A Week of Nerd: My WWDC18 Scholarship Experience

In June 2018, I attended Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC18) as a student scholar. Coming out of that escapade, that week was probably the most grueling and exciting week of my life - and I would definitely go through it all again.

The Scholarship Project and dealing with Impostor Syndrome

I enjoy logic puzzles. It’s fun to think about a problem for long hours and try to figure out how to solve it. I remembered playing and enjoying a puzzle game called Chat Noir when I was a child and decided to create a similar theme for my Playground.

Thus, CaptureTheAlien was born. A game where the player has to modify a hexagonal grid to trap an alien in it, while the latter tries to escape the grid using an algorithm.

You can find it on GitHub.

CaptureTheAlien in it’s final form

Over the next 20 days till I received the verdict, I’d bite my fingernails; convincing myself that I wasn’t getting in. My project probably wasn’t good enough, and looking at all the other amazing submissions didn’t help.

I guess I got lucky.

my dealer calls this the Apple special

While I was ‘celebrating’ the auspicious day of April 20th, Apple decided to hand me a ticket to WWDC.

Checking in and the Scholarship Orientation

The first day starts with you checking in to the San Jose McEnery Convention Center to receive your badge, WWDC jacket and pins and attend the Scholarship Orientation. The second you see the Center draped in all of it’s Apple’d glory, you know you’re at the epicenter of change.

Saying that Apple babies scholars would be an understatement. You get a blue lanyard that separates you from everyone else, so every Apple employee congratulates you on your achievement if they see it. You feel valued at WWDC.

But then there’s the Orientation, a Scholar-only event, where Apple decided to take us to a “secret location” - undisclosed until you get there. I mean, it’s hardly a surprise when you think about it. Guess where they take us?

To Apple Park and the Steve Jobs Theater aka Jony Ive’s premium spaceship.

The orientation tells you all you need to know about the upcoming week and what Apple plans to focus on this year. A very recurrent theme was Accessibility and how developers should focus on their apps being ready for use globally.

You get to take a photo with Tim Cook and all the scholars at the event, before interacting with people who are engineers at Apple and some who judged scholarship submissions. I met the person who saw mine!

i can proudly proclaim that there exists a photo on the internet that has me and Tim like 10m away from each other

As you walk out the door, you’re told that there’s one more thing.. free AirPods. You begin your wait for the next day — the keynote.

im liking this already

The Keynote and Design Awards

Scholars are provided with reserved seating for the keynote, and watching it unfold live is something else entirely. macOS W̶e̶e̶d̶ Mojave can go dark now, the Mac App Store got a redesign, you can talk to 32 people on FaceTime, developers get Create ML with native ML model creation and lots of AR tool updates. Not a lot of updates and no new hardware, but very cool to see what Apple has been working on.

After leaving the room, most people head to the special (yes, we get one) Scholarship Lounge to install the newest betas.

You have the Apple Design Awards later in the day, where Apple gives out these cubes of dope to apps and games that highlight good design.

One of the apps that won which I’d like to highlight here is INSIDE, a game by Playdead. I wish I could say something that wouldn’t spoil the game, but the short answer is: don’t Google it or anything about it, just buy it and play it all the way through. It’s a breathtaking ride!

INSIDE winning an Apple Design Award

Learn, Connect, repeat

The next 4 days of WWDC are divided into sessions and labs. Sessions are talks given by Apple engineers on new/updated technologies across Apple platforms. Labs are more hands-on, where you can bring your problems to engineers and receive help to work through them.

While the sessions are really fun, they’re also available online. If you have to chose between a lab and a session, go to the lab.

That being said, here’s how to get the most out of the labs (IMO, anyway). When you go to a lab, make sure you have a genuine problem that you have tried to solve. While all the engineers are super nice and friendly, it’s a disservice to them and the people who are waiting behind you - just for an answer that is a search away.

Case-in-point: I was trying to get a working Swift environment and was running into a pretty stupid error. I tried looking for fixes online and found absolutely nothing that helped my situation. The problem was that even after installing cmake, it wasn’t an executable. I spent about ~30 minutes with an engineer trying to get it fixed, got it working and came out learning a lot.

Another thing to do is to read up on new technologies that you plan on attending sessions or labs for the next day. I attended most of the Machine Learning (apparently - if you utter those two words in conjunction, investors throw money at you, just so y’know) sessions and labs. I read up on documentation the night before, attended the sessions, created a prototype based on what they demonstrated during the session afterwards and went to the labs to see if I could improve anywhere. Exhausting? Yeah-ish. Worth it? Hell yeah, because I didn’t feel stupid after going through that process.

Do your homework. That’s the biggest takeaway here. Come in with some knowledge and you’ll find yourself enjoying WWDC a lot more.

I feel the need to mention this, but my favorite session was Dave Abrahams’ talk on Embracing Algorithms, where he spoke about the need to develop scalable solutions and better problem-solving. I encourage everyone to watch it.

Finally, connect. There are over 5000 attendees from all over the world, each of them with a varied set of skills that brought them here. There’s a lot of room of interpersonal growth that you can rarely find anywhere else.

Bart, Bozheng, Stephan, Thijs, self-proclaimed badass

WWDC18 was the best experience of my life. Between learning a lot about technology and meeting some of the most incredible people on the planet, it really did feel like a place where people thought differently. Good luck to anyone who applies for a scholarship and hope to see you next year, developers!

smugfaced indian tries to put an apple logo on himself, circa 2018