Last year I spoke with AUT Creative Technologies' student Judit Klein after she returned from a scholarship to Apple's World Wide Developers Conference. The scholarship covered flights, accommodation and tickets to the conference. Now, Judit is an Honours student and managed to return for the 2012 event. She saw the last Steve Jobs' keynote, and this year the first by Tim Cook.
Last year Judit travelled there after being awarded an Apple University Consortium scholarship, but things have changed. This year the AUC scholarship covered flights and accommodation (competitive across Australia and NZ).
The ticket came from a scholarship offered by Apple, with 150 available competitively, worldwide.
Judit has done a lot more coding and app development in the last year. This was useful - at WWDC, around six sessions and run simultaneously, with attendees encouraged to talk directly to Apple engineers. They were really helpful, says Judit, even with her vaguer ideas. "I plucked up the courage and went to two of the different labs, on specific topics, and talked to two different people who were helpful." Most sessions and labs you just queue to enter.
"I know that Apple is criticised a lot for being quite restrictive and closed. But I think that's part of what makes them great. It's a walled garden, but it's a very beautiful garden when you're in it. Having those walls in place means the restrictions and interface guidelines mean people always know how to interact with any application that results, even when they've never used it before.
"You develop for the platform because you love it. And that's what leads to thousands of [WWDC] tickets selling out in under two hours and then queuing at three in the morning to see the keynote."
So it's not just consumers who enthuse about the platform; even developers get excited and go out of their way to sip the Kool Aid. It's hard to imagine (though not impossible) developers getting excited about the job in many other spheres. Even more bizarre is that, apart from making the Software Developers Kit resources either free or very accessible, resources aren't exactly taught. Developers pay big money to be present at this Apple event. That's partly because of the terrible dearth of Apple-hosted events - just one per year, in one place. When Microsoft wanted developers for Windows Phone, engineers were sent all around the world to teach skills. Apple would never do anything so proactive and helpful - it seems all Apple has to do is maintain the exclusivity and demand and reap the benefits.
I'm not saying this is a good or a bad thing - I'm just pointing it out. But there's no disputing it's surprisingly effective.
Judit actually talked about this with other developers at WWDC. "We had a lot of discussions around what's the point of coming here, especially on your own dollar? Considering all the sessions appear soon afterwards, online, anyway." These are available to registered Apple developers. "For the networking, the social experience, even the queueing up at the crack of dawn and the parties afterwards. You spend so much time in the queues or losing your friends in the crowd, you end up talking to lost of different people, forging fantastic connections."
Later, Judit said Apple "would be a really interesting place to work ... One of the things I learnt there was that if employees are asked a question and they don't know the answer, they're not allowed to say 'I don't know'. They have to say 'I can't tell you that'. Which makes sense, because if they don't know they can't tell you, but it's considered unprofessional to say 'I don't know'." Judit heard this second or third hand, but reckons it fits.
I agree - this policy would contributes to Apple's self-created mystique as the holder of special and secret knowledge.
Judit also got to drool over the new MacBook Pro. "They put one on a pedestal with a glass case over it. Everyone was standing around it, drooling over it. Apple is very good at making you go 'yes! I want it!'... I have no justification for why I would need that, but I was thinking 'I want that.' "
I feel exactly the same way.
Judit's main commitment for the scholarship is to give back to the AUC. This will be in the form of a presentation at the conference later this year in Melbourne. Last year Judit did a couple of talks at AUT, with the content feeding back into where AUT is going with iPad training. This year, Judit can help strategise around the forthcoming integration of iOS 6 at the university. But Judit thinks it's still very early days for iOS - she thinks it can go a very long way, still.
As for Judit's Honours year, "I'm looking at the role of mobility in the formation of collaborative learning spaces. So my research is tied in with the Centre for Learning and Teaching at AUT. That's what led to my decision to continue into Post Grad, because they wanted me to stay on with them after I started working there last year, teaching staff how to use iDevices. And that's become part of my research."
One of the notions Judit studies is the notion of so-called 'pedagogical disruption', in other words technologies seen as, or becoming, disruptive in the learning workspace rather than being assistive. Some people simply find new technology scary, while others resent the time it takes to learn new things or to change practice.
A big component of Judit's work is app development and how that relates to what the university regards as research.
She's philosophical about it all. "Things that seemed like crazy science fiction just a few years ago, that we thought could never actually happen, are now real. Change happens faster and faster ... what it always comes down to for me is that when I started my degree, the iPad didn't even exist. Now it's a big part of what I do."
One way or another, the future seems bright. "As they say, change is the only constant." Judit doesn't know what she's going to be doing after she graduates. "It's a question I'm always asked. And I don't know."
She smiles. "And I don't mind not knowing."