Thumbthing Writings by Bob Spryn, and Roderic Campbell, iOS Engineers and founders at Thumbworks

WWDC Attendance FAQ

We often see a lot of questions about what to expect when attending WWDC, and the best strategies for getting the most out of it. There are a lot of great answers and suggestions to those questions out there. Here are ours:

Have you ever been to WWDC?

R: Yes. I missed a few years in a row then i hit a bit if a lucky streak. 2013 2015 2017 2018. I didn’t win the lottery this year. but I’ll be in San Jose following along from the hotel lobbies, coffee shops, and AltConf.

B: Yes. In 2012 I was crushed when I accidentally closed my laptop that was page scraping the WWDC site to notify me of a change (tickets available!) It was before the lottery and the tickets went on sale the next morning, so I missed out. But I did get in in 2013, and again in 2018. While Roderic had a string of luck once the lottery started, I was sure I had ticked off Tim Cook somehow! I’ll be in San Jose as well following along from various spots, hanging out with other folks not attending.

What are the key takeaways or highlights from the week?

R: WWDC is my favorite week of the year. It’s the only real way to meet the engineers that made all of the platforms that we rely on throughout the entire year. The entire community comes out and the authors of a bunch of the tools and products we use are there. It is a great reminder that we are all in this together and we all suffer the same pains. As for highlights, I would say the labs are where the most bang for your buck are, for the reasons I mentioned above.

B: I think it’s the energy and camaraderie. There aren’t many industries where you get a shot of excitement and surprises from a single source like we do at WWDC, with an almost Christmas-like atmosphere. We get to learn about tools that have the potential to improve our everyday development tasks, and be the first to learn about all new technologies that might usher in an all new breed of products likely to eventually impact billions of lives. That’s pretty exciting. Pair that with being able to spend a week catching up with old friends and colleagues who share our strange little world. It’s hard not to come away a little inspired.

Should I get in line for the keynote the might before?

R: We did this the first year we had a ticket. I believe we got in line around 3am. It is quite an experience to meet these die hard fans of the conference and I‘m glad we did it. That said, I prpbably wont do this again. It takes a toll on you, and this isn’t the main purpose for the week, it’s the kickoff. All of your brain power is used immediately after the keynote and I like to be firing on all cyclinders once the betas are available.

B: I’m also not quite as keen to do this anymore. I think it’s worth doing once or twice if you are really excited to see the magic up close. We did it in 2013, and I thought it was a ton of fun. Sure I was tired, but I was able to catch a nap later in the day and still go pretty hard all week. But unless you are super close (super early in line), you might still end up off to the side or not really get the impact you were looking for. Keynotes are very fun to attend, and it’s exciting to be up close, but it’s not everything.

I’ve heard conferences are all about parties. What is the party scene like?

R: Parties are fine, and free food and drinks are pretty much expected, but I’ll be honest, most of these parties are transparently hiring opportunities for companies. Meanwhile the SDKs are just waiting for you to explore. I’d much rather spend my time hacking on those, or going to dinner with a few folks just to get everyone’s reactions to the new bits. We have been pretty heavily involved in the morning coffee meetups and they are a really great way to start my day.

B: I loved the parties my first year (2013). The next few years my interest really dwindled for the reasons Roderic covered. I started to feel old when I went to one of the parties in 2015 and couldn’t help but thinking “I wish they would turn the music down so I could chat with my friends here. Why is it so hot in here?”, and other old man thoughts. I’m sure it depends on your personality and stage of life. At this point I’m much more interested in more intimate dinners with old friends and new connections, doing some hacking with new SDKs and going to coffee meetups.

Ok but what about the bash?

R: Yeah the bash is pretty good. It’s probably the only evening event I’d be interested in, but there are still things I’d prefer to do instead. B: It’s good if you want to blow off steam and do some dancing/partying/playing. Again, I think the thing I dislike the most is that it’s challenging to have a conversation. If I want to go to a concert, I’ll pick a band I like and go pay full attention to the show. At WWDC I’m more interested in the other people there.

Given that you have been a few times, do you have a strategy that works to get the most out of the week?

R: Definitely. The first year was 2013 which gave us the release of iOS 7. This was a huge transition from skeuomorphic interfaces to largely flat. Days were all about sitting in sessions and just listening to Apple’s engineers tell me about all of the things I would be obsessing about over the next year. Nights had me filling up on as much free food and drink as I could handle, then I’d wake up hungover and I’d try my best to make in on time for the first session. There were probably only 2 or 3 session slots that I didn’t attend.

The next year I was ticketed was 2015. It was the first year in which WatchOS was featured and discussed deeply. It was also the first year that members were not under NDA and could freely discuss the new bits publicly. With that change, my goal was to create a blog post about something before anyone else. Given that we don’t know what the week is going to be about, I needed to make a plan.

  1. Watch the keynote
  2. Check out the State of the Union at 2 or 3pm that day.
  3. Figure out something that really speaks to me.

I did my work on Watch connectivity which was a blast to write. To acheive this goal, I figured out all of the sessions that were relevant for that week and I made sure I went to them. There were roughly 4 sessions on WatchOS and connectivity. Beyond that I dove into the APIs to try to get some kind of prototype up and running by the end of the week and document the process for the blog. If there is another session that caught my eye, sure, I’d hit that and take a break from the blog post. This was the year where I really saw the value in spending all of my time in the labs. I just camped in there when I wasn’t in a session and dropped into the relevant lab if I hit any bumps in the road. You have to remember that these SDKs are not written in stone and you can actually provide feedback that the engineers are very receptive to.

The details differ from year to year but the framework for setting a goal and executing is the same. Last year I went a bit deeper into ARKit and as a result we had a prototype of MagicPhotos working and testable by the end of the week.


Somewhat covered above, but after the first few years I was partied out. Look for more intimate events, or maybe even events where you might learn something (a couple years I went to ReactiveCocoa mini conferences at Github). I suggest getting to bed at a reasonable time most nights. Doing the parties in 2013, I still went to lots of session time slots, and dozed off in quite a few despite being super interested in the topic. Do watch the videos/sessions, because let’s be honest you probably will not end up with time/enthusiasm to make it through your long queue of videos once you are back at work. But also skip a session or two to play with the SDKs. Try and build something. Hit the labs if you have questions. Try to grab different people and do your meals with them. Make a couple special nights where you try and get a bigger group together and go to a nice dinner if you can.

Give yourself permission to be excited about nerdy technology things for a little while, despite whatever other stressors you might have in your daily life. Sure it’ll all be antiquated one day, and perhaps it’s a little silly to get so jazzed about a new combination of 0s and 1s some fruit company has come up with, but for right now it’s fun new stuff and it’s ok to enjoy that. It’s totally fine to drink the koolaid for a little bit.

What are you excited for this year?

R: I’d mentioned before that I don’t have a ticket so I’ll be watching some sessions when they become available. Monday of WWDC is always such a hope filled and inspiring day and I can’t wait to see how that plays out. The last 2 years were about ARKit for me and I’m really excited to start something new. Maybe something with CoreML or some of the vision frameworks if something new sticks out for me.

B: A lot of what I think about now is app architecture. As a big proponent of reactive programming, I’m really hoping one of these days Apple starts leading us down that path, though I’m not really thinking that’s happening anytime soon. Dave Verwer Doesn’t seem to think so either, despite a rash of new declarative ideas being announced by some pretty cool third party cats, and Google announcing something in that vein. Some sort of shift to declarative APIs has been rumored since the year swift was announced, but it’s probably still wishful thinking. Otherwise I’m along for the ride. I’m almost less concerned with what things are announced then to see that Apple keeps innovating and pushing the envelope with it’s software. Oh, also maybe get rid of the volume HUD and announce a new Apple Display.