Most of what I have to say about going to WWDC has been covered elsewhere; Casey Liss‘s post stands out as the best in my mind.
WWDC 2014 will be my fourth (in a row!), so I’m hardly going to harken back to ‘the old days’, but I do feel like I’ve made some mistakes that I hope to prevent others from making.
Registration is, to my recollection, the least busy during the middle of the day. I usually go between 10AM and 11AM; I’ve been through the line in 10 minutes. The line lengths vary more than you’d expect – stick to the alphabetical distribution and they may redistribute you across stations at the *front* of the line rather than as a group.
Apple has already told you this several times by now, but it bears repeating: you must have photo identification matching the name on the registration to pick up your badge. If you expect any kind of exception, you’re in for a rude surprise.
This goes for each day, but in particular, for day 1: pack as light as you can, and keep yourself organized.
I cannot overstate the importance of bringing an Ethernet adapter if you want the latest goodies (iOS, OS X, Xcode) following the keynote. Downloading these large files is (wisely) blocked on the Wi-Fi. That aside, you’d want Ethernet anyways: the hard-line Ethernet connections offer a gigabit connection to both Apple’s servers and the Internet.
I bought an iPod touch last year to put the iOS 7 beta on. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Use a test device: you don’t want to mess up your main phone during one of the busiest weeks of your year.
If you really need something sundry, just get it at the newly-opened Target across the street rather than carrying a drugstore along.
One thing I skimp on too often is cold-weather clothing: it may be June, but San Francisco will quickly swing into the low 50s Fahrenheit in the evening. (More on that below.) Bring warmth.
Keynote Linesitting: Nerdapalooza
The keynote line is a spectacle in and of itself. I’ve arrived around 5 AM each year, and each year the line is longer when I get there. On the other hand, the size of the Presidio “room” also seems to increase each year.
I hate talking about line manners because 1) someone will always break them and 2) this should be obvious anyways, but:
- Please don’t “save a spot” for 6 people who arrive 2 hours later than you. Or even really one person. People woke up really friggin’ early to get in line, and probably sat through some cold, crappy, dark, noisy wee morning hours in order to get that good spot. It’s all we have, okay?
- The practical part is that if you’ve been in line for a while and need to go to the bathroom, yes, you’ll probably get your spot back. Beyond that I’m not sure what people’s attitudes are.
- Running inside the building is dangerous and pointless. Okay, we’re not talking life-and-limb here, but if you spill someone’s coffee on their pants, you have definitely ruined their day. You’re really not going to get ahead by that much in the end; on the other hand, you’ll be seeing all of these people for the next 5 days and they will remember your face.
- Introduce yourself to the people around you. You’re going to be waiting a while – perhaps hours – and you’re going to end up talking to them regardless of your intentions. Pass the time, make a friend, identify an enemy, whatever – just don’t ignore the human element of the conference completely.
- By the time the line is all the way down Minna Street (the alley on the ‘long’ side of Moscone), Apple folks will start compressing the lines. Most of us have fairly large ‘bubbles’… but you’re not going to get around it. You’re going to be close to people. Be considerate of them.
- Compressing the lines means you’re going to be moving frequently. If you are sitting in a chair or on the sidewalk, be ready to move at any moment. (This is part of why it’s important to pack light.)
Apple has started providing coffee to folks in line. I don’t take advantage of that, preferring instead pure rocket fuel. Be mindful of your caffeine intake for bathroom/dehydration/heart health reasons.
There will also be folks from other companies giving away freebies to people in line; I have yet to have been offered or received anything useful.
Based on previous years, you won’t be inside Moscone until 9:00 AM or so – dress warm. A few hours seems like forever when you’re standing or sitting around on a sidewalk in a less-than-picturesque part of San Francisco. Even inside, you get to wait some more – but at least there’s some kind of breakfast. Eventually, you’ll make it to the top of the building to Presidio for the keynote.
In previous years, Presidio was too small to fit everyone. The first half-or-so of folks would fit in Presidio; the others would go into ‘overflow rooms’ where the keynote was shown live on projection screens. As far as I can tell, Presidio is now enormous enough on Monday to fit everyone.
If you want to sit with your friends or colleagues, your best bet is to find space behind the projection screens placed about halfway back in the room. You will probably not find more than 3 contiguous seats together ahead of the screens.
Going solo for the keynote is the best way to get toward the front. In fact, solo-ers have been known to walk into Moscone at 9:55 AM and get a fourth-row seat. I think everyone should sit close once just to see that these perfectly-delivered presentations are, in fact, done by real people and not Disney animatronics. The amount of practice and polish that goes into the keynote is astounding, and even more so from feet away.
Another point of manners: if the row of seats is nearly empty, please don’t sit at the outside of the row and make all of us put our butts/knees/laptop bags in your face when we sit down. The row will fill. You’re not going to get around having to sit next to someone. Embrace it.
Conveniently, there’s a giant empty time slot after the keynote. Download all the new bits, grab lunch, and recoup. All of the technical details we, as developers, crave have been held out for Platforms State of the Union. There will be slides in the keynote where you wonder, “What the hell is that?” – Platforms State of the Union is where you either find out, or find out the session where you can find out. You’ll want to have a notepad handy to write down the most relevant sessions from this presentation as a first pass – reading all of the session descriptions can get tedious.
Although the session schedule “TBDs” are posted after the keynote, there’s not much point in working out a schedule that soon: the first split of the tracks isn’t until Tuesday. Wait until after the State of the Union to plan your sessions.
Monday is odd. It’s the least-time-intensive day of the conference (linesitting aside), but the sheer number of new things coming at you is utterly overwhelming. The rest of the week is about endurance.
Every person has their own pace of learning, stress level, and fun factor. You will see people exhausted by Wednesday; others can attend every session and still be ready to party all night. The important thing is to find your own balance. The fact that the session videos will be posted quickly is a blessing, but you want to learn as much as you can during the week to maximize the usefulness of your time with Apple engineers in the labs.
As everyone says, staying hydrated and well-nourished is important for your brain to operate at such a high level all week. Pastries are everywhere? Abstain. As tempting as it is to grab 4 bottles of Odwalla at every opportunity, don’t. So damn delicious, but there is actually more sugar in each bottle of Strawberry C Monster than there is in a can of Coca-Cola. There are almost twice as many calories in that juice too. You will crash, and you will feel terrible, and no amount of deliciousness will console you at that point. Bring a Nalgene (or Camelbak or whatever is popular with kids these days) for water. Bring Crystal Light or Gatorade powder sticks if you’re like me and can’t drink water without flavor.
The sessions themselves are amazingly well-prepared, and as shown on the schedule by the number of TBD sessions, there is a lot of new stuff to learn. It’s easy to get into a sort of session-trance where you’re simply typing what you hear. I’ve stopped taking notes because of that: there are frequently subtle caveats or notes that are extraordinarily important, but are not given any special tone of voice or repetition in the presentation. Listening carefully will save you time and effort later, and I have yet to seriously refer to my notes for details. If something bears reviewing, you’ll want to review the full session video rather than your notes anyhow.
If you thought that, following the keynote, you were done with lines: sorry. Many popular sessions will have lengthy lines. Lines, as you can tell, are the quintessential San Francisco tradition.
The lunch is efficient and okay. I try to go out for lunch at least two days just to avoid a sense of Matrix-like food tedium – there are myriad chain options in the Metreon across the street and in the Westfield a block away, and a fair number of decent restaurants in the area generally. Just don’t expect anything too boutique.
Thursday’s lunch speaker is usually pretty fantastic, and the lines will reflect that. I skipped a track session to be first in line for Bill Nye in 2013; I will never be able to say I’m cool again, but it was worth it.
I freely admit I’m not a huge party fan. Maybe it’s because I live here, but I have a hard time getting excited about parties during WWDC. Maybe it’s my complete inability to rally through a hangover. But many of the ‘parties’ and ‘happy hours’ are actually recruiting or marketing events. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it might even be perfect for you – just know what you’re getting yourself into. Something’s gotta pay the bills.
Making time to see friends, on the other hand, is something I never regret. Try to find out who will be around before the week starts – it’s hard to track down folks when they’re furiously trying to get Xcode to work with their code before the lab closes.
The one exception to my avoidance of parties, and the one event of the week I think is universally underrated, is John Dempsey and The Breakpoints Live NEAR WWDC. I haven’t met an iOS developer who doesn’t find their songs amazing, and their Keynote slides (and transitions) are on-point.
Stump the Experts is fun, but maybe too left-field for some folks. Try it once, at least.
Apple’s Bash at Yerba Buena Gardens on Thursday night is a fun (and inexpensive!) way to see everyone for a last hurrah since people returning to the east coast tend to leave Friday afternoon. (The sessions more or less end Friday morning, though labs are open for a while after.)
Go Forth. Learn. Meet people
You’re obviously going to learn a lot at WWDC, but the unique opportunity for attendees is to meet people with a similar taste in technology but diverse walks of life and mind. For many of us, social interaction is draining, and we’re already running on empty, but you won’t regret it. These are some bright minds working on an even brighter part of the future of humanity – you’ll gain energy from seeing the fantastic things yet to come.
Aside: Weather in San Francisco
We’ve been lucky the last couple years, and I feel like it’s going to catch some people out in 2014. 2012 and 2013 both had fantastic weather with highs in the upper 70s and lows in the mid-to-low 60s with abundant sun. This is an anomaly for San Francisco in June. We typically see fog and 50s through noon this time of year, followed by a few hours of broken clouds or sun, and straight back to fog and 50s. It looks like 2014 will be more typical than not. Apple wisely provides jackets as swag to attendees, and usually they’re adequate, but I would encourage folks to wear or carry something more substantial for 2014.
Why the hell is it so cold in June? This isn’t Alaska. It’s California! It might not be Alaska, but we feel the wrath of Alaskan ocean currents. In most parts of the US, weather is very west-to-east and land mass retains heat. Here, the ocean air is frigid and moderated, but the interior valleys swing with the sun. The atmospheric pressure changing over the interior valleys changes the direction of the wind – from the ocean onto land during the cool valley night, land-to-ocean during the warm valley day. When the wind comes from the ocean, it brings that frigid air over San Francisco and we get sad.