Should you attend the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference?

If you are an Apple ecosystem developer you must be already aware that WWDC 16 has been announced. You have less than a week to decide about your attendance and sign up for the lottery – yes, a lottery to pay up money to attend a tech conference in a different country notorious for its visa rejections.

Geopolitical considerations aside, the question on every mind is – should I really commit to attending the conference? Tickets used to get sold out within months, then weeks, then a couple days, and the last time there wasn’t a lottery (2013), they sold out within about 3 minutes. I have been an attendee twice, once in 2011, and then the last time in 2012. Ever since then, I have tried and ultimately failed to procure a ticket to the annual pilgrimage. It hurt in 2013; felt bad in 2014; felt like a bad bet in 2015, and finally, this year, for the first time since I moved to Amsterdam, I am actually wondering if I should even sign up.

To begin with, here’s what you have to earmark just to apply to win:

    1. a credit card transaction for $1600, which is non-refundable and non-transferable
    2. travel dates
    3. a hotel reservation (this is arguably the highest expense – more than the flight and conference ticket)
    4. vacation; why would you fly so far away without taking some time off to absorb the material as well as take a break?

Like everything else, there are pros and cons to spending so much money on a developers conference. It also depends on what you expect to get out of your attendance. This is where most people go wrong. For a lot of people, the opening keynote is the only draw. Although the number of these kind of attendees has slowly gone down, they remain in considerable numbers and can be usually seen networking at the side events or being absent once the conference begins.

If your goal is to learn something since you’re just starting out, I would say that just being there once is a wonderful experience. You will realize that you are not alone in your quest, and that there are others who are willing to share their knowledge and also learn from you. But, once you’ve done it, there really is no incentive to going back every year just to network with other attendees or to attend the sessions. You could do all of that from the convenience of your phone now that sessions are live-streamed and everyone that matters has a blog or a Twitter account.

I also hear a lot of people say that they attend because they develop cutting edge applications which means they have to know all about new technologies on day 1. I think that’s also quite not true as there is just so much going on that you can’t really do anything other than absorb all the new information and let it sink in. Again, easily done from home.

If your goal is to seek answers to development related questions that could only be answered by an Apple employee, then there is some merit to participating in the ticket lottery, but there are other venues to get your question answered without having to wait for the annual event. As a registered developer, you can get limited amounts of direct interaction with employees about any technical issues. Also, Apple has been known to organize Tech Talks in various countries that are much easier to get into and are even free to attend!

Another problem with the labs at WWDC is that just like everything else at the conference, they tend to be extremely crowded, requiring reservations in advance. Your app would have to be pretty niche to not be able to find resolution elsewhere.

So, here’s the gist – attend WWDC (or feel sorry about not winning the ticket lottery) only if you get paid to attend it. With the recent open sourcing of Swift and growth in developer numbers over the years, it is easier and even better to get your training elsewhere. Attend one of the other conferences, instead.

On top of all this, it would also be good karma to give up your place in the lottery to someone who has never been to the conference!

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