Lame WWDC Survival Guide, 2009

WWDC is roughly a week away, thus very much on my mind. This will be number four for me. This puts me somewhere in the middle of experience; I started going after they got big and moved to the Moscone, but two years before they got huge and sold out. I, therefore, should write a Survival Guide.

Oh, please read every other WWDC Survival Guide first, as they’re better than mine.

I tend to focus on WWDC as a learning experience. I don’t do all that much chatting. I spend too much time at home being a politician so I prefer blending into the atmosphere while away. Many think of WWDC as a network event first, and learning second. That’s fine, but not my cup of tea. I’m giving Apple $1500 of my own money, and I want to suck out of them all I can.

In no particular order:

  • Stay as close as you can to the conference. This is a morning-till-night event and you don’t want to waste time traveling. I have a good friend in the bay area that offers me a bed for MacWorld, but for WWDC I’ll stay at my favorite dumpy hotel two blocks away with free ethernet.
  • Eat a good breakfast. By definition that means skip the official free WWDC breakfast. Stale bagels and cream cheese just don’t do it for me. I’m a breakfast person, and if you are too find something better to get you started in the morning. There’s a Denny’s around the corner, Lori’s Diner not far away. Or take a short walk to Whole Foods and get their take-out, bring it to the Moscone, and drink the free orange juice while making everyone jealous. Even Carl’s Jr’s breakfast isn’t that bad for this if you don’t mind the coronary disease.
  • Sleep a lot. I’m too old for the after-hour parties and be at full brain strength the next morning. I also have real work to do while at the conference, which I try to get out of the way in the early morning hours (I pretty much stay on east coast time while at the conference).
  • Unless you don’t plan to use your laptop at all, bring that power cord. And don’t forget the extension cord piece that came with it, like I did the first year. That extra few feet will come in handy. Every year seem to improve the power strip locations, but best to be prepared. Don’t say “Oh, I’ll just run off battery and plug in later.” No, plug in whenever you can. Oh, and bring the AC cord for your iPhone too; charges faster than USB.
  • Install any beta seeds before you go. Yes you’ll probably get a new seed the first day (either on CD or by download). But this way you’ll know you’ll have a good partition for the seed or a reasonable knowledge of what to expect. Plus you’ll be the smartest guy at lunch pointing out the differences in the newest seed.
  • Make sure you get the right badge. They tried to give me someone else’s badge when I checked in one year. Slightly amusing story if you’re interested.
  • Stay for lunch. This is the only survival guide that will recommend the stale sandwiches. They’re mediocre at best. One thought I’ve had is to buy a sandwich elsewhere in the morning and keep it with me until lunch, but I’ve never felt like lugging it around. I do this for MacWorld (where the food is even worse) but haven’t done so for WWDC yet. I take full advantage of the long lunch break to think about the day’s sessions, answer any work emails/calls, and chat a bit with those in the lunch room. Ok, that’s a little networking I guess, purely incidental. But fun. I once sat across from the Apple engineer responsible for Software Update. I got to vent about many things, and he was sincerely interested in my feedback. I learned a bit too. See, I sucked more knowledge out of Apple while eating stale food. Bonus. Oh, the beverage supplier for lunch is horrible, various off-brand stuff. Cruddy canned iced tea mostly. Very odd.
  • Eat the snacks between sessions. Seriously. Excellent cookies, decent pears, occasionally good chocolates, and much better drinks. I’ll often find a Dr. Pepper, mmmm! Why they can’t have the same beverages during lunch as they do during snacks I’ll never know. When it isn’t “snack time” the good sodas get carted away and the Odwalla drink cases locked up. If I think of it, I’ll grab something good during a morning break so I’ll have a better drink for lunch. Oh, if the snack areas are crowded walk down the hallways; they set up other stations there that don’t get as much activity.
  • Don’t eat the “pizza.” During one of the evening events they’ll provide something called “Moscone Pizza.” I don’t know what it is, but it’s not pizza.
  • Bring a small notepad. I get more ideas during WWDC than any other time of the year, and I’m scribbling endlessly. I prefer a pocket-sized notepad with a little pen, but whatever works. When I get back home I scan the whole thing to PDF using my trusty ScanSnap scanner, so nothing is forgotten.
  • Go to the Design Awards, especially if it’s your first year. It’s very inspirational. Every year I go, I walk away really psyched to enter a project to win next year. I’ve never entered, but it’s still fun and motivates me to keep chugging away. Last year I skipped the awards, which I do regret.
  • If you’re an independent developer, go to the CocoaHeads meeting/talk at the Stockton Street Apple Store, which is on Wednesday night this year. I’ve always enjoyed them, both during WWDC and MacWorld. It’s a break from the show without being too much of a break. Also check cocoaheads.org to see if there’s a group near you.
  • Visit a lab or two, even if you have just a remote excuse. Most sessions are large lectures with a brief Q&A at the end. Labs are very one-on-one. Sometimes just a simple question gets an Apple engineer talking about something great, and once or twice I got in on another developer’s question which was fun. Another great lab experience: I had a very specific question nobody at WWDC could answer. The Apple engineer helping me out asked me to write an email to him, which he forwarded off to some group email within Apple. Within an hour I had a great response back from someone in Cupertino with the exact info I was looking for.
  • Session conflicts are inevitable. By Friday, stop caring. You’ll be so exhausted it’s unimportant which session you attend.

And lastly, if you wish to provide feedback to Apple (and you should), I have these requests:

  • Ask them why the heck it takes months to release session videos to WWDC attendees. Apple has the infrastructure to encode new TV shows and movies like mad, why so long for their own stuff? I help place local government meeting videos online; we get these done in a day or two using a three-year-old iMac and part-time help. These should go online the same day as the session, so you can catch up if you miss something good due to a conflict. Come on Apple, this is easy.
  • Thank them for creating a developer discussion web site. This has been one of my top requests for years. Listservs were fine in the 1990′s and it’s nice to see Apple catching up. Usage is low but that should improve over time.
  • Ask them to bring back Feedback Forum sessions. They disappeared last year, and don’t appear to be on the schedule for 2009. These are sessions where Apple listens in a large group setting, and in some cases provide rare insights into the decision-making process. Apple should add one set of sessions at the very end, Friday late afternoon. These aren’t for everyone, but I think they’re a great way to end a conference.