggestions for first-timers? Drop me an e-mail at jeff underscore lamarche at mac dot com.