Daily coverage of Apple’s WWDC 2019 conference, by John Sundell.

A Swift by Sundell spin-off.

Developer interview: Antoine van der Lee gives his top tips on getting the most out of attending WWDC

Welcome to the third WWDC by Sundell developer interview, a mini-podcast and article series in which we hear from some of my friends from around the Apple developer community — about their thoughts, hopes and dreams for WWDC.

Today, I’m talking to Antoine van der Lee, who is an iOS developer at WeTransfer. He’s also a fellow weekly blogger, writing articles over at SwiftLee — and he’s somewhat of a WWDC veteran.

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John: This year, you’re going to WWDC for the fifth year in a row. This might sound like an obvious question, but what is it about WWDC that excites you to return to it so often, and also — did you hack the lottery so that you’ll always win? [laughs]

Antoine: [laughs] It’s funny that you mention that, because a lot of my friends have asked me the same thing. So I want to get that out of the way directly — I didn’t hack the lottery at all.

John: You won by fair and square luck.

Antoine: Yeah, I think so. To be fair, one year I went to AltConf instead, just to check out how it would be to be there instead of WWDC. So it’s actually my forth time at WWDC itself. But yeah, it’s a full week of everything I love — it’s like my hobby and my work, coming together with the whole community around it. And the people there, that’s what gets me excited as well. You get to meet many people from around the community — they motivate you, and get you excited to explore even more of iOS development and Swift.

So yeah, even after those first years, I still had the motivation to come back. Although you can watch the sessions at home — being there makes you explore more, watch more of those sessions — and you get to meet a lot people you wouldn’t have met if you would’ve stayed at home. And I have to say, I’m also lucky that the companies I’ve worked for were all able to get me there — because obviously I couldn’t have paid for myself every year.

John: Yeah, it’s quite a huge expense. But, it can definitely be worth it, for that angle that you bring up — to go there to meet all the people, and to have that dedicated week for learning.

Antoine: Totally, that makes me so excited to go there again every year. But I do think that maybe I’ll skip a year next year and give some other people the chance to go there as well.

John: So as someone who has seen many different iterations of WWDC, what are your top tips on how people can get the most out of their week at the conference?

Antoine: I think after four years I’ve built up a lot of best practices for myself — I even have three friends who’ve joined me all those years — so we have a pretty structured way of preparing for WWDC. I’ve got some great tips on how I do it at least — it’s my personal preference, but would probably work for others as well.

The basic thing I do is I try to prepare example projects and related questions. Because the first year I went to one of the many labs — which, by the way, is one of the best things about attending WWDC — and I had my whole app project with me, and said ”I have this weird crash, and I want to solve it”. But obviously, for an Apple engineer, it’s really hard to get to know your whole code base within a few minutes, so therefore I’m now trying to reproduce the same crash in a very small project — to make it really easy for the Apple engineers to dive in and help me out.

John: I think that’s really good advice — and it’s also something you hear from a lot of people when you file a radar, or some kind of bug report, that you should try to reduce the problem down to as small of a project as you can.

Antoine: Exactly, I think you can look at it exactly the same way — it really helped me solve some really hard bugs and crashes. But the best tip that many people give is to try to skip the sessions for as many things as you can, and instead do the things you wouldn’t be able to do if you would’ve stayed at home. Because all of the sessions are recorded nowadays — you can watch them at home, or on your flight back. Just go out, try to go to as many parties as you can, and meet a lot of people.

John: Yeah, those are really good tips. So, at WWDC, there are usually a lot of things going on and it can quickly get a bit overwhelming. Because you both want to catch up on all of the news — like the new APIs and the announcements — but, like you also mentioned, there are a lot of parties, events, meetups, and things like that. You just said that you can postpone watching some of the sessions, but how else do you balance all of the things that you have at your disposal during that week?

Antoine: I basically have a rule of thumb for myself: labs over sessions, parties over sessions, meetings over sessions — basically everything over sessions. I also try to skip a session if it’s not what I expected it to be. If I’m at a talk for five minutes, and it turns out to be a bit of a disappointment — I just leave and go to another talk which is at the same time. That helps me to get the most out of the conference.

It’s basically the same with WWDC parties, because sometimes on the same evening, you have multiple parties — and it might turn out that you have to go to another party to meet that one guy, girl, or group of people — so just go have a drink at another party and see if that is the place to be for you. Also, have fun while you’re there as well.

John: Yeah, absolutely. When people hear us talk about “parties” — those who haven’t been to WWDC yet might get the wrong impression. I mean, these are parties that you can go to, you can have a drink, you can have fun — but they’re also a great place for networking, meeting people, discussing things, and so on. What are some of the things that you keep in mind when you go to some of these parties — except for not drinking too much and not being able to get up the day after? [laughs]

Antoine: [laughs] Yeah, that’s a very good point. I think everybody’s there for the same reason — so be open for anybody to join your conversation. Try not to stick with the people you already know. You might see someone hanging around alone, looking around — try to go up to them, and ask them how they are doing, if they like WWDC so far. Because you can really meet a lot of people by being open and assuming good intent.

John: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. When you’re at any kind of developer conference, almost everyone there is struggling with the same things that you are — everyone is trying to get Xcode to do what they want to do, everyone is trying build the best apps possible. We’re in the same boat, so there’s a lot of things to discuss and talk about — you don’t have to talk about the weather only — you can talk about developer tools, it’s great!

Antoine: Yeah exactly, and even if you talk about the weather, that will eventually segue into some awesome things that you have in common — and you get to know a lot of people you’ll maybe meet again at a different conference later on.

John: So, looking at the rumors and predictions that people have made for this year’s WWDC, what are some of the things that you are looking forward to the most — do you have any things that you really wish that Apple would announce this year?

Antoine: I think there are a few obvious ones out there already. I think one of your friends has made a lot of predictions — like about iOS 13, Marzipan, iOS dark mode…

John: You mean Mr. Rambo?

Antoine: Yeah, yeah, that guy [laughs]. He’s doing great, and he’s brought up a lot of interesting things already — but often things like Swift features, or Xcode features, they don’t end up leaking — what is going on there, and what have they built during this whole year? I’m really looking forward to seeing that. It feels a bit like Christmas to me — you get new presents. Xcode is the tool that I’m working with every day, so it’s so exciting when it gets an upgrade. So I’m really looking forward to what they’ve done there, but my biggest dream is that Xcode would be open sourced. That would be so awesome.

John: That would definitely be a crowd-pleaser. You can just imagine the applause, and the excitement in the room if they would say ”Well, today we are open sourcing Xcode!”.

Antoine: That would be so awesome — I would immediately dive and see what I could do.

John: Are there any specific features that you’d really like to see in Xcode?

Antoine: Maybe it sounds a bit silly, but I was using Alcatraz at the time when it enabled much more compared to what you can do nowadays with Xcode extensions — and simple things, like adding colors to the console, helped me so many times to get a better sense of what’s going on in an app. Just being able to do something like that again would make me a lot happier. A more open way to integrate things into Xcode.

John: Yeah, I think that would make a lot of people happy. As developers, we always want our tools be hackable, right?

Antoine: Exactly.

My thanks to Antoine van der Lee for his tips, insights, and for sharing his Xcode wishes. You can find Antoine on Twitter @twannl, and read his weekly articles on the SwiftLee blog.

For the rest of this week, I’m publishing a new developer interview every day on this site — so make sure to check back tomorrow for more insights, speculation and wishes from another fantastic member of the iOS developer community. Like always, your feedback is very welcome, just find me on Twitter @johnsundell.

Thanks for reading/listening! 🚀