Inside Google I/O

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People often ask what Google I/O is like, and whether it is worth it to go. After all, there are plenty of other tech events and conferences you can go to, and it is not exactly cheap. I will try to answer these questions in this post – and throw in a few tips if you do get the chance to go. (This year, I will sadly not be going, as I am off to CHI in Glasgow.)

TL;DR: Google I/O is an epic experience – YES you should totally go IF you go for the right reasons!

Last year was my 4th journey to the magic lands of Google I/O. I will try to give an account of what it is like to participate in the conference as a developer/academic, and detail what you can do during these days as well as what you may get out of it. Note that 1) I will not focus on the particular content from last year. 2) This post expresses my subjective view, and since I am deeply involved with a lot of Google technologies and community activities I am somewhat biased. Proceed at your own risk!

What is Google I/O exactly?

Every year, Google hosts a 3-day developer event in Mountain View, California. For a number of years it was at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, but a few years ago Google decided to move it down to Shoreline Theater next to the Googleplex and their main campus. This is actually awesome, because the outdoor venue allows for a very dynamic conference experience and it feels less cramped than Moscone Center with thousands of participants. What is not so great is that you have to queue up for talks in the scorching sun outside a tent instead of inside an air-conditioned conference center (see tips number 2 and 5 below). But really, this is a minor thing, and the organization has become a lot better based on learnings from the first year.

Google I/O is among a few epic-tier and highly anticipated events for devoted developers hosted by the biggest tech companies. One of the main goals is to inspire their developer base and present their newest platforms, tools and products – strengthening the developer ecosystem which is essential for success in the fast-moving tech world. Apple (WWDC), Microsoft (Build) and Facebook (F8) are other prominent examples of companies focusing on their respective ecosystems.  

Over the years, more events have seen the light of day. These events focus on specific product families and technologies, like Cloud Next, Android Summit and Firebase Summit. Protip: ORBIT Lab cooperates with the Google Developer Group Aarhus and often co-hosts GDG events. And if you’re not planning on going to Google I/O this year, you can attend the live-stream event Google I/O Extended in DOKK1 in Aarhus, hosted by ORBIT Lab partner, Trifork. Usually, more than 100 developers turn up.

Why should you go to Google I/O?

I think there are many reasons to go, and your reasons may vary depending on your situation and role. In ORBIT Lab, part of our core mission is to be at the cutting edge of science and technology, and to empower students, researchers and industry members to use this technology. Thus, going to Google I/O is a great opportunity to get a deep and condensed overview of what is happening across the broad range of technologies we are working with, and to network and discuss with people who work with these technologies in many different contexts.

For instance, we work with the newest platforms and tools within mobile, wearables, IoT, cloud computing and machine learning/AI – all of which Google have strong offerings for. But no matter your role, if you are passionate about technology and want to stay at the cutting edge of what Google is doing across all their platforms – Google I/O is the place to be.

I want to go! How do I get in?

      • You should! All you have to do is apply. However, even though the conference is open, it can be tricky to secure a ticket – they are generally sold through an open lottery system where all interested developers can sign up. Winners are drawn randomly, and if you are selected, you pay your ticket and you are in.
      • There are other ways … Google reserves a number of tickets for people contributing to the global tech communities, such as organizers of GDGs, WTMs and GDEs. If you are interested in joining the organizing team at GDG Aarhus, don’t hesitate to reach out!
      • If you can’t go, the second best option is to catch the Google I/O Extended event as mentioned previously.  

Why go to Google I/O

For me, there are two main reasons to go – and remember that almost all of the talks are available on Youtube, so “just” attending the talks is not really the main point.

      • Knowledge and access: direct access to engineers and researchers from the core teams. This is by far the strongest reason for me. Imagine having used a particular platform or API intensively, and then getting a chance to talk to the person who writes the code behind it. It is also a chance to get a glimpse of what the future will bring. Many new things are announced in the talks, but even more stuff can be discovered when visiting the team’s office hours or chatting with Google engineers around the venue.
      • Networking: meet new people – it’s a melting pot of people who are passionate about technology and specialist in a broad range of topics. Catch up with people you know or make new connections.

What happens during the I/O week

Of course, there is the main conference, which I will detail further down, but with so many tech folks congregating in the Bay Area, there are always a lot of related events before and after I/O. Last year, I attended the Global GDG Leaders Summit and Intel’s Day0 event.

Global GDG Leaders Summit

Before the I/O Conference, I participated in the Global GDG Leaders Summit 2018, where more than 500 community leaders from 91 countries came together to share, discuss and learn how we can improve the ecosystem. A detailed account of this experience would take up an entire blog post on its own, but a few short highlights follow:

      • Inspirational talks by Googlers and others involved in the ecosystem, such as Jason Titus, Jennifer Kohl (GDG Global Program Manager) and the CEO of Meetup.com.
      • A packed program with community members sharing experiences, best practices and leading discussions around how to improve tech communities.

Short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rc1CZifW1QM

Intel Day0

Another tradition is the pre-I/O events hosted by Intel, Netflix and others. Last year, I went to the Intel event, which was hosted at a local brewery (free drinks included, of course) ). At this event, a large number of Intel engineers and external experts showcase how Intel uses and powers various Google platforms and technologies. This is a mix of software and hardware, and most of the demos are designed as hands-ons with plenty of opportunities for asking questions to the developers. Finally, the (free) food trucks deserve a shout-out along with the Intel party that proved a great place to pick up some swag.

 

The main event: Google I/O

Keynote(s): The Keynote is always full of announcements of new technologies and products. Starting last year, the keynote is now split into two: the general (business-friendly) one and the developer-oriented keynote; the second one is probably more interesting if you are a developer. You can re-watch both keynotes here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogfYd705cRs and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flU42CTF3MQ

      • Talks: A large number of specific presentations by leading Googlers on either new tech or best practices for designing, implementing and testing systems that use APIs and platforms.
      • Fireside chat(s): Usually, there are a few Fireside chats where some of the leading Googlers (tech leads, managers) open up for all sorts of questions from the crowd. These are generally fun and interesting, but even though you get candid answers they do of course not reveal the secret sauce.
      • Code labs: A whole area set up for you to explore the newest developer tools and platforms. Most of these are online, so you can try them from home as well.
      • Sandboxes: Here you can see various technologies in use and try them hands-on while talking to people who built them.
      • Office hours: Many teams have dedicated office hours, where you can go ask specific questions to the people who
        develop particular products. This is awesome!
      • Community lounge: This area is always full of great people from GDGs and other community groups.  
      • App review: Got an app? If so, you can get a personal walk-trough with a Googler to optimize your app performance, UX and monetization.

After dark: When the Californian sun sets, it’s time for some fun! During the night, all sorts of entertainment, games – and of course ample amounts of food and drinks – transform the conference area into a big party. Since it is a concert venue, there are of course live performances such as Justice.

So back to the question, is it worth going?

In short, YES! – but it does depend on what you want out of it. On the cons side, it’s expensive and like any other event takes up your time. Last year a normal ticket was about USD 1,200, and on top you have to add flights, hotels, etc. Furthermore, it is hard to get a ticket. If you are a student or running a startup, it can be hard to justify the cost. My advice would be to decide based on what you want out of it. If you are mainly interested in the new announcements, talks, demos, and content in general, the online coverage and the excellent https://www.youtube.com/user/GoogleDevelopers/ will probably give you all of that. If you want a very unique and awesome experience, network with great people and have direct access to Googlers behind all the tech platforms and products in a very informal way, you should absolutely go. This is especially relevant if you are an advanced user/developer of Google’s platforms and technologies, as it gives you direct access to the people behind the tools and products. On top of it all, it is also a highly inspirational and motivational environment with a lot of smart people to learn from. And did I mention that it is fun?

        • Tip 1: Book early! ‘Accommodation close to the venue sells out pretty quickly and gets expensive.
        • Tip 2: It’s going to be hot and probably cold – so stock up on sunscreen and bring clothes for the heat during the day and the potentially chilly nights.
        • Tip 3: Perhaps the most important – it is not possible to see it all! Be selective and leave space open for serendipitous interactions with Googlers and other developers. Almost all of the talks are recorded and available online, so you will not miss the content anyways. It will also drain your energy if you try to pack 10 talks into a day.
        • Tip 4: Office hours and Sandboxes for particular products and teams are excellent opportunities to meet interesting people and get stories and insights you cannot find online.
        • Tip 5: Plan some extra time before and after the main conference. As mentioned above there are lots of events, and there is a good chance you will meet interesting people to hang out with after the conference. Maybe you will get an invitation visit a cool startup, a Google office or Stanford University.
        • Tip 6: Power up with a solid power bank for your devices – there are charging opportunities at the venue, but often lots of people congregate around “electricity waterholes” and you don’t want to get stuck charging your device and miss a talk.
        • Tip 7: Get the most out of it by pre-planning. It takes time to move around between tents and the main stage, so study the map a bit. Note that the schedule changes up until the event, so you might have to check back on your program.
        • Tip 8: Book your sessions! A lot of the sessions have limited seating due to the size of the tents, so make sure you get your must-see events booked. There is always a waiting line for people who have not booked.
        • Tip 9: There are usually lots of giveaways, so prepare to haul stickers, t-shirts, hats and all sorts of other Google-branded goodies. Bring a backpack!  
        • Tip 10: Be open and talk to new people. I/O is a great and highly diverse assembly of awesome people with a lot of the same interests and passions as you.

Hope this blogpost was useful to you. You are welcome to share.

/Kasper