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Building more than apps: The welcoming community at WWDC 2018

“What did you think of the keynote?” was the default greeting last week in San Jose. This year’s WWDC was the second to return to the McEnery Center, and the first I had the opportunity to be in town for. I’ve spent the last few days collecting my thoughts on the week’s events, and more than any new software feature, what stood out to me was the welcoming and enthusiastic Apple community around WWDC.

When WWDC moved from San Francisco in 2017, there were concerns that the San Jose area was too small and quiet to facilitate a fun conference. Arriving on the Sunday before the keynote, any skepticism was immediately put to rest.

Even without a ticket to sessions and labs, I could already tell there would be more than enough to do.

My first adventure was to Apple Park’s Visitor Center, where I immediately ran into long-time online friends I had never met in person. Apple’s WWDC Scholar orientation had just wrapped up across the street at Steve Jobs Theater, and the entire area was swarming with scholarship winners. I said hi to 9to5Mac colleagues Zac, Greg, and Jordan for the first time before heading over to the Visitor Center’s cafe, where I was glad to see iced coffee has been added to the menu (as it was a hot day.)

Monday morning was the big keynote, so everyone got an early start. I was recommended Social Policy for coffee (you’ll notice a theme here.) Located just a short walk from the convention center, nobody was bothered by the queue that had formed to the door. Everyone seemed to know at least one person in line.

I watched the keynote at Altconf, a free conference for developers held concurrent with WWDC in the San Jose Marriott adjacent to the convention center. Sponsors were set up throughout the halls, including MacStadium, who showed off a crazy iMac Pro server rack. A livestream of the keynote was shown at both Altconf in San Jose and at a gathering in London, which 9to5Mac’s Benjamin Mayo attended. Some Apple stores also streamed the presentation.

After the keynote, I got outside just in time see the McEnery Center courtyard flooded with attendees, box lunches in tow, eagerly discussing the morning’s announcements. After playing with the new beta software for a bit and catching up on the news, it was time to watch the live recording of the Accidental Tech Podcast at Altconf. Zac, Greg, and myself said hi to 9to5Mac readers as we waited in line.

The next day I attended Layers, a design and technology conference held across the street from WWDC at the beautiful Montgomery Theater. I’ve been following Layers since it began four years ago and was eager to see what it was all about. From the name tags to the swag bag to the signage, every aspect of Layers was thoughtfully designed – which I expected. What I wasn’t expecting was the wide range of attendees and speakers that expanded my horizons beyond the Apple community I’ve come to know.

Some of my favorite talks came from names I wasn’t already familiar with, like former Apple Partnership Manager Akil King and Google designer Angela Guzman, who had a hand in creating the iPhone’s original emoji set. It was refreshing to hear new perspectives and stories that inspired me to look at design problems differently. And of course, I couldn’t pass up more coffee catered from Social Policy.

On Tuesday evening, I lined up for The Talk Show Live, where Apple’s Mike Rockwell and Greg Joswiak discussed WWDC’s AR announcements in detail. As others noted, standing in line felt like watching a live performance of my Twitter timeline scroll past. Despite tickets selling out almost instantaneously, it felt like I ran into more online friends here than anywhere else.

Another benefit to WWDC being held in San Jose is the convenience it offers to see some of the local architecture and scenery. Downtown itself has more than enough interesting buildings to create an entire #ShotOniPhone campaign around while exploring with friends. I also took the opportunity to visit some of the nearby cities and Apple stores. Apple Stanford is a dream for any design photographer, and the streets of Palo Alto felt alive and exciting.

Before flying out, I rounded out the week by gathering with a group of extremely talented artists and designers at a preview of Adobe’s Festival of the Impossible in San Francisco. The event celebrated creative projects built using augmented reality, and previewed Apple and Adobe’s AR collaboration by showing off Project Aero. We covered the festival in detail here.

On Thursday afternoon it was time to head home, but after wishing Zac safe travels and a successful 9to5Mac Happy Hour the next day, I caught one last glimpse of Apple Park as my flight took off:

Going into WWDC week, I was admittedly nervous. I’m a quiet person, and feared the trip wouldn’t be worthwhile. Instead, I found myself surrounded by one of the most fun, welcoming, and enthusiastic communities I’ve ever been a part of. I can’t wait for next year.

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Avatar for Michael Steeber Michael Steeber

I’m a Creative Editor passionate about Apple Retail and design. My stories highlight the work of talented artists, designers, and customers through a unique lens of architecture, creativity, and community.

Twitter: @MichaelSteeber