Attending Google I/O as an iOS Developer

A picture of me posing in front of the gigantic Google IO sign

And no, I didn't confuse I/O for i-O-S!!

TLDR: Watch this reel to get a feel on the gram!

Developer Dilemma: IO.attend() vs IO.skip()

As tech communities began to adopt new-normal practices in 2022 with hybrid working models and in person conferences, I didn’t imagine that I’d attend a major conference like Google I/O.

But when I did get an invite, I was a bit confused and stunned. It felt like an exciting opportunity but it’s all the way in the West Coast AND I’m an iOS dev. Those were the initial and obvious reasons I convinced myself to dismiss it. Plus, I’m still not mentally ready to mingle with 3D full size versions of humans, let alone fellow technologists, and that too in Silicon Valley (intimidating, much?). And, it’s not just me, my wardrobe was not ready either. Thanks to the enhanced sedentary lifestyle I wholeheartedly adopted during the pandemic, an upgrade in size required upgrading my closet.

But in the following week, I got a reminder email nudging me with the subject line “Reminder: Join us at Shoreline for Google I/O 2022”. This week, I felt different. I just got back from a weekend trip to Boston (my first post-pandemic trip) and was now sitting in an airBnB at Waterloo, some 120 kms away from my home in Toronto. I was already feeling like a seasoned traveller (albeit it was an overnight achievement!). But it did help with the confidence of making the decision to go on a solo trip to the other coast.

I toyed with the idea and found myself filling in the registration form. A lot seemed to align — my manager was on board, and so was my fam and plus for the first time that I could recall, I had pending vacation days that would expire in a couple of months! Moreover, I’d get to meet some friends from my virtual developer community circle as well as my past lives from high school and university. And of course, check out the hype that is San Fran!

The eve of Google I/O

As a Women Techmaker Ambassador, I was lucky to get invited for a pre party! Admission to Google I/O of course requires a test, not a Comp Sci test but the jabbing-in-your-nostril one. We sat as patiently as we could with fingers crossed and a positive-about-a-negative-result attitude, impatiently refreshing our browser for a screen that we would later merrily flash to gain swift access to all the events that awaited us.

The next bit was claiming our swag bags and some of us (or at least me) were squeaking like kids grabbing their goodies from Santa. What did the Swag bag contain you ask? Well, the I/O tote bag had a tee, a hoodie, a cap, a hydration flask if you will (i.e. a fancy looking water bottle) and sunsreen! SPF 70! Trust Google to have us covered and protected!

Holding the sunscreen bottle with my Google IO swag bag in the background

We then hopped on our busses and while trying to do what appeared like an informal speed networking session, I got to reveal how much of an outlier I was — an iOS developer that too from east side of Canada!

A group selfie of some of the Women Techmaker members in the bus

Once we were at the reception, it was a warm welcome — warm because it was a heated open space and welcoming because there was tons of food. And so, the day unfolded my first networking event in years and it felt surprisingly… normal! Amongst the many new faces., were familiar ones, from my community at Women Who Code to the program managers who we owe our WTM experiences to! Between sipping cocktails and slipping sliders, we made quick friends — ambitious women in Android, Web, AI and Research. This definitely helped break the ice for the big day! Kind of like what a sangeet or a rehearsal dinner does for a wedding…

Posing with a few Android developers from the WTM reception

The Big Day — Google I/O

Googlers on foot and Googlers on their iconic bikes accompanied with energetic music in this colourful campus created the perfect vibe we needed for the long day we had ahead. It almost looked like a scene from Silicon Valley, the tv show! The short hike from the parking lot to the security check helped build an appetite and us famished folk found our way towards the caffeine and grub. I absolutely loved the fact that the food was packed in reusable containers. Go Google! Many group and single selfies later, we marched towards the Shoreline Amphitheatre.

Shoreline Amphitheatre

The countdown projected on the screen assured us that we still had time to soak in the whole experience and the fact that we were sitting amongst the Google community. We took these spare minutes to capture these surreal moments on our iPhones (ironically).

And, soon enough Sundar Pichai got on the stage with his humble stance and humorous mic check (”can you hear me? …after many meetings on mute, I thought I should check”) ready to blow our minds away!

A plethora of exciting announcements

Right from the start, we were dazzled as we learned about Google’s breakthroughs with Search, Maps and Translate that proved helpful in the pandemic, natural disasters and unnatural cruel wars. Google is undoubtedly on a quest to search for better search features! While this included aspects such as reliability of search results (like challenging fake news). What had me most amazed was their multi search and scene exploration feature. Certainly a “supercharged Ctrl F” as Prabhakar put it!

Imagine the possibility! As a recent plant mama, I could identify an interesting looking plant and have Google tell me where I can purchase it right away. Or if I scan several plants in my local store, maybe Google could provide an overlay to let me know which ones are lower maintenance + apartment friendly + require low light. Also, when Prabhakar talked about identifying unknown chirping birds, I found it kind of ironic, cuz a lot of birds did flock for IO, perhaps to tweet about it!

Loved the fact that there were several diverse speakers on the Google stage. Take for example, Cici who demonstrated Google Assistant conversing naturally sans the unnatural hotword (Ok Google). And even more of a seller was their privacy promise and excusing fillers like ahs and ums (something I’m as guilty of as the Canadian Prime Minister!)

Cici showcasing Google Assistant’s new features. Backdrop has the words “Look and Talk”

While one’s scepticism around tech may have been reinforced with the documentary, ‘Coded bias’, it was reassuring to hear Annie talk about Google’s efforts in image search and Google photos with the Monk skin tone scale. As you may have heard, this scale challenges the current industry standard. Even better, they announced that it has been open sourced! Imagine the live applause I heard right in my seat! We need breakthroughs like these!

The many many AI / ML announcements had so much to promise and reimagine. Curiosity would unlikely kill the cat with Lambda’s ability to educate one about complex topics such as uninhabited planets like Pluto! And, when grounded on this planet, it can assist you with your travel plans. Also, hearing about PaLM was intriguing — they talked about generating code from text (are our jobs threatened already?) and the processing prowess of Tensor in (phones)!

Log4J was certainly a security scare last year and Jen highlighted Project Shield’s investments in modernizing vulnerable systems. Plus, behind the scenes, Google has had our back protecting us from phishing and spam sites in apps, mail and soon with Google Docs too! And of course, AI powers this! While I ain’t a security person, I loved hearing that we can skip the tedious 6 digit code and transition to passwordless sign ins! Protected computing could indeed be a promising privacy protection plan! Alliteration much?

Soon there were device announcements galore! This was even more of a misfit moment for me as an iOS engineer, but it was interesting to see the parallels between the launches by these 2 phone and gadget giants and their die hard fans cheering on!

The keynote was a good couple of hours and many of us felt like we were summoned…. to attend nature’s call! But we were told to hold it in just a bit longer. Not wanting to disturb my entire row of seated attendees, I stood on the stairs and felt only closer to Mr. Pichai whilst he talked about AR / Augmented Reality. A few more steps, I thought and I could join him on stage in AR — Actual Reality! 😂

A selfie of me in the amphitheatre with Sundar Pichai on stage

And oh, if you felt I’ve been rambling a lot, then the auto-summarization feature in Google Docs and chats would be really handy here — this was among my favourite productivity features!

Developer Announcements

The keynote may have ended with that AR demo, but the developer keynote showcased the AR Geospatial API by Jeanine Banks. Maru Bouza highlighted several Android updates — like Jetpack Compose for wear OS and Health Connect. Again, I loved the fact that there was representation on the dev screen too!

And as both native platforms seem to converge to the very transferable skill that is declarative UI — the benefits of creating multi platform apps becoming easier and faster are more evident. Live Edit of course being a boon to developer productivity!

After being lost in the web of web announcements, the ever growing versatile Flutter made its way on the big display accompanied with an animation of those 3 adorable-not-at-all-angry bird mascots. The fact that there are 500K flutter apps definitely gives an uninitiated person like me — Flutter FOMO! And Google’s favourite pairing for Flutter is of course, Firebase which was what was discussed next.

Firebase announcements were what I waited for the most in the dev keynote, for this is one agnostic dev toolkit I could relate to! Android Studio’s integration with Crashlytics for App Quality definitely was quite a tease for me as Xcoder! Beyond this crash to code productivity save, they provided a quick sneak peek of Extensions and App Check which sound like potential dev goodies (less reinventing of the wheel or even the cog of the wheel!)

A selfie of me with the stage screen displaying Flutter and Firebase mascots

A natural transition from here was the backbone of Firebase and beyond — Google Cloud! Now my judgement about the cloud…may have been clouded, but Karolina’s run through on ‘Cloud Run’ did seem to deliver the intuitiveness and productivity they claim (“by developers, for developers”). The cheering by the cloud-clout had me suspect that the AlloyDB for PostgreSQL was a big deal!

ML and AI are getting more accessible and applicable thanks to the efforts in their APIs. This was evident in the many hopeful ML stories from identifying predators in a chat room to eco-conservation efforts! Perhaps, I ought to get my hands dirty and quit undermining my data mining potential!

Post Keynote happenings

Lunch was served and we found ourselves choosing between several pre-packed meal options in their reusable containers! Reusability is great — both in code and life! Whilst we sat on our benches sipping mini Boba teas, there were festivities happening in the background with Google dev teams performing dance numbers to some fun beats.

A pic of the many container for grab during lunch

I witnessed the Android devs from my table having their fangirl moments as they spotted Google Android dev engineers in the crowd! Some IO regulars talked about this IO compared to the ones from past years. Apparently, the coding sessions would get booked pretty fast and one would have to strategize and optimise their lining up plans — reminded me of the ironic stress of Disney World lineups. Fortunately or not, we didn’t have those in person sessions for that day.

We now made our way towards the exclusive Women Techmakers reception. Four accomplished women technologists from Google sat in the panel and talked about their challenges whilst making it to where they were now. Their sound advice resonated with many — like don’t challenge yourself to maintain a balance between work and life but rather think of it as a ‘mix’ — a work life mix. For some days you may need to prioritise one over the other. So I thought about this — attempting to get that balancing act right is pretty idealistic and can burn one out. Each day could look different and we don’t necessarily have to strive for “balance”. Another takeaway was to “use an active voice vs a passive one”. This makes sense, because using an active voice can help you get the credit you deserve.

A picture focussing on the Google IO notebook and pen with the WTM reception in the background

Next, we had a window to network again and befriend more women technologists. And to wrap up the reception, Caitlin’s workshop on courage left us reflecting on all that we have achieved thus far and unblocking ourselves to take more risks!

Once released back in the open from the reception hall, we were tasked to mingle further with the help of a Bingo icebreaker template! This classic ice breaker drove our competitive and collaborative spirit at the same time! We then replenished ourselves with snacky stuff whilst claiming our free drinks with the 18+ wristband! Beyond refreshments, they had us recharged with delightful entertaining tidbits such as games, a highly skilled baton juggler + skater and a mini magic show by this charming magician who did reveal all his secrets — he claimed he owed it all to AI, ML, the Cloud, nanotechnology, you name it! 😅

A picture of me and the baton juggler on skates

Before we left, we seized the opportunity of clicking many many pics beside the gigantic IO sign — perfect digital souvenirs! Saying goodbye to the many women we vibed with in this iconic campus was heartbreaking. But the connections we hoped would stay alive through the many socials we exchanged at the last minute until another conference or tech event brings us to reconnect in real life again!

A picture of our shadows as we walk away from the campus

Check out my I/O reel here!

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Navati

Navati

iOS dev eager to learn + advocate for unrepresented folk in tech. Engaged & empowered in community as Leadership Fellow @ WomenWhoCode Mobile + WTM Ambassador.