I was super lucky to get a ticket to Google I/O through the Women Techmakers group at Google. Natalie Villalobos and the Women Techmakers team did a phenomenal job of making the conference awesome. Before the conference even started, everyone who identified themselves as female were invited to two things: a dinner the night before the conference and a Slack group to chat. About 700 women attended half a dozen dinners throughout San Francisco. It was nice to meet people in an informal setting as well has have friendly faces in the sea of people at the conference. Everyone got magnetic name tags which was awesome because I usually hate name tags for either piercing my clothing or screwing up the fabric because of stickiness. Usually the food would have been my favorite part of the night, but the swag bags blew the awesome food out of the water. They gave everyone a bag that had coffee and a wearable project in it. I loved it because it wasn’t a shirt that I wouldn’t wear but it also wasn’t a super girly girl thing either. It was very classy.
The Slack channel exploded every day before and during the conference with hundreds of new messages. Quickly after it was created, a couple dozen channels sprung up on Slack to share information about after parties or to solicit sharing rides with others. I liked the Slack channel for meeting people more easily in person. I’m usually very extroverted, but I am not the greatest at going up to a person and introducing myself. With the Slack group, people would state their locations and I could just go somewhere and easily meet people. I think meeting people online lowered the barrier to trust and extended some sort of goodwill between people. I joined the keynote line with some ladies from Slack and shared a dozen rides with other women between parties. Any time I was feeling alone at the conference, I just had to open up Slack and find someone to meet.
The conference itself started on Thursday, but you were allowed to pick up your badges on Wednesday. Depending on when you picked up your badge, you would either receive a ticket that said that you were keynote eligible or a ticket saying that you were slated for the overflow rooms. At badge pickup, they put on two non-removable bracelets on your wrist — one for the after party and one that had an NFC chip. I hated that I couldn’t remove them from my wrists but I understand why they did this. My picture was also on my badge, but I made the mistake of having wavy hair and glasses in the photo and then straight hair and contacts at the conference. I was constantly being pulled out of line to check that I really matched my photo (I don’t think I look that different but apparently this is a trend recently for me!). They gave all conference goers a t-shirt, a water bottle, Google Cardboard, and a Nexus 9 tablet.
With my keynote-eligible ticket, I strolled over to the Moscone Center at 8:30AM. The line to get into the keynote was over an entire city block in length. After joining a channel in the Slack group related to the keynote line, I found out that there were seats in the very front, and I scored a seat in the second row! The keynote room was insanely huge, and it three-fourths of it was covered in screens. They had people play pong across the huge screens as well as showed off a lot of their new photography features as you can see with the photo of the icebergs below.
I won’t go over the details of the keynote, but there were a couple things that distinguished it from Apple’s WWDC keynote for me. The Google keynote had a diversity in speakers — it was awesome that they weren’t all white guys. The keynote was 2.5 hours long, but it was way more inspiring than Apple’s keynote. I always felt that during Apple’s keynote, I was learning what was coming to me as a consumer. In this keynote, I felt inspired to go create technology that would help the world. I loved that they made it a priority to get the latest operating system on affordable phones for third world countries. I appreciated that they put the spotlight on developers that created applications for those with disabilities. I got goosebumps when they showed off Expeditions which is a Google Cardboard application that is like Magic School Bus in that it allows teachers to take their students to locations around the world and explore them. I love that this technology lets people dream and experience their world from their homes. Special kudos to the Google team for making virtual reality affordable by using existing phones instead of forcing consumers to buy expensive items to experience it. Virtual reality wasn’t the only thing that they showed off that uses existing technology — they also showed off a microchip for Project Vault which is a digital security system. I appreciated that I didn’t need to go out and buy a new phone to get these features.
After the keynote, we were all released into the wild of the conference. There were a dozen or so technical talks each hour. I went to talks on enhancing the accessibility of your app, the internet of things, developing for wearables, using Google on iOS, asking for permission, Google Pay, and Chrome DevTools (I’m probably missing a couple more). A couple of the talks were in larger rooms with the stereotypical conference chairs. Most of the talks were in these structures made out of pipes in the middle of the floor or tucked away in corners. The smaller talks had cardboard chairs or bean bag chairs. Despite the cool implementation, it wasn’t that practical because about 30-40 people could crowd into the area and then 100-200 people would crowd around the outside trying to hear a talk. Even worse, some of the talks had “inverted audio” in that you had to wear headphones to tune into a talk. Overall though, I thought that the talks were less technical than talks at Apple’s WWDC but more inspiring and big picture.
The second floor of the convention center was covered by a large playground. There were swing sets and teeter totters as well as a large Android shrub. The aura was very whimsical and fun.
It was hard to convince myself to go to the technical talks because the second and third floor was covered in stations where you could experience the new Google projects. In the playground area, there was a large section devoted to showing off accessibility projects including a robotic arm for amputees and stabilizing spoons for people with Parkinson’s and other diseases. I got to try a variety of virtual reality projects. At one of the projects, they handed everyone a phone and headphones. I was instantly transported to this world where there was an alien crash. As I tilted the phone and turned it around, I moved through the crash scene. If I tilted the phone up, I could see the sky and everything falling from it. If I turned around, I could see the people running away from the crash site. I ended up following some humans as they fled to a subway station. It was awesome. I think this was one of the projects that used Google Jump which is a camera apparatus with 16 Go Pro cameras that uses some fancy technology to make virtual reality videos. The other virtual reality project that I tried had me hold on to a Nerf-style gun with a phone mounted on it. As I walked forwards and turned, I had to shoot enemies that came my way. There was audio keys to tell me when to turn and shoot people that were coming up from behind me. It was a little too real for my tastes, but I can definitely see where others would love it for playing games.
There was conceptual art for Project Ara which is centered around modularizing your phone. The station had a place where you could suggest what kinds of modules that you would want for your phone. There were half a dozen cars that used Android, and you could go to the coding labs to play around with programming for the car console itself. There was a large area with Google designers that would help you design a usable app. All of the current Android wearables were on display and there were talks on new features in the watches such as Project Soli which is a small radar chip to add hand motions to control devices and how to develop for the always-on feature of the watch.
My favorite project by far was Project Jacquard. This project was centered around using conductive thread in fabric to control devices. IT WAS SO FREAKING AWESOME. They had stations with two different demos — one was to control lights and one was to control music. You could tap to turn on and off the light. If you swiped up and down, you could higher or lower the brightness of the light. If you swiped right to left, you could change the color of the bulb. For the music controls, you could switch songs or pause/play songs. Google has a secondary keynote to go over their ATAP projects (Advanced Technology and Projects). In this keynote, one of the speakers had a jacket that had conductive thread woven into it, and he did a live demo on stage. As someone who cares about fashion, I love how innovative this is to the world of fashion. I’m imagining a world where I can use this to create an awesome cosplay!!
Google hosted an after party for all attendees on Thursday night. In typical Google fashion, it was a little bizarre. The food offerings ranged from ramen to hot dogs to liquid nitrogen ice cream to “molecular” carbonized strawberries with pop rocks in the middle. They passed out hundreds of light sabers and headphones and had a silent disco party. I had never heard of a silent disco, and I soon found out that everyone hears the music of one of two DJs on their headphones. It would be weird to see people dancing to two different beats without hearing a sound.
On Friday night, I went to a nightcap hosted by Google for a smaller subset of attendees. They hosted a trivia night with some of the nerdiest trivia I’ve ever seen in my life. At one point, they asked if you could identify two Klingons. As nerdy as I think I am, I quickly found out that I was crazily outmatched in trivia.
Google I/O was 23% female this year which was a stark contrast from WWDC sharp lack of women. I met many more non-developers at this conference, too. I am incredibly thankful to all of the Women Techmakers team for making me feel like I was part of a community. Their efforts made this conference 100x better for me than it would have been if I had gone on my own and didn’t have any connections to anyone. Overall, I thought the conference was a phenomenal experience. I made a lot of new friends, and I expanded my worldview of technology as a whole.