One Day with 500+ Google product enthusiasts

I’ve never won anything in my life. Until two weeks ago, Women Who Code(WWCode) awarded me a ticket to The Google Top Contributor Program Summit Open House.

I joined WWCode a few months ago when I was in doubt whether UX designers should learn how to code as part of career self-development. Two weeks ago simply out of curiosity, I clicked on the “Tickets Giveaways” link for “Google’s Top Contributor Program” in one of the WWCode’s newsletters. As usual, I did a quick search on the event and filled out the “lottery” form to win a ticket. The next thing I know was WWCode HQ emailed me I was awarded a free ticket. Then I received an email from Gris Cuevas Zambrano, Growth Program Manager of the Top Contributor Program, with one whole day agenda of the 3-day biannual summit.

I was thrilled with this interesting opportunity. However, honestly I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never heard of this program before. Not even some of my Googler friends. But as a UX designer who has a feeling this might have something to do with how this tech giant cares about its user and user experience. So I asked my boss for a day off to check out what this is all about.

Who are these “Google Top Contributors (TCs)” anyways? How to become one? Why people would be interested? Luckily Google has built an entire website to answer these questions. But after browsing through the site, I was still clueless what this “open house” was like. Before I arrived, I thought it’s like this:

https://www.salesforce.com/content/dam/blogs/legacy/2014/09/6a00e54ee3905b883301b7c6d45f3d970.jpg

It actually was like this:

The Google Top Contributor Summit

The summit was held at the Herbst Pavilion at the Fort Mason Center.

The venue is set up beautifully with Google color-themed decoration.

We started the day with the Community Program Manager told us the future of the Top Contributor Program. Then Product/Program Managers shared what changes were made in Social Media Care, and Product Support Manager / Program Managers for different products told the “design winning” stories behind Google Photos, Blogger, and Gmail., etc.

We also got some insights about the Moonshot Factory Google [x], exciting things to look forward to about Android Wear, how Virtual Reality for everyone, a.k.a. Google Cardboard, was turned into reality, how 360 videos on YouTube were made, how “Google Now” has shaped the future of search, and the next generation of Chromecast.

(Due to Google’s Non-Disclosure Agreement, the pictures of presentation slides have been taken down.)

At lunch provided by the coolest food trucks in San Francisco, all the guests were gathered together sharing a reserved table with Googlers, mostly TC Community Managers.

Surprised company of the flying robot that takes pictures

TC community managers from all over the world come say hi and introduce themselves to you during lunch break.

And we had “the mailman” printed out customized postcards for you if you twitted your picture taken at the summit using hashtag #tcsummit.

For those who didn’t get a chance to attend the event, here are some highlights of my attendance as a “guest”:

My favorite section is called “Winning Moments That Matter”.

Why this interested me? Not only because I love those “design winning” stories behind Photos, Blogger and Gmail/Inbox was short and sweet, and they all somehow related to user experience, which I cared about the most, but also just a year ago I was actually one of the victims who lost emails due to (very likely) my account being hacked.

I remembered as if this just happened yesterday — last year one day in late spring, I woke up found that the past two years of my emails went mysteriously missing. I’d always paid attention to secure my account. I even set up 2-step verification that my Googler friends made fun of. But I still became one of the victims that lost their emails.

I tried everything I could to resolve this issue — searched on Google, post to Google online forum asking for help, filled out the Support form, went to Apple Genius Bar as I suspected it was caused by the recent OS upgrade, contacted my Googler friends to see if they know any actual person who work in Gmail support… None of this worked (well some Top Contributor in the Online Forum did point me to the right support form). As revealed at the TC Summit, this wasn’t my fault. It takes 23 steps for someone who’s in need of help badly to actually to the right place to get the solution. Twenty-three!

Luckily, it seems now Google has come up with a better solution — emphasize the importance of setting up account security settings, synchronize with all registered devices, have better monitoring and detecting mechanism. If the team detects there is a potential threat, notify the user through all channels they sign up previously, so users can take recovery actions as soon as possible. During my lunch break chat with Andy Bravo, Gmail Community Manager, it sounds like Google Help Forum and Help On Social are also working on shortening and simplifying the path to the answers for those who need help.

I was glad I heard some positive progress on a top issue I can relate so much to.

(Due to Google’s Non-Disclosure Agreement, the pictures of presentation slides have been taken down.)

Another my personal favorite section is the last one “The Next Generation of Chromecast”.

I was one of the first generation Chromecast users. They’ve upgraded the user experience even better now. I recalled when I got my Chromecast, I was very impressed how easy the initial set up was, and how seamless and fast the play/project experience. Either I projected videos/photos from my phone or had my visitors to share theirs, it was painless.

Though back then I didn’t find the Chromecast app very useful after setting things up. I also felt the entire process of finding out what apps supported Chromecast was a bit broken. Though I didn’t give it more thoughts on how to enhance the experience. Shame on me for losing the sensitivity of a UX designer. Well Google did. Now the Chromecast app has became more than just a remote control app on a phone. It has became a place helps users to discover what to watch, and lists out what apps support Chromecast with just one click away.

I personally am also very excited to hear about the Chromecast Audio product. I’ve been to many occasions where too many people in the room were anxious to the DJ of the party, but there were too many different devices and/or no right cable to connect to the speaker. Now with this wifi speaker that works with the standard audio input in all the speakers produced in the past 40 years, this is no longer a problem.

(Due to Google’s Non-Disclosure Agreement, the pictures of presentation slides have been taken down.)

Even if I only spent one day with 500+ Google product enthusiasts, the program itself feels quite personal. I got to witness people got recognized by their persistent contribution throughout 5 or even 10 years across the globe. I was touched by how much enthusiasm these people have had to help others out, just like raising their own children. They take Google seriously, so they deserve being taken seriously — they got flied out from another country, they were given new products early as beta testers, etc. If you are passionate about something and dedicate to it, it will take you further than you think. :)

Even guests like us, who were awarded free pass from WWCode or Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner, they saw your blue badge and came over to talk to you and answered any questions you may have about the program and the event to make sure you have a fun and productive day. I like this kind of being personal. :)

I am also very impressed about really seeing Google is a global company — every speech section is followed by a Q&A. Unlike most events I went to, where people were almost 100% based in the bay area, I heard people asking questions in Spanish, Japanese, German, Indonesian, etc. Immediately some staff would translate the question to the speaker. Some translation may not be perfect I can tell, but that definitely smooth the experience of event attendance. Meanwhile, those contributors who may not speak English fluently wear a translator headset so they can listen to the summit without any language barrier.

The TC Summit app which was obviously just designed for the summit, also has guidebook in several languages. Since I am a native Chinese speaker, I couldn’t help but check out the guide in Chinese. Maybe I’m being a little nitpicking here but translation was only done when clicking into each menu. If I were the designer, translating those menu items from English to Chinese would not be too much of work — now both versions look almost identical to me.

Last but not least, I am very proud of myself making an unofficial “contribution” to Google at the event — answer the question “What if I can rename the Top Contributor Program?”. There was a blackboard set up in the lounge area so everyone was encouraged to write down the new name ideas you have for the TC program. I wrote/drew “Goorus” in Google font and color-theme (as closely as I could) ;) I did that after the first break in the morning. When I swung by later in the afternoon, I noticed I had some anonymous supporters — a few circles and ticker sign were left in neon color markers around “Goorus”! Apparently these people really care :) Perhaps some day the TC program manager would contact me out of blue for my “contribution” to their program re-naming effort! You never know ;)

(Due to Google’s Non-Disclosure Agreement, the picture of New-Name Board have been taken down.)

One last bit — as someone who does experience design for a living, I always believe experience matters, especially when it exists almost invisibly in the tiniest details — I can’t express how much I admire this abstract world map weaved with “hello” in all different languages.

Thank you Women Who Code and Google for this prestigious opportunity to let me get a taste of what’s it like to be a Google Top Contributor. This is definitely an an assertion for my further pursuit in UX design — perhaps some day I will join Google’s User Experience Design team to make the contribution my way ;)


Originally published at www.xiaominxdesign.com on October 21, 2015.

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