‘Tis the season for WWDC Survival Guides. I don’t really have anything to add from my post last year, but I want to state an opinion contrary to the prevailing common wisdom: Don’t be afraid to eat the lunches.
Digression: C4 is/was known for its excellent sit-down meals between sessions. At first, it seemed horribly inefficient to an engineer brain to get up after a session, move “all the way” to the banquet room next door, have to pick out a seat again, only to return to the session hall and have to find a new seat—why not just leave my stuff camped in the same seat all day?
But I quickly heeded Wolf’s advice-slash-admonition to find a different group of people to sit with at each change—and the world opened up. If you went to C4 just for the tech sessions, it was worth the cost but you only got the tip of the iceberg. I met well-knowns and unknowns and learned about their products, their consulting and business development experience, and got to know them without pressure. I may not even remember their names right now (I’m terrible with names) but every one of those conversations built community.
I’m not going to claim WWDC lunches will ever approach C4’s, but you can incorporate a bit of the C4 experience into WWDC: Instead of getting together with the same group for lunch every day, take at least two lunches in the cafeteria area. Find a seat at a table with other people you don’t know, and strike up a conversation to find out who they are, what they do, where they’re from. I somewhat unintentionally did this last year, and I promise you: It will open your eyes.
If you’re stuck for icebreakers, here are some old reliables:
“What did you think of the Keynote/‘State of’ addresses?”
“Did you catch yesterday’s Brown Bag session?”
“What sessions are you looking forward to?” (earlier in the week)
“What was the best session you attended?” (I love this one later in the week)
Asking where someone’s from or how many WWDCs they’ve attended tend to be short answers that don’t lead to conversations. Asking about shipping software can be great—people love talking about their products—but make the interest genuine so it doesn’t feel like an interview or “I’m only asking about yours so I can tell you about mine.”
Bring your business cards. After or during an interesting discussion, ask for one of theirs and offer one of yours. Periodically review the cards you’ve received during the week to refresh your memory of names and topics—you’ll be surprised how often you’ll run into those same people later.
Keep your own badge visible as much as possible to make it easy to approach you and ask about your company or just say “your name sounds familiar, did you…?”
For more advice on networking, check out Brent Simmon’s “Advice to new developers on networking”.
For more tips on WWDC, Jeff LaMarche’s “First Time Guide” contains nothing but tips I completely agree with. (Except my serious personal aversion to sleeping in public, including on planes.) Wait, I have one extra note: Plan to stow your gear before attending the Thursday Bash. I had my laptop backpack one year, and was miserable.