Few iOS events are more tied to career development than WWDC. Nowhere do you have access to more than 5,000 developers and engineers in the iOS space. Several hundred of these folks work for Apple, one of the few times you can talk one-on-one with them.
If you’re still trying to convince your employer to pay for your trip to WWDC, send your boss the reasons to send your iOS developers to WWDC.
The first step to prepare for WWDC is knowing what technologies you and your business rely on. If your app is a game, you’ll probably want to attend sessions on Metal or Sprite Kit. If you make an audio app, you’ll probably want to learn about changes in AudioKit.
If more than one person is attending from your company, you may wish to coordinate so that you can divide and conquer the conference.
I also suggest attending sessions that are less technical in nature. Marketing, design, and accessibility knowledge are universally useful to all apps.
Apple packs WWDC with events. It’s critical to download the WWDC app on the App Store and examine the 2019 schedule (when it’s released). I go through the entire program both before the keynote (when some session names are obscured to keep the surprise) and afterward.
The first day of WWDC usually offers no choices. There is a keynote line, opportunities to grab snacks and coffee as the line moves, and then a lengthy keynote address. The keynote contains some content for developers, but mostly it is at a level intended for the technology media.
After the keynote, lunch is served. After lunch, the Platforms State of the Union takes place. This is where developers get an overview of how to write software to take advantage of the new technologies.
Wrapping up the day is the Apple Design Awards.
After Monday, the rest of the week is about scheduling tradeoffs. There will be multiple talks at the same time. Some of them might repeat later in the week. Others will not. There will also be labs that come and go through the week.
Some labs and consultations require you to make an appointment through the WWDC app. They fill fast, so jump on them as soon as they open reservations.
You will almost certainly miss out on something, so know what your priorities are ahead of time. If colleagues or friends are attending, it’s nice to make plans together. You each can go to different sessions and compare notes later.
You can also make new friends and compare notes with them. Occasionally you’ll hear about a fantastic session that you can catch later in the week as an encore.
Bring business cards with you to WWDC and hand them out to everyone you meet. I suggest scribbling a note on their back – something to remind them what you discussed.
When you receive a business card, I suggest scanning it into an App like Scannable and then sending a quick email like:
I really enjoyed discussing logging tools with you at WWDC!
Keep in touch,
Business cards might seem old-fashioned, but they have a useful social purpose: if you meet someone you’d like to keep in touch with, handing them a business card makes it more likely they’ll reciprocate. This might not work on Tim Cook or Hair Force One, but it never hurts to try.
If you don’t have business cards, get them. Many large companies have a simple process to order official business cards – talk to your boss or an administrator. If you can’t get business cards that way, make your own personal cards. Many places will print excellent cards for less than $50
No part of the conference is more valuable to a developer than the labs. The WWDC labs are where you can speak directly to Apple’s engineers.
Making the best use of the labs requires you do some homework: talk to your team and figure out if there are any technical issues you need help with. Did any of your colleagues file a radar they want to ask about? This is the time.
If there are new technologies announced at WWDC that you want to use, start implementing them immediately. When you run into trouble or have questions, that’s a great time to go to the labs for help.
The labs are scheduled and assigned to an area of the lab’s floor. Each area generally has someone who manages the attendees with questions. You’ll get into line and wait for the next available Apple engineer.
Sometimes the first engineer may not be able to answer your question. It happens, and sometimes, the Apple engineer doesn’t know how to handle the situation. Instead of waiting in line again, politely ask for an introduction to an engineer who can help: “can you introduce me to them?”.
If they don’t know who can help, you can ask if someone else might know who can help. Usually, you’ll be briefly introduced to another Apple engineer and asked to wait a few minutes while they finish their current discussion.
Note: the labs fill quickly. I suggest arriving early and getting in line. Usually, there are one or more Apple employees directing traffic. Ask them where to line up for the lab you want.
Apple has started operating meetups at WWDC. If you’re even mildly interested in the topic, attend. Social events like these are where you’ll find serious people, not just employees on a boondoggle.
Meetups are a great opportunity to talk to as many folks as you can, even Apple employees. Treat everyone as if they might be a future life-long friend. They might be!
If you need to get a little more space for yourself or to have a meeting, there is a coffee shop attached to the convention center. As you enter the main entrance of the convention center, turn right on the main floor and continue past hall 3. It’s just outside a security checkpoint.
The cafe isn’t empty, but it feels like a library compared to the bustle of WWDC.
When you get a WWDC ticket, Apple emails you a link which gives you access to discounted hotel rates. This link is also crucial because Apple reserves a large block of rooms. San Jose often runs low on lodging during WWDC, so book a place ASAP.
The cheapest of the WWDC-associated hotels start at around $300 per night. It’s not cheap – San Jose is one of the most expensive cities for real estate in the US.
If they are available, get a hotel as close to the convention center as possible. The WWDC days run long. You will exhaust yourself commuting if your hotel is more than a few blocks away. You typically have to find a hotel very far away to get a significantly cheaper rate.
If you’re concerned about the expense, you may also wish to investigate alternative forms of lodging like Airbnb and HomeAway.
Don't let the Bay Area geography fool you. San Jose is a lot warmer during the day than San Francisco, and you should expect warm days (in the 80's Fahrenheit) with cool nights (in the 50's Fahrenheit). Jeans will be fine indoors at WWDC, but you may feel too hot for outdoor activity. Likewise, you might want a light jacket (like the one you'll probably get with your WWDC ticket) in the evening.
Here are some other suggestions:
The session videos usually make it online quickly, so there is little reason to take word-for-word notes. I suggest writing down new technologies or ideas that seem useful for your apps so you can follow up later.
It’s useful to keep your notes searchable, so I typically throw keywords into my notes, like important classes, frameworks, or demos.
There are many parties during WWDC, most sponsored by large tech companies, and a few to sponsor important charities like App Camp for Girls. Historically, the best place to find them is the Parties app in the App Store.
Some of the parties will offer some quiet time to talk, but many play music so loud that conversation is impossible. Time is short at WWDC, so don’t feel bad about walking out of a party after only a few minutes.
Many developers feel reluctant to skip sessions at WWDC, but you can sometimes get more value by instead writing some code to test new technologies. There is no better place to try new APIs than WWDC. If you get stuck, you can ask an attendee for help or go to the labs and get help from an Apple engineer.
If you can walk out of WWDC with a working PR for a new feature in your app, you’ve done great! You can always watch a video later.
If the trend continues, Apple will issue a jacket and a randomized set of enamel pins to each attendee. Not everyone will have the same pins, so its an opportunity to trade.
Also, some events, meetups, labs, and sessions will have unique pins available. Often the person holding the pins isn’t in a conspicuous place. Be observant and look for someone carrying an open cardboard box.
Apple’s security detail includes several Vapor Wake dogs, each wearing an adorable Apple employee badge. Like all working dogs, you shouldn’t touch or interact with them without their handler’s permission. They’re doing a job, and you shouldn’t distract them.
If you’d like to meet the dogs, ask questions, or just get a closer look, the best time is the end of the last day of WWDC. Apple’s security team is much more relaxed when the event is over, and they aren’t responsible for 5000 guests.
Be sure to thank the security team.
As a WWDC attendee, you will probably receive a WWDC badge on a lanyard, a WWDC jacket and a pack of enamel pins during registration.
If you’d like additional Apple swag, there are three opportunities in the San Jose area:
Keep in mind that all three of these options are not cheap. A T-shirt might cost more than $30.
The most convenient store geographically is the company store at WWDC (which I’ll call the conference store for clarity), which is usually found on the ground floor of the convention center. There are a few things you need to know about the company store. First, it’s hours are irregular. I suggest asking a staff member about the hours but don’t fully trust them. If the store runs out of merchandise, it will close early.
Second, many of the items at the conference store are unique to WWDC. Many of them are made in limited runs as well. When a WWDC t-shirt runs out of stock, it’s probably gone for the entire conference. If you want a shot at the best swag, you’ll need to get in line early.
Third, new items will show up at the conference store each day, except perhaps Friday. In my opinion, the most unique goods appear earlier in the conference.
Fourth, the lines at the conference store can be arduous. Last year, they stretched outside of the conference center and on to the sidewalk. The wait was at least an hour long.
Finally, since the conference store is usually hidden behind some walls, I suggest hanging out at the exit and asking folks about the merchandise as they exit. If none of the items appeal to you, you can skip the long lines.
The Apple Store at 1 Infinite Loop has unique shirts and other swag that neither of the other two venues has. In my opinion, their best items are their unique T-shirts. The materials and construction of the T-Shirts here and at the Apple Park Visitor Center are higher quality than the shirts sold at WWDC. In fact, the shirts I’ve purchased at those two stores are probably the best T-Shirts I own. They’re quite soft, thick, and are Apple labeled (unlike at the conference store, which sells standard third-party made shirts).
While you can’t enter any part of the Apple campus at 1 Infinite Loop besides the Apple Store, you can take a selfie in front of a sign with the most famous addresses in Apple history.
The Apple Park Visitor Center is across the street from Apple Park. It also contains an Apple store, in addition to a viewing deck which lets you peek the massive round shape of Apple’s new headquarters. It also sells high-quality T-Shirts and other bits of Apple swag, and the designs are generally unique from the 1 Infinite Loop store.
The visitor center has unique architecture, the details which mirror the headquarters. However, the “flying saucer” building across the street is some distance away and partially obscured by vegetation. In 2019, I circumnavigated part of Apple Park with a friend. While you get occasional glimpses of the structure, it’s a bit like walking around the outside of a theme park. Most of the campus is hidden by a raised berm and trees.
If you’re visiting from out of town like me, you’re in luck. The bay area is beautiful.
For activities in San Jose, read Jaim Zuber's WWDC Guide to San Jose. He has good recommendations for food, drink, and activities. If you'd like some Apple shirts or coffee mugs, I also suggest visiting the stores at Apple Park Visitor Center and 1 Infinite Loop (see above).
If you don’t mind a car or train ride, I highly recommend visiting San Francisco. My favorite spots in San Francisco are:
If work allowed you to attend WWDC, its essential to return value to your company and team. I suggest writing up a report summarizing what you learned, ideas for your app, questions you got answered, and any useful contacts you met at the event. I also suggest asking your team to message you if there are any technologies they’d like you to investigate.
When you return, consider demonstrating any new techniques you learned and sharing the demo code you wrote.
The point of your employer sending you to WWDC is to bring back value: either ideas that will make more revenue, techniques, or tools to build software faster or more reliably.
If you come back empty-handed, the trip will look like a boondoggle, and your colleagues may have a harder time going to conferences.