Thoughts on Google I/O 2013

I was fortunate this year to experience Google I/O for the first time. The experience really started from the count down to the morning when registration opened and I managed to get a ticket before it sold out.

After attending the 3 day conference, I can safely say Google I/O is unlike any other conference I’ve been to. This is probably the only one where I felt inspired, had a lot of fun and learned some practical knowledge at the same time. The 5 different tracks were wide enough to cater for a variety of interests. Some tracks even had concurrent sessions. Since all of the sessions were recorded and available on Youtube, I chose to attend the more technical sessions that required more focus. The fireside chat sessions were also interesting as you could ask questions and interact directly with the team behind the scenes. I also enjoyed the office hours in the open expo area in which you could talk closely with Google employees.

I was impressed with the range of technologies put on show by Google. My Google I/O experience can be summarized in three parts – Inspiring, Practical and Fun.

Inspiring 

The impressive visual display of the keynote set a stage for thinking big and seeing the future. What was more inspiring though was hearing Larry Page answer questions in the new Q&A session this year. Larry encouraged everyone to gain a deep understanding of what you are working on in order to think big and solve the real issues. He asked “How far are you off from the raw materials cost?”. He emphasized that it is very important for engineers to stop optimizing at a high level which may only provide incremental improvements. Larry also emphasized that Google has only accomplished 1% of what is possible. Keeping those pieces of advice in mind was an inspirational start to the conference.

The second talk that I found inspiring was “7 Techmakers and a Microphone”.  I didn’t know what to expect at first, but the stories of each woman was truly moving and exciting. There was an air of celebration and appreciation of the early days of computer science, something I haven’t felt myself for a long time. One of the amazing stories in the talk was about the first all-electric computer, the ENIAC, and how the first six women programmers of the ENIAC almost faded into the unknown. Their story will be produced as a documentary very soon – http://eniacprogrammers.org/.

By the end of the conference, I found myself looking forward to owning a pair of Google Glass. Everyone at the conference was optimistic and understood that this is the early experimental stages for wearable technologies. Larry said that they are focused on making users of Glass happy, and getting technology out of the way of people’s lives. I look forward to the possibilities of Glass and wearable technologies.

Practical 

If practicality is what you look for in a conference, Google I/O also had a lot of informational sessions. The sessions on Chrome and App Engine were most relevant to me. The Chrome team focused on performance; the #perfmatters hashtag was everywhere. It was clear that it is in Google’s interest to keep users using the web by making sure they have a fast experience in comparison to native apps. Apart from educating developers, Google also invested a lot in tools and advancing browser capabilities. Chrome had some cool demos with WebRTC & WebGL. They are standardizing ideas from AngularJS as web components. Google created new languages like Dart and Go that promote better engineering practises and performance. The flexibility and performance of Google App Engine was impressive. Last but not least, the new Android studio based on IntelliJ is a long awaited tool for Android developers.

Furthermore, eager attendees could get their hands dirty in code labs which started at 9am on the 3rd day of the conference. The one I recommend is “Whispering Gophers: networking programming in Go”.

For a list of sessions on web performance, check out the perfmatters blog.

Fun 

The after hours party that Google put together on the first night was absolutely tailered for geeks. It was kind of surreal with robots everywhere, a robot bartender mixing custom drinks with real time stats, Billy Idol, DJ Aoki, great food and drinks. I couldn’t think of anything else to ask for other than making the party last longer.

On top of that, this year everybody received a Chromebook Pixel. I’ll admit it is not going to replace my Macbook Pro, but it got me interested in learning more about Chrome OS and what it is capable of.

In closing

There were a couple of things I observed. Google is incredibly fortunate that it can afford to experiment and bet on different technologies. Given they make a majority of their income from ads, Adsense and Adwords were not heavily visible in the conference.

It’ll be interesting to see Chrome as a major platform and see how that will coexist with Android. It is not clear how that will pan out, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Google releases a phone running on Chrome OS.

Finally I’m looking forward to seeing more from Google[x] and Google.org on how to use technology for social impact and improving human life.

 

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