On the first day of the 2018 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, 5,350 attendees sat down to lunch. Exactly two of those meals were kosher by request.
Ordering a kosher lunch wasn’t the only way in which 18-year-old Aryeh Greenberg of Teaneck stood out from the crowd at WWDC, held from June 4 to 8. He also was one of only 350 applicants to be awarded a scholarship to the annual event. The other 5,000 tickets — which cost $1,599 apiece — are granted by lottery.
In fact, it was the second year in a row that Mr. Greenberg won a scholarship entitling him to a free WWDC ticket, free lodging, and a free one-year Apple developer membership.
Nobody knows exactly how many students over 13 years old vied for the scholarship by submitting an original three-minute interactive scene on Apple’s Swift Playground (they’re judged on the basis of technical accomplishment and creativity of ideas) and answering written questions. Rumor has it that the acceptance rate is between 5 and 15 percent.
“I’ve always been a diehard Apple fan,” Mr. Greenberg said, perhaps stating the obvious. “Anyone who knows a lot about Apple wants to go to this conference.”
WWDC is where Apple announces new product releases and updates for the coming year. Mostly, however, the conference is a wonderland for Apple developers from across the globe. Mr. Greenberg roomed with a 22-year-old Brazilian participant in a dorm at San Jose State University, about a 15-minute walk from the San Jose Convention Center.
“My favorite thing at this event is just talking to the people there,” he said. “The first day, they brought the scholarship winners to Apple’s new headquarters and had an orientation for us. We went into Steve Jobs Theater for lectures and they gave us free AirPods, the wireless earbuds that cost $160.” He took this opportunity to snap a selfie with Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook.
“Aside from that, the whole conference is sessions and labs,” he continued. “Sessions are classes of about 1,000 people each, where a team of engineers speaks. The coolest part of the event by far is the labs, where you speak to Apple engineers one-on-one as long as you want.”
Mr. Greenberg explained that participants choose which engineers to approach by checking the schedule to find out who made the particular software they’re using for developing apps. They may ask the engineer for help with a problem they’ve encountered or point out a possible bug.
He actually did both in his conversation with the engineer behind SpriteKit, a graphics rendering and animation infrastructure for animating textured images.
Mr. Greenberg had used SpriteKit to create his scholarship entry, a short game featuring an animated Apple Car with a bobblehead Tim Cook on top, in which the player uses special features of the Apple Car to accomplish feats from climbing a wall (level 1) to launching the car to Pluto using built-in rocket thrusters (level 4).
The SpriteKit engineer showed Mr. Greenberg something he had been doing incorrectly, but also acknowledged gratefully that Mr. Greenberg had found a genuine mistake in the product documentation having to do with setting the friction of an animated object.
“I love programming and creating in general,” Mr. Greenberg said. “I have remote-control airplanes I built with my own hands. But it’s more expensive to make an object. Building something virtual is low cost, and you don’t need a physical workshop.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Greenberg was captain of the software group of the Lionotics 2 robotics team from the Yeshiva University High School for Boys (Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy) who made history as the first yeshiva high school team ever to qualify for the FIRST Tech Challenge East Region Super-Regional Championship.
As a senior, he didn’t miss any school to attend the WWDC because classes already had finished for the semester. Last year, he not only missed classes but also some final exams, with the permission of his parents and the administration.
To get to the conference on time, Mr. Greenberg spent the Shabbat before it in San Francisco, with Rabbi Joel Landau and his family, and he headed to San Jose on Saturday night. He’d come stocked up with ready-to-heat kosher meals; Apple only provided lunch.
The young developer, a regular attendee of the teen minyan at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck, prayed on his own each day of the conference. Rather than a kippah, he opted to cover his head with an Apple hat, though officials asked him to remove it for publicity photos.
The publicity truly paid off. On June 2, Apple featured apps from WWDC 2018 scholarship winners in a special editorial piece in the Today tab of the iOS 11 App Store. “I got 6,000 downloads of my app from that,” Mr. Greenberg reported.
Mr. Greenberg graduated from high school on June 11. This summer, he will intern as an iOS developer at EventMate, a startup in SoHo. He then will fly to Israel for a gap-year program at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi in Jerusalem.
“My main takeaway from WWDC was a lot of new connections,” he said. “I spoke to a couple of engineers about machine learning, something I’ll get more into in the future. And I got to play SwiftShot, a very cool new augmented-reality game. I’m looking into making an augmented reality multiplayer game; I’m updating my Mac right now to start working on it.”