Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or, y'know, aren’t a developer), you’ve probably heard that Apple opened the doors to allow developers aged 13 and up into WWDC this year. Now, I can’t say anything for sure, but I have a hunch that this change just might have had something to do with my brief interaction with Phil Schiller at last year’s conference. (Note: I was 15 when I attended last year’s WWDC on a student scholarship.)
I was, of course, elated when I heard about this change, enabling me to return to WWDC along with Carter Allen. (My close friend who, by the way, deserves just as much if not more credit for what happened last year.) Below are my thoughts and reflections regarding this exciting shift.
First of all, just to clarify, here’s what happened last year. Carter and I both applied for student scholarships despite our ages, and made it very clear in our applications that we were under 18 but would like to still be considered. I’d have said Carter was more likely to get it with his impressive technical qualifications, but we knew it was quite a long shot for either of us. To our complete amazement and shock, Apple gave me a scholarship.
I immediately sent them an email to thank them and inquire about anything I’d need to do to formalize the exception. (I didn’t want to get to the doors of Moscone and have them tell them I was too young, so I figured I’d work out any kinks in registration upfront.) However, this prompted a phone call from the project manager of the scholarship program, saying that allowing the scholarship to be sent out to a minor was a mistake, and that it would have to be revoked.
“But… this is my passion,” I said. And thus began a seemingly endless week of advocacy. I remember passing the phone to my mother, who ended that first call with a simple assertion that we would find a way to “get to ‘yes’.” Throughout the course of that week, the project manager became a close ally, and Apple’s legal team emerged as the ones who we really needed to convince. So, as anyone with experience in these sorts of things knows to do, we went straight to the top. I emailed Steve; my Dad emailed Phil and Scott. The night before our flight to San Francisco, past midnight, we received a fantastic one-liner response from Phil saying I could go.
The conference itself was unreal. As soon as the keynote ended, I plowed my way up to the front to thank Phil Schiller and extend my advocacy to other young developers, saying that there were lots of us out there who would love to be included. I learned a ton, met scores of awesome people, and had a blast. And now, I get to feel like I played a part in letting other developers my age share these experiences.
More than a few developers at last year’s conference said I made them feel old. But the kids at this year’s conference… well, they made me feel old. My little brother is older than some of the developers I met. But seeing what some of them are doing, it’s hard to imagine Apple not wanting them at the conference.
I had the pleasure of meeting each of the developers who are now featured in the Wall Street Journal’s article on WWDC’s new youth contingent, and I connected with some young developers like William LeGate who had contacted me last year after I’d posted my story on the developer forums. In addition, Carter and I arranged a student dinner for minors who couldn’t attend the bash, and in doing so met some more talented and likeminded developers our age. Among them was Andrew Dudney, the son of previous Apple Frameworks Evangelist Bill Dudney, who was also, of course, at the conference. How cool is that?
The only student-related thing that didn’t seem to work out as well as it could’ve was how disconnected the student lounge seemed to be from the rest of the conference. Apple sanctioned off one of the Moscone lounges as an exclusive student meeting place complete with snacks, beanbags, and ethernet ports. The lounge itself was a great place to recharge between sessions and meet with students at the end of the day, but it seemed like some of the younger students never left it. I suspect some found it nerve-racking to traverse a sea of older and generally more experienced developers, preferring instead to simply work with others their age. I can completely understand this, having been to the conference last year, but working directly with the experts through sessions and labs is after all the purpose of WWDC, and I think Apple could’ve done more to encourage students to get out and work with the many friendly and helpful experts.
My personal experience at this year’s conference was just as incredible as it was at last year’s, if not more.
Why it Matters
Tim Cook summed it up perfectly at the end of the keynote: “The products that we make, combined with the apps that you make, can fundamentally change the world.” WWDC really is a conference about changing the world, and this is true on multiple levels. In a specific sense, WWDC is the central source of information and guidance regarding the tools Apple provides, which can be used as a platform for change. But more broadly and perhaps more importantly, WWDC is about turning world-changing ideas into reality. You simply can’t have been there, seen the keynote, heard the lunchtime speakers, felt the atmosphere of excitement throughout the building, and not have known that this is what’s really at the heart of what they do.