Appropriate perception and representation of sensory stimuli pose an everyday challenge to the brain. In order to represent the wide and unpredictable array of environmental stimuli, principle neurons of associative learning regions receive sparse, combinatorial sensory inputs. Despite the broad role of such networks in sensory neural circuits, the developmental mechanisms underlying their emergence are not well understood. As mammalian sensory coding regions are numerically complex and lack the accessibility of simpler invertebrate systems, we chose to focus this review on the numerically simpler, yet functionally similar, Drosophila mushroom body calyx. We bring together current knowledge about the cellular and molecular mechanisms orchestrating calyx development, in addition to drawing insights from literature regarding construction of sparse wiring in the mammalian cerebellum. From this, we formulate hypotheses to guide our future understanding of the development of this critical perceptual center.