Developers sound off on Apple's WWDC attendance problem

With tickets having sold out in minutes, Apple is trying to find ways to connect with its developers. However, some see a deeper problem.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor on

As many have pointed out, Apple's mark in the technology world has grown over the past decade, especially following the release of its iOS dynamic duo, iPhone and iPad. However, the size of its Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) hasn't kept pace. This year, the tickets sold out in minutes, not in hours.

The problem of seat availability and community networking hasn't gone unnoticed by developers. Some have brought forward solutions.

Developer Dan Wood, the founder of Karelia Software, wrote in his personal blog that Apple should take its developer messaging on the road:

Seeing that the talks are going to be made available online, it's really the labs and the socializing that we will all be missing. But do all those need to be concentrated in a single week, in a single place? What if Apple made the sessions be online only, as Daniel suggestions, and come up with a series of regional conferences/labs around the world, based on developer population?

Actually, this kind of thing has happened before. The developer "tech talks" a couple of years ago. They've also had a few special, small "developer kitchens" in Cupertino, though that was before the masses started growing.

Why not just start up an annual program of "tech talks" which are staffed by DTS engineers and evangelists, touring the world constantly? They could function as mobile versions of WWDC labs — but just as importantly, there could be social aspects to the gatherings, so that fellow developers had a chance to eat, drink, and be merry with fellow developers in their local area.

It appears that Apple may have been listening. Or at least, remembering. The company posted that videos of the talks will be made available online to registered developers — as they were in some previous years. And it will begin staging Tech Talks in several localities starting in the fall.

Oliver Drobnik at the Cocoanetics blog sees deeper issues, especially for women programmers. In a long, long post, he said that the limited number of tickets available for all programmers is troubling, but particularly for students and women programmers.

Drobnik said that its natural for companies to send their lead developers and development managers to WWDC rather than lower-level engineers. "A dev lead can spend more quality time with Apple engineers and talk to the app store review team on behalf of the company's interests," he wrote. However, he is concerned that this decision may further limit the number of female engineers sent to WWDC.

According to Drobnik, Apple should expand its outreach to students and women. He noted that in the WWDC 2013 Student Scholarship program, Apple gave away 150 tickets to students (a value of $240,000). As part of the selection criteria, students were asked to build an app that "tells us about you".

One could argue that this program is unfair to the rest of us hard working software developers. I need to scrape together about a months worth of earnings to be able to afford to travel to WWDC. And I think that I have done more for Apple's business in my 4 full-time years than most of these students will do in their lifetime.

Even calling it a "Student Scholarship" is a misnomer. A true scholarship does not only pay for a ticket for an event, but also takes other burdens off the student's shoulders. What Etsy did is a true scholarship. What Apple does is just giving away free event tickets based, in part, on merit.

Drobnik proposed that Apple should expand its scholarship program, paying for students' expenses and training. This Apple Developer Workshop would run year round, not just to WWDC. This program would bring in women and men, likely in equal numbers, he suggested.

Apple then would be able to get first pick of the engineers coming out of the program, and also, they could give the student tickets to participants of their new scholarship program. The development public would see this as much "fairer" because you would have to learn programming for several months instead of being awarded a lucky break based on a simple quick app you whip up.

Apple should be a shining example and "Sherlock" the scholarship idea. In the least they should stop calling a scholarship which is none. Making apps has ceased to be a science a couple of years ago, it became vocational. Companies who still think that they need academics for programmers are only hurting themselves.

Such a residency program has been done in the arts for many years. And of course, there's the Minor Leagues in professional baseball. It's an interesting idea to expand this concept to developing programming talent.

As I have mentioned before, Apple has three major hardware/software platforms on the market, and is one of the biggest computing platform companies in the world, yet it only offers a single developer conference.

Yes, the Tech Talks are a good idea. However, Apple needs to address the needs of differences in geographic and market segments, and how that plays out within each of its target platforms. Certainly, enterprise and business customers have different needs than gamers. The needs of sci-tech customers may be different than those of consumers. Could it be that there are differences in programmer concerns in the new Asian markets?

However, it's apparent that Apple doesn't want to break out all these segments for its developers. Instead, it's one conference for all who can score a ticket and afford to attend. For the rest, check out the videos.

After all, if Apple did really look at all the segments into which its platforms were making inroads, and seriously decide to act on that data, the company would certainly have to greatly expand its developer education program. Oh, and it would have to expand its internal testing and bug-fixing teams in order to address the increased level of expectations. Good luck on that happening.

Editorial standards