My First WWDC

Above: Apple’s live App Store wall at WWDC. It showed icons of 20,000 iPhone apps, organized by color. When an app was purchased, its icon rippled. It was also a great illustration of what WWDC is like: it’s a huge clusterfuck that makes you feel totally insignificant. But it’s also pretty beautiful and inspiring if you step back and take it all in.

Last week I went to WWDC for the first time, Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. It’s a huge event they hold every year at Moscone Center in San Francisco. Developers come from around the world to learn about Mac and iPhone development, meet each other, and get one-on-one assistance from hundreds of Apple engineers.

It was incredibly overwhelming, to be in an unfamiliar city, among thousands of developers (many of whom I look up to), with dozens of sessions, labs, and events to choose from. By the time I felt like I’d gotten the hang of things it was over. It was a fantastic experience though, and I’d recommend it for anyone serious about developing for Apple’s platforms—even if you’re just starting out. I learned quite a bit, met some fantastic people, and got pretty excited about developing for the Mac and iPhone.

I did a lot of reading on other people’s WWDC experiences beforehand, so I felt pretty prepared when I got there. I thought I’d share my own thoughts—hopefully it’ll help someone else next time around.

Things I’m glad I took with me:

  • MacBook: A Mac isn’t necessarily required at the conference. You’ll definitely want to take notes, but you could get by with a pen and paper if you’d prefer. You’ll probably get the most out of it if you have your Mac with you though, especially if you plan to go to the labs and get one-on-one assistance. I also got a lot of inspiration from the sessions, and it was nice to try out new ideas right away. Keep in mind that you’ll be lugging around your computer quite a bit—I was very glad to have a light and compact 13" MacBook. I was also happy I partitioned my hard drive before I left—that made it easy to install the developer preview of Snow Leopard that was handed out to everyone the first day.
  • iPhone: Apple released a WWDC iPhone app this year, and it was invaluable. It included a full list of sessions and labs, a section for favorites, maps to help you find everything, and occasional helpful updates. Your favorite Twitter app is a great way to keep in touch with people and arrange meet ups. Maps is a fantastic way to find your way around San Francisco, since it includes directions for both walking and public transportation. A few games (like Drop7) are also nice to have on the plane, and while you’re waiting in line. I’d actually go so far as to say that my iPhone was more essential that my MacBook.
  • Charger and extension: You’ll definitely want your charger with you of course, but don’t forget the longer extension cord that attaches to the brick. It’ll be easier to squeeze into a crowded power strip. If you have other devices like an iPhone or iPod touch it’ll probably be easiest to charge them via USB, but it can’t hurt to bring a wall plug just in case. I labeled my charger with my name, email address, and phone number just in case—it wasn’t needed in the end, but it’s probably a good idea in case it gets mixed up with others.
  • Booq Boa slimcase M: I bought this bag shortly before I left and I was very glad I did. It’s a slim bag that hangs vertically. It doesn’t have a ton of room, but it had just enough for everything I needed. Having a slim bag was really nice in a crowded convention center, when I often needed to squeeze through tight spaces. Being forced to travel light didn’t hurt either, since I spent a lot of time carrying my bag around the city.
  • Kensington Mini Battery Extender: You won’t always have a power strip when you need it. I was very glad to have some extra power for my iPhone now and then. The nice thing about this battery pack is that it’ll work with any recent iPhone or iPod with a dock connector (unlike the style that doubles as a case). It also includes a convenient, retractable charging cable that you can use to charge your iPhone and battery pack at the same time.
  • Moleskine and Uni-ball Deluxe: I didn’t use these too much, but there was one point where I had some UI ideas and it was nice to be able to sketch them out. These also would’ve come in handy if I’d found myself unexpectedly low on battery life.
  • Just-in-case medication: The days are long, so if there’s something you think you might need, get a small pill case and keep a few with you. I was very glad to have an Excedrin one day when I needed it.

Things I didn’t use, but I’d take again:

  • Business cards: I brought quite a few and didn’t give out a single one. Pushing them on people felt too much like advertising, and most of the people I talked to already knew how to get in touch with me. But I’ll still bring a small stack next time around. If someone asked for one or just wanted my contact info I would’ve been happy to have them.
  • Umbrella: I bought a nice compact one so it wouldn’t waste much space in my bag. I didn’t use it, but it was a bit rainy at times. Since I spent a fair amount of time walking around outside with expensive electronics in my bag, it was worth having on me just in case.
  • Mac OS X install discs: If anything goes wrong and you need to do some troubleshooting, or a reinstall, these are always good to have.
  • Portable hard drive for backups: This was also nice to have, just in case. I ran Time Machine occasionally in the evening, so I wouldn’t be too desperate if my drive died, or I accidentally deleted something.

Things I brought that I’ll leave home next time:

  • Water bottle: I’d read on several blogs that one of the most important things to bring was a water bottle. I brought it with me the first day. It was a pain to carry around and I didn’t use it once. Perhaps previous years were different, but Apple had water coolers and paper cups in every room and throughout the hallways. They also had other drinks available at different times during the day. Plus Apple was selling some water bottles I liked better than mine, and there were more options in nearby shops—so if I regretted not bringing one it would’ve been easily solved.
  • Extra cables: I brought a couple of extra cables, but I probably won’t bother next time. There’s an Apple Store a short walk from Moscone if you need to replace something quickly.
  • iPod touch: I brought this just in case I needed an extra device to test on, but in the end I never, uh, touched it.

Things I wish I’d brought:

  • Some movies or TV shows: It was a minor regret, but next time I’ll bring a few things to watch on the plane. Fortunately I had plenty of games to choose from between my iPhone and Nintendo DS.
  • Less stuff: Apple gave out very large backpacks to everyone, and they had a small shop set up where I bought a couple other things. I also did a bit of shopping in the city. My suitcase was very, very full on the way home and it was a bit of a pain. (I cut my hands up a couple of times cramming it in the overhead bins on the plane.) Next time I’ll leave a bit more room in my suitcase on the way there, so it’s not overstuffed on the way back.

Things I’m glad I did:

  • Met up with people I’ve talked to online: I’m not great at socializing. I have a bit of social anxiety and I find it really hard to start up conversations (and keep them going). I did my best though and it was totally worth it. I wish I’d put more effort into it actually—so many great, interesting people were there and I really only met a few of them.
  • Slept in late or took off early a couple of days: The conference wasn’t cheap, and there were so many sessions to choose from. At first I felt like I should go to as many as possible, but in the end I skipped a few. I think I got more out of it in the end just by not stressing over things too much. Apple makes videos of all the sessions available online, so eventually I can catch up on what I missed.
  • Found some parties to go to: There are a ton of parties in the evenings that different groups put together. I was fortunate to be invited to a couple of them and they were definitely highlights of the week. Apple’s big bash was also pretty fun—and seeing Cake there was an awesome surprise.
  • Got a 7-day Muni Passport: For 24 bucks this gives you access to the busses, trains, and even the trolleys for a week. The public transportation in San Francisco is awesome, and it’s really nice to be able to hop on any time without worrying about money.
  • Skipped most of the free food: They have some alright snacks available for breakfast and in the middle of the day, and the free drinks are worth grabbing. But I tried one of their free lunches at the end of the week and had no regrets about skipping them. It was cold, boring, and only vaguely resembled food. There are so many great places to eat in the area, and there’s a long 2 hour break, so you won’t have to rush. Head over to the Westfield or Metreon and take your pick. (Mr. Hana was a favorite.)
  • Came home soon afterward: It was an exhausting week. We did a little sightseeing on Friday, but I was glad we hadn’t planned on more. If you want to see the city I’d recommend doing it before the conference. I was also anxious to get home and try out some new ideas when it was all over—there’s a good chance you’ll feel the same way.

I think that sums up most of my thoughts. I had a great time last week, and I can’t wait to see everyone again next year.


This entry has 2 comments.

Sebastiaan de With

Sebastiaan de With wrote on June 16, 2009:

I can’t believe I didn’t ask you for a card, since they look awesome.

Was great meeting up at WWDC, and a very nice roundup post :)

Kevin Hiscott

Kevin Hiscott wrote on June 16, 2009:

Really glad we got a chance to meet up (and we used Twitter to plan it).

As a first time attendee also, I have to agree with pretty much everything you said. The water situation was not as scary as advertised :p

Next year I am also definitely getting some cards. We’ll exchange some then!

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