This is my 6th or so WWDC, but I realize that others have never attended. Here is a very loose diary of what it is like.
Overall the event is about disseminating information, meeting our peers, and having a lot of fun. But our peers are as weird as we are, and the information comes gushing at a rate at which you can't possibly absorb.
The Mac community of developers is a group of individuals -- to say the least. We have the geeks, weirdo's, turbo-nerds, enthusiasts, occasional marketing types, and a bunch of loons. Long hair (pony tails) and beards are in, not to mention T-Shirts and jeans. Everyone seems to have a very enthusiastic opinion about something (everything). Being here makes you wonder if there are any non-excentric Mac programmers -- and gives you concerns about actually looking in a mirror.
You fly, drive, ride, or hitchhike to the conference -- which starts on Tuesday. You are guaranteed to have the usual travel screw-ups, and Murphy must prove his law. Our proof materialized when out room key wouldn't work, and the Hotels room-key maker was broken.
Visit any friends you have in the area on Monday, because there will be no other time during the week to do so. We did exactly that, and took a trek down to Mecca (Apple Campus). We wandered aimlessly, played pool and arcade games in 5th floor engineering (they have free games), and I bought a MacOS watch at the company store. It helps if you know Apple employees, otherwise the wandering around is frowned on by security, and impossible since Apple requires badge access to get anywhere.
If you visit the main campus they have an Icon Garden -- giant statues of your favorite icons on a lawn. There is also a company store (lots of logo'ed merchandise), and a book store. Inside they have many offices, lots of computers, and vending machines that contain Mountain Dew (Ambrosia to programmers). Last time I visited the company store I was attacked by a very territorial bird (I wandered too close to a nest or something and it hit me in the head) -- but it wasn't around this time and I wondered if the bird got a life-lesson in badminton or something.
Get up early, and get to the conference at 7:30 a.m. (at least an hour early), after getting a mediocre nights' rest. Then wait an hour for the hall doors to actually open. They have food (Bagels and Croissants and Juice), to eat while you wait -- and you can make sport by wander around looking at name-tags and sparking up conversations. The amazing thing is the amount of information you get just eavesdropping or wandering in on other conversations. Its like being in a crowded nightclub (without the music) where EVERYONE is talking about Macs and Programming. Geek-heaven.
As the keynote time draws near you herd around the doors of the main hall, with 4,000 of your closest friends, waiting for them to open up. Finally one, and only one, of the 5 doors -- so that you can study the fluid dynamics of Everyone trying to get in to the same hall, at the same time, through openings much to small to accommodate the volume.
The opening Keynotes are where they pump you full of information and hype and remotivate you, for the coming year, on all the cool stuff they are doing on Macs. They show some prototype Hardware -- like G3 processors that are scoring numbers 4 or 5 times as high as todays TOP end, and casually mention that these are going to be mid-level Macs (cost). They show you Software demo's -- like MacOS 8 and Rhapsody. Apple announces their plans, and give you overviews of what tracks you are going to want to follow and what sessions you are going to want to attend for the rest of the show. The answer is that you want to see all of them and you will be unable to do so.
The first day is about taking notes, and getting an overview of what is going to go on. By afternoon they start splitting out and there are multiple tracks. The people who layout the tracks have the psychic ability to know exactly what two (or three or four) sessions you want to see, and strategically place them at the same time. Some sessions are repeated, but that is futile because they are also placed at competing times with other non-repeating sessions.
You get up a little later than you did on Tuesday. Today is the day of choices. All day you get to argue with yourself over which tracks to attend -- but don't do that out loud, that's too weird even for here. The 11 hours of events can go by pretty quickly -- except for a few grueling lectures. WWDC is a study in bad communication skills vs. good speaking skills. 3 out of 4 sessions are interesting and well done. Then you get some poor geek who is in over his head, who speaks in monotone, can't keep on a single thought -- and sometimes has an accent so thick you are not sure if he is speaking English. If you are smart, you flee immediately and go to another session -- otherwise you spend a lifetime slipping between consciousness and comatose, just hoping that they will pull out your feeding tube and let it end. They schedule the especially dry speakers and slower sessions for immediately after lunch so that you can give up all hope of remaining alert. In even the driest of sessions they like to slip in a few must know nuggets to punish you for your inattentiveness.
The lunches are cafeteria style, done by a local caterer. The food is pretty good -- but not even vaguely low-fat. I try save some chicken and vegetables from drowning in butter, but I was too late. So to make up for that, I top it off with some artery clogging desert (there are cookies and cakes and pastries -- oh my).
When the sessions are over, you rush on over to a San Jose hot-spot for free alcohol (usually beer) and Hours' De'vours. These events are about mingling, getting answers, and finding someone to hang out with so you don't look alone. Fortunately, with all the computer conversations going on, it is easy to find conversation -- the people are friendly, and most are social outcasts (more than you are yourself) so these are likely the least awkward events you'll ever attend.
You get up a little later than the first few days (notice the trend?), and realize that beer and your older body don't get along as well as they used to. In fact, fatty food, beer, and a complete lack of anything more physical than sitting is causing your system to seize up completely. More track choices.
By now (well actually the first day, but I am just mentioning it now), you are noticing how damn uncomfortable these lashed-together conference chairs are. For the last couple of days you have learned to rate what halls have better chairs, and you are considering session choices based on how sore your ass is. Breaking apart the chairs, or laying on the ground, are both popular alternatives. If you are using a laptop you are usually leashed to a wall socket by your power cord, trying to charge up for the next session.
One of the eclectic event that best describes the spirit of WWDC is "Stump-the-experts". Basically you have about 40 Apple Developers (or ex-Apple developers) on stage, competing with the audience for who can stump each other. There is lots of humor, sarcasm, and comments that only a geek could love.
This years winner was definitely by an Adobe(?) employee who asked "What does sending this snippet of PostScript code (to a fully configured LaserWriter 810) and Dan Quayle have in common?" (Shortened for brevity). The smug experts tried to answer with "nothing because you made a syntax error" to which the audience cheered at the "gotcha". Until they found out that the error of omission enabled an easter-egg on the LaserWriter 810. In fact the little snippet would cause a "fully configured" LW810 (which includes a fax card) to send a fax order to a well known local Pizza Shop. However, in the order "Tomato" was spelled with an 'e' at the end (in the spirit of the great Dan Quayle Potatoe fiasco). The audience roared its approval. Slipping illegal code, into a shipping product, that would do such an obviously useful thing was a coup for the engineers of the world -- and one step towards complete vindication of geeks everywhere.
The prizes are usually not rewarding financially -- but are appreciated by geeks. Audience members who "Stumped the Experts" won a Wooden Newton -- non-working dummy devices used in demo-cases. Losers got two of the wooden Newtons because they were so lame. T-Shirts, Web-TV's, Software and other prizes were awarded -- but most gifts were symbolic. One lucky winner received not one, not two, but three (3) of the original Mac portables -- known as the 17lb. Luggable-Lisa. Of course the three of them were in semi-working (at best) condition, and may have actually been prototype hardware (and are unsupported) -- the real fun would be in getting them to work.
In the true spirit of literalism, the wording is 99% of the game. When the question was asked "Name the 3 instructions that are in the 68551 memory manager that are not available in the 68030" - one pithy respondent won with "I formally name them 'Lawrence, Fred and John'."
After this event, the crowd again rushes out to another party.
You are beginning to crash and burn. Information is good -- but now you are starting to desire home. Being around other geeks for 4 days you are getting afraid that you will never be able to reintegrate into the real world, and you are anxious to get home and try out your software or other things that you have learned.
Over the course of the sessions you note that if the zealotry of the Mac crowd was not enough -- now we have the ultra-zealous Next-oids. These Nextoids are a great bunch of guys, very helpful, willing to offer information and assistance and truly dedicated to their platform of choice. They also make Mac advocates look like Sunday morning Christians compared to their Jim-Jones like fanaticism. A few of them have the ability to rub some people the wrong way -- but perhaps it is a good reminder to Mac enthusiasts how some see us, as we see a caricature of ourselves in some of them.
Which brings up another point. The complete dominance of males in the computer industry. There were probably 10 Women out of 4,000+ men, and 4 of those Women are marketing or sales types. By the end of Thursday you begin to wonder where the other gender (nay Species) is. You realize that sexism is not dead when you watch one of those few females walking down a hall -- with 200 drooling males tracking her Every movement and raping her with their eyes. By the fourth day in this over testosteroned event, you are no longer have to wonder what it would be like in prison... and you sleep on your back because you don't feel it's safe to trust your under-sexed room-mate any longer. Its time to return home to the real world, which thankfully has Women.
At the airport you realize that many more people are trying to flee San Jose than ever want to go there. The flights are crowded, and everyone is trying to get out at the same time. You notice a very high ratio of computer T-Shirts and clear back-packs (a WWDC give-away, so that you could carry all your stuff around with no semblance of privacy).
WWDC is an event that is fun to attend. It is also great to be home. You go to hear the latest and greatest -- but much of it will be reported by the press anyway. So if you go, you really go to hobnob with your peers, and to put faces to all the names you've been hearing about or reading about. You can get specialized information - from the source -- information that you can not get anywhere else. Its like a concert -- you can listen to the music on the radio -- but a concert is an experience.
Developers go to WWDC to get excited and revitalized for another year of advocacy, development, and fighting with management to actually create great Mac products.