The best part about WWDC has nothing to do with Apple, though that's the reason we were all there.

WWDC gathers developers from around the world every year to San Francisco for a week of intense learning with Apple, at least for those lucky enough to win a ticket to attend the event in Apple's annual lottery. For the rest of us who observe the event from the outside, there's thousands of other reasons to be in the city when WWDC happens. For me, the reasons are the people I meet and the stories I hear.

For the past three years I've been fortunate enough to spend my WWDC week attending AltConf, the free community gathering that happens nearby. And each year, the list of speakers and sessions intrigues and inspires me. There's a balance of technical material, like Laura Savino's session on properly implementing localization in your code to make it easier for non-English speakers to use. There were business sessions, like David Sparks' talk on how indie developers can protect themselves with contracts, business entities and other legal concepts. There were sessions focused on social issues as a whole, like Mike Lee's "Planetary Engineering" talk, which emphasized looking beyond money as a reason for doing the work we do. (And in the interest of full disclosure, I spoke as well, hoping to give developers a bit of guidance on getting their app noticed by the media.)

This year we saw the addition of another conference: Layers. Layers' focus was on design — an issue of key importance to so many in the Apple community, so it made perfect sense to have it during a time when so many Mac and iOS developers were in town.

For many of us, it's a calling.

You couldn't walk into a hotel lobby, bar or restaurant anywhere in downtown San Francisco last week without seeing Apple developers, business people and others attached to the community. Everywhere I went, I saw people I haven't seen since WWDC last year and met new people I'd never seen before. All of us were bonded by a common interest: the Apple ecosystem.

More than that, all of us brought our own perspectives and experience to the mix. For some of us, sure, being in this marketplace is purely a business opportunity. But for many of us, it's a calling.

Over the years I've attended many trade shows, developer conferences and other events. One thing that separates Apple-themed events from many of the others I've been to is the camaraderie that would-be competitors have with one another. We're all friendly with each other, even though in many cases we're competing for the same customers.

Apple press people all know each other; even though we're competing for the same readers' eyes. Some of my best friends in this business write for or manage other Mac tech pubs.

It's the same in development. Often times last week you'd find developers in direct competition with each other gathered around the same table over drinks at a bar somewhere, trading notes and offering suggestions.

I'm not sure why the Apple ecosystem is fundamentally different in that regard, but it is. And I'm grateful for it, because I think it makes for a better experience for everyone, especially the people who use the products.

If you've never been in San Francisco for WWDC week and you're in this business, I strongly recommend you consider making the trip, even if you have no intention of going to the event itself. Just immersing yourself in the environment and getting face-to-face time with others in the business is invaluable. It's restorative. It's inspiring.

I heard a lot of great stories last week from developers about why they do what they do. And lot of it comes down to making a difference in the lives of their customers.

For many of us, it comes down to an embodiment of what Steve Jobs once said.

"We're here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why be here?"