WWDC: A First-Timer's Thoughts

WWDC 2009 ended about two weeks ago and I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my thoughts with you.  If you’ve been to WWDC, I doubt you’ll find much here that you haven’t personally experienced.  It’s okay to leave.  You won’t hurt my feelers ;-).  If you’ve never been to WWDC and happen upon this post as we head into WWDC 2010 or beyond, then read on and learn from my first trip.

The Sessions

I’ve been to a number of conferences over the years, but WWDC takes the cake when it comes to presentation style and consistency.  It’s very clear that Apple puts their presenters through some sort of public speaking boot camp.  This helps ensure a high quality performance, but doesn’t necessarily ensure quality content.  I wasn’t a fan of some sessions for the following reasons:

  • Too many of the sessions felt like infomercials.  No need to sell me on your technology Apple, you had me at “Titanium PowerBook G4.”
  • Session level seemed lower than what I expected and I found myself thinking that some “Expert” and “Intermediate” sessions would have been better characterized as “Intermediate” or “Beginner.”
  • I found the same examples being reused across a number of sessions.  For example, I love table views as much as the next person, but it would have been great to see some other examples used when discussing performance analysis.

On the bright side I did find many sessions quite useful.  I’m also a big fan of Apple’s broad to focused session approach.  It really helped give a big picture overview of the conference.  Here’s what I mean.

The keynote discusses a number of new products and technologies, but goes into very little detail.  At the next level we have a number of “state of the union” sessions that get significantly more detailed than the keynote.  These state of the union sessions give you enough information to help you choose topics for the more specific, high detail sessions presented throughout the week.

The Labs

I was told that you shouldn’t miss the labs at WWDC.  That made sense to me.  I mean really, how often do you get to sit with the Apple engineers that wrote the code you’re trying to use?  Unfortunately for me, I had a very poor experience at the first lab I attended and avoided the labs until the last day of the conference.  I won’t get into details, but let’s just say that the engineer I spoke with was less than polite given the simple “newbie” questions my friend Noel and I posed.  It just seemed like the guy really didn’t want to be there, which in turn made me not want to be there.

Luckily, there weren’t many sessions that piqued my interest on the last day of the conference and I decided to give the labs another try.  This time around I had a fantastic experience.  I think I worked with five engineers over  six hours in various labs on the final day of the conference.  The Apple engineers were great.  I learned how to resolve a number of issues and even learned enough about some performance problems to resurrect a project I had put on hold.

Closing Thoughts and Suggestions

Overall I had a very positive WWDC experience and I will probably attend next year.  The highlight for me was meeting and interacting with so many wonderful people.  That alone was worth the cost of admission.  Some of the sessions were very good, but I think I’ll spend considerably more time in the labs next time around.

I’ll leave you with this list of things to keep in mind as your prepare for your first or next WWDC. Please add your suggestions to the comments and I’ll move them up to this list.

  • Attend “state of the union” sessions for a big picture view of the conference.
  • Come prepared with problems and get help from Apple engineers in the labs.
  • If you’re on the fence between a lower and higher level session, just go to the higher level one.  You’re an “expert” when it comes to many sessions if you’ve written some OS X or iPhone applications.
  • The attendees are friendly.  Take a moment to introduce yourself to the people around you (be it a session, at snack time, or on the escalator).
  • Bring business cards, but save some trees and get the small ones.
  • Slow down a bit and don’t burn yourself out in the first few days.
  • Wear an interesting shirt (e.g., from a cool past or current employer). It’s a great conversation starter.
  • Don’t waste your time waiting in line for the keynote.  Give yourself another few hours of sleep or go do something more interesting.  Chances are you’ll still get into the main hall.  If not, who cares?  They have plenty of overflow space.
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7 Responses to WWDC: A First-Timer's Thoughts

  1. Jake Behrens says:

    Great overview of what to expect. My plans to go fell through this year, so I’m dead set on going next year. This gives me a little more info of what I’m in store for from what I’ve already gathered. Thanks!

  2. PJ Cabrera says:

    Hi Serban,

    I think for the keynote, it boils down to this: it’s gonna be on video later that afternoon. Don’t be a tool. Sleep in.

  3. Great post. I agree with everything except the keynote. If you’re coming from the east coast (like me) or Europe then it’s easy to get up early enough to get in line inside with coffee (albeit Moscone coffee), WiFi, and thousands of interesting people all excited about the week ahead.

    If you’re coming from the west coast or Asia, then you probably do just want to sleep in though.

    As far as the labs go, my problem was trying to find someone from Apple who actually knew more about the technology than I did (and I’ve only been doing this for a couple of months). However, when I found those people, it was well worth it. Just be prepared to spend some time looking for the right Apple engineer.

    • Serban says:

      Frank, I actually had a similar problem at one of the labs. There seemed to be only one person at the conference that knew anything about what I needed and he was M.I.A. for about an hour. That was very frustrating. There was another gentleman waiting for the same Apple engineer so I introduced myself and we sat down and tried to help each other out.

      Sometimes you’re going to feel like you’re getting the runaround in the labs. Don’t give up, be nice to the Apple folks you interact with even though they might not reciprocate, and ask someone else. Eventually, you’ll find the person you’re looking for. It’s important to be persistent. Remember, you just paid a large amount of cash to be at WWDC.

  4. Bill DeVoe says:

    Thanks for the review! I’ve been to many Microsoft dev conferences and found many of the same things there: a preponderance of “this technology is cool and you should use it even it makes no sense to do so” and the simple examples that don’t go into details on the problems you’re going to experience. I wasn’t able to go this year, but am seriously considering going next year, so I appreciate the advice and the info. :)
    And thanks to Frank Szczerba for pointing out that you may need to just find the “right” Apple engineer to resolve your problems. :) That’s some good info!

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