WWDC is the event of the year for the Apple developer community. The year I had the privilege to be there (it was my first time at a WWDC). WWDC17 was different than previous years as the conference moved back to San Jose after a 15 years run at Moscone West in San Fransisco. San Jose is not a new city for WWDC. The conference took place in McEnery Center from 1988 to 2002 (WWDC 2002 was the year that Steve Jobs announced the “death” of MacOS 9).
I arrived in San Jose on Saturday which is a must if you are travelling from a country with a very different timezone (I got there from Greece which is ten hours ahead of California) in order to have some time to fight jet lag and get ready for the long week ahead.
Sunday is the day for badge pickup. You can pick up your badge on Monday before the keynote, but Sunday is the day to do so, as Monday is going to be a really busy day. Registration and badge pickup opened at 9am. I went in line at 8am and there were already around 50 people before me. Once the registration opens though, the line moves pretty fast. At registration you get a badge which you should not lose because they do not reissue it and a wristband which you have to wear for the whole week alongside the badge. After the badge pickup, I got in line for the swag, which included the famous WWDC jacket and, for the first time this year, some pins, including a country flag pin. After a while the line for the swag got bigger as anyone wanted to try out the jacket before leaving. Breakfast and lunch were offered on Sunday too despite the conference official kick-off was set for Monday.
Everyone in line is super friendly and socialising takes place everywhere inside and around the venue. Other than that Sunday is a day off so it is suitable for a trip around Silicon Valley. That is how me and some fellow developers I met there decided to spend the rest of the day. First stop of this trips couldn’t be anywhere else other than Apple Campus (the old one as the new one was not opened to public yet). There is not much to see in Apple Cupertino Campus but there is an Apple Store there that is the only one in the world that sells official Apple merchandise. Almost everyone attending WWDC visits that store, so if you want to find the tshirts you want in the sizes you want you have to get there as earlier during the week as you can.
After Apple we visited the Google campus (Googleplex) in Mountain View, which is open for public. You cannot enter the buildings without knowing a Google employee that can get you a guest pass, but you can freely walk around the campus. Final stop was The Stanford University which needs no introduction and is in the to-do list of everyone that visits Silicon Valley. The campus is huge and its architecture and history are mind blowing and one of a kind.
Monday is the big day. Keynote starts at 10am. Everyone’s question is what time should you get to the line in order to get a good seat for the keynote. The good thing is that this year at McEnery there was a large enough hall to accommodate everyone for the keynote, so all attendees got a seat and watched the keynote live. I went in line around 7am and I got a pretty good seat on the right side. The waiting in the line is also a great opportunity for socializing and excitement and anticipation is all over the place. The Apple stuff is super friendly and once again, when the doors open around 9:30am the line moves fast.
After the keynote there is the Platforms State of the Union session which is kind of a keynote for developers and is the must-attend session of the week for everyone developing for Apple platforms. Developers -including me- were super excited with the new features in Xcode 9 (hello Swift refactoring) and the CoreML and ARKit frameworks. Later on Monday there was a hands on session for developers for all the new products Apple announced. Of course everyone was in front of the new iMac Pro and the new HomePod. HomePod looks much better in person than in the videos.
I got a chance to try VR on the Mac using the HTC kit and the result was fully realistic and impressive but I used it for just a few seconds, so I do not have a clear opinion about it. Judging by the community reaction though, Apple is off to a good start with VR and AI.
Session & labs
The whole week after Monday is packed with sessions and labs. There are multiple concurrent sessions so plan accordingly. The WWDC app is a nice and convenient way to do that. All sessions are available online after a day or two so if two sessions that you want to attend are on the same time, just attend one and watch the other online. Labs are in my opinion the biggest privilege of being at WWDC. You get the chance to talk to Apple engineers, show them your code and get advice and guidance. It is simply amazing that you can actually talk to the people that have built the frameworks you are using and help you with any issue you have. I visited many labs about App Store, iTunes Connect, Swift and Xcode and in almost every single one of them I got my issues solved or got valuable advices. Even when my issue could not be solved right away, the Apple engineer sent me a follow-up email after a couple of days. Keep in mind that many labs are by appointment. Reservations for each day open at 7am in the morning online on the Apple developer website. So if you want to reserve a lab appointment, act fast because some labs like the UI/UX or the App Store lab have their time slots filled within minutes. If a lab is at the same time with a session you are interested to attend, just go to the lab and watch the session after through the Apple website.
Events & Bash
During the week there are multiple events and parties that take place in town. All of them this year moved from San Fransisco to San Jose. These events are a great place to meet other developers, share knowledge and socialize. Firebase party, Beard Bash by Jim Dalrymple and John Gruber’s Talk Show were some of the events that stood out this year. There also other conferences running in parallel with WWDC for those who didn’t get a ticket or for attendees that want to spend some time there too like Alt Conf and Cocoa Conf.
Apple holds its own party on Thursday night. The Bash this year took place at a park near McEnery. There was a live act, food from around the world, games and of course beer for everyone over 21 years old.
Tips for first timers
- You do not need your laptop on Monday. Just an iPad or a notebook (a physical one) for keeping notes during the State of the Union is ok.
- San Jose weather is much warmer than San Fransisco but during the night it gets cold so bring the appropriate clothes.
- The week is long and exhausting so if you travel from far away it is better to get there on Saturday so you have the day prior to the conference free to accommodate yourself.
- Visit labs. Bring your code and visit the labs to get help and advice from Apple Engineers.
- Do not miss State of the Union. It is like the keynote in terms of vibes and applauses but specifically for developers and 100% techy and code oriented.
- If you have a long-haul return flight, download sessions and watch them during the flight.
The feeling I got during this week can be best described using a quote that was written on a wall decoration during the conference:
A place where technology meets the liberal arts and the humanities to create new ideas that push us all forward. Where the moments you’ve lived, the songs you’ve heard, and all that inspires you find their application. This is where people unleash technology’s full potential. And vice versa. This is WWDC.
Attending WWDC was a massive experience. It is an exhausting week but it totally pays off. Talking to Apple Engineers about your code, getting advice and meeting all those talented developers from all over the world is a lifetime experience.