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Apple unveils WWDC 2020 coding contest for students

Exclusive: For this year's virtual WWDC, Apple is launching its Swift Student Challenge to put the spotlight on coding and STEM.

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Apple's Swift Student Challenge will lead up to the virtual WWDC this year.

Apple

With Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference going virtual in 2020 because of the coronavirus, the company is launching a Swift Student Challenge as a way to encourage and connect with students -- since they won't get the opportunity to travel to Northern California for the annual event this year. 

To participate, student developers from across across the globe need to use Swift Playgrounds (on iPad or Mac) to build an interactive scene that can be experienced in three minutes or less and submit it through the WWDC 2020 Swift Student Challenge site. The contest opens today and runs through 11:59 p.m. PT on Sunday, May 17. The contest winners will get a WWDC20 jacket and pin set and will be notified by June 16, ahead of the virtual WWDC, which is set to begin June 22.

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This initiative essentially replaces the annual WWDC Scholars program that Apple awards annually to 350 students, based on their Swift Playgrounds submissions. These scholars would receive free admission to WWDC, airfare, local accommodations for the week and a one-year membership in the Apple Developer Program (which normally costs $99 a year). In 2019, WWDC scholars came from 37 different countries. 

Apple's Esther Hare, senior director of developer marketing, said, "Even though we don't have the typical scholarship to attend that we usually do with the in-person conference, we still have a really great way for students to show us all the things they've been working on and for us to really get that same sense of connection with our students. And, [we get to] support them and share their stories." 

Past scholars have been as young as 9 and as old as 82. The 82-year-old, Masako Wakamiya from Japan, started coding in her late 70s. 

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Swift Playgrounds on Mac is a free tool for students to learn how to code.

Apple

"The Swift Playgrounds app is for everybody, young and old alike," said Hare, in an interview with CNET. 

To excel in the contest, Hare offered some guidance.

"What we've found is the Swift Playgrounds we love the most and the ones that have done the best are really the ones that align with the same values Apple has," she said. "So we've seen a lot of Swift Playgrounds winners over the past few years that have to do with accessibility, or education, or mental health, or the environment." 

Swift Playgrounds itself is still a bit of a hidden gem. It officially launched at WWDC 2014 as part of Apple's Xcode developer tools for Mac. But it really started taking off with the launch of its iPad app in 2016 and then the independent Mac app, which just launched in February and is consistent with the iPad app. While it's named for Apple's Swift programming language -- which can be used to build apps for iPhone, iPad, Mac and other Apple platforms -- Swift Playgrounds itself focuses mostly on general coding skills.

"As you're creating code, it's running in real-time next to you. Back in the old days, you'd have to write code and compile it and then run it," said Hare. "Swift Playgrounds is ... super-gamified. You need no coding experience whatsoever to [get started] ... It's important everybody realizes how fun coding can be and how important it can be."