AltConf is a community-driven event, assembled to serve developers and a product driven community. Held in downtown San Francisco at the AMC Metreon with 400 seats spread over 2 theatres. AltConf is an annual event timed alongside Apple‘s WWDC, June 13-16, 2016.
And I will be there.
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WWDC has been part of my life for over a decade now. It started as something I’d watch from afar, when my only career goal was to get there. When I finally made it in 2005, I met my mentor and put my career on the fast track. A couple of years later, my team won an Apple Design Award, and a couple of years after that, I actually got to help put on the show.
For the past couple of years, I’ve helped the Appsterdam Foundation build the conference around the conference, serving the growing number of ticketless showcializers, and leading this community exercise in providing solutions, instead of merely complaining. Inevitably, I’ve developed some top tips for new and returning attendees to our annual homecoming.
Be prepared. You can certainly just show up and see what happens, but like most things in life, you’ll do a lot better if you take it seriously and start getting ready before you go. Pick some parties you want to attend and get on the RSVP lists. Think about what you want to accomplish, what you have to share with the community, and what you hope to bring home.
Carry cheap cigarettes. That has been my number one tip for years. A lot of the conference is actually spent standing on the sidewalk holding conversations with people you won’t get to meet any other time. In a city like San Francisco, you’re competing for their attention with a parade of panhandlers, and the fastest, cheapest way to keep them moving and get back to your conversations is to offer them a cigarette.
Bring your A game. This is your biggest and best chance to meet colleagues, future teammates, and media gatekeepers. Here, more than ever, you need to be hustling. Don’t come empty handed. Be prepared to exchange business cards. If you hurry, you can still order some from MOO and get 10% off. Also, if you have an app, you should bring 2″x2″ icon stickers to trade. Don’t have any? There’s still time to order those too. Go to StickerMule and get $10 off.
Go with the flow. Get it together now, because once you get there, it’s up to fate. WWDC should always be a life-changing experience, but if you show up with a checklist, or try to recreate the same experience year after year, you’re going to end up disappointed, and the conference will start to feel like it has passed you by. It’s nice to see old friends, but come just as prepared to make new ones. Don’t try to shape the experience; let the experience shape you.
Maybe it’s the winter chill, or the end of the fiscal year, but it seems like I’m being asked this question a lot: “I’m working on a great app, but it’s going to be a while before it ships, and my savings are running perilously low. What should I do?” As opposed to deeper existential questions like whether to trade in startup life for spending weekends with your kids, this one is easy: do contract work.
You will be in good company. Many is the famous artist who has to work outside their preferred medium to make it through tight times. Many is the painter who has to paint houses to buy art supplies. Many is the actor who has to wear a chicken suit between acting gigs. Many is the novelist who has to write books to buy alcohol.
Don’t try to work on your app part time. Finish your contract, then get back to your baby. With careful budgeting and a simplified life, you can work for someone else for a few weeks to enable working for yourself for a few months. Make no mistake: this is about compromise. You’re not necessarily doing something you love. You have to have patience that the time you are buying will make up for it.
Don’t limit yourself to the popular platforms. You probably want to spend all your time on iOS or Android, but so does everyone else, and competition for contracts is as fierce as on any app store. On the other hand, new platforms like Microsoft Windows Phone are wide open. Don’t discount “old” platforms, either. You might find them boring, but the money spends the same.
The perception of BlackBerry in particular is a potential goldmine. Their market share numbers are in decline, but in real numbers they still have 70 million subscribers, with some 36 million users in EMEA. They’re active in some lucrative markets, like government and enterprise, and surprising to me, are seen in some markets (like the Netherlands!) as the young person’s alternative to the stodgy executive’s iPhone.
Their users have money, their bosses have money, and RIM itself still has a little bit of money, which it’s willing to spend on you. Providers of sparkly platforms have little incentive to treat their developers as well as providers of platforms like BlackBerry.
Look at the upcoming BlackBerry DevCon Europe. Yes, it’s not the most beautiful site in the world, but look past that at the actual numbers. Not only is it a cheap conference at €350 (€250 early bird, although that ends tomorrow), but look at the other stuff on that page.
You get free hardware, which might not be too exciting for a hardcore gearhead like yourself, but don’t think of it that way. Think of it this way: if I’m going to a BlackBerry conference it’s because I want to make money making BlackBerry apps. The hardware ensures I can, which looks suspiciously like someone actually stopped to think of my expectations.
I’m impressed that they have tools inline to help potential attendees plan budgets and convince their bosses of the value of their attendance. That really says something about understanding the experience of someone trying to get to this show. I am even more impressed that they offer a €90 guest pass so you can bring a date to the receptions and parties.
This is RIM ahead of the curve. I am convinced that enabling people to bring their partners to tech conferences is key to increasing diversity in our field. It not only reduces the testosterone and nerdiness levels in the atmosphere, it reduces the potential for the kind of sexist misbehavior that marred last year’s conference season.
A good friend of mine once said something like, RIM is in trouble, but RIM is not stupid. When they come to Appsterdam and tell me they’re betting on App Makers, I realize that he’s right.
“Ask and ye shall receive” bonus: RIM is offering Appsterdammers 50% off admission to BlackBerry DevCon Europe with the promo code DSTET0.