What I learned from Google I/O 2017

… That’s not technical

Hi Dor,
Congrats! You’ve been selected to attend Google I/O 2017.

When I received the email notifying me of this, I was shocked. So shocked that when I received the second email notifying me that the conference was only two weeks away, I realized that I haven’t made any preparations for it. Luckily, and thanks to some of my friends, I managed to get a flight, and have a place to stay during the convention. I spent three unforgettable days at I/O, going to lectures, meeting the incredible Google team, as well as colleagues, investors, mentors, and others who have made the experience truly special.

This convention has taught me many cool things that I plan to learn from moving forward. Here I will list of a few things I learned that I have been able to put to writing:

1. Figure out your end game

Setting a clear goal for the convention helped me stay on track. The goal could have been anything from trying out every single exhibit all the way to spending a day with an attendee or attendees. My personal goal was to expose myself to Google’s Android team and also to ask about a few tactical methodologies that we had issues with at work.

To do that, I signed up only to Android lectures that had to do with our app, and made a point of introducing myself to the Google Android team as best as I could during office hours. As a result, both goals were achieved, and now I know a little better who are the people who make Android what it is on one hand, and on the other hand my team leader will be happy that I learned stuff I will later implement at work.

By figuring out the end game, I was able to narrow down my options to a relatively clear schedule and get all the information and exposure that I needed. This way, even if I didn’t absorb everything, I absorbed what I wanted, and this way benefited from that.

This is how I achieved my personal goal.

2. There are tons of people in the Google tech community

Google I/O is huge. There were about 7000 attendees this year, with six stages, and an amphitheater, alongside stands and booths. There are tons of things to do there, and it can be hard to choose what to do next.

Only by sitting in the shoreline amphitheater and by walking around in the conference, I realized how many we are. What struck me even more is to understand the power that was behind the Google Developer Experts (GDE) team from around the world. They are readily available resources for all the questions that one wanted to ask about the Google tech, and just couldn’t ask the team from Google itself.

Although it is not much of a lesson, it did bring some proportions to the size and magnitude of the community. And that in and of itself is a powerful realization. There are people everywhere who have faced similar challenges to you, who at the very least can ease the burden of a problem and at the very best, help out with a solution.

Once I started talking with them it led me to the next lesson I learned, and it was a big one:

3. It is not mandatory to have your full career in check just to talk to the big shots

I will admit that I felt a tad unprepared when coming to the conference. What I had was my previous experience, theoretical background, and some small projects that I made on my own, but never uploaded to Github out of sheer embarrassment. To be clear how unprepared I felt, here is a comprehensive list of some of the things I did not have and felt I should have:

  • A Github repo full of projects — aside from school and Hackathon projects.
  • Rockstar experience — I had a whopping two and a half years of Android development expertise.
  • Knowledge of the community — I barely knew names aside from the big ones.
  • A business card (or the equivalent).
  • Company swag — My company has tons of it lying around in our offices.

After listing the items to a few GDEs and friends, the response was “So? Who cares?” Some of them even reiterated: “I am here to meet people like you from the community”. This conflicted with my Ashkenazi mentality of having everything in check and ready or otherwise “it may have not been worth doing”. Regardless, it didn’t stop me from having great conversations, and keep learning and advancing. A powerful lesson that allows you to feel more comfortable, and in turn enjoy yourself and learn.

With that said, there is one more thing I do feel like I have to mention:

4. Know your $#!T

(I promise, this section is not too too technical)

This means both understanding what you’re talking about and who you’re talking with about what you’re talking about.

During the second day, I went to a talk with two developers from the Android team. The talk was truly interesting, but they did bring up a subject that I had issues with just a few weeks prior to coming to I/O. During the Q&A, I nervously stepped up to the microphone, and asked them if they ever faced this situation. One of the engineers on stage asked me to come see them immediately after the talk, to describe the situation further. While I did not come immediately after, I mustered some courage, and stepped in to the Android tent. 30 minutes later — I had my answer: it is a known bug that is being worked on as we speak.

Thanks to the fact that I faced this particular situation, and thanks to the fact I knew how to describe the problem, both the Android team member and I were able to discuss the bug in a comprehensive manner, and professionally I believe I advanced.

There were many other situations that simply by understanding fully what I was talking about, I was able to intellectually move the conversation forward. It is important to know who you’re talking to. If you happen to run in to someone from Square, who created Retrofit, it would make sense to ask them a question about it (assuming you have one). If you happen to run in to someone from the architecture team, ask them about their opinion of MVP and MVVM. This way the person gets recognition for their work, and you get an answer to the question you wanted.

With that said, you’re there to learn. So do yourself a favor, and remember that there are no such thing as stupid questions. You’ll thank me later at your next conference.

5. Seize the moment and have fun

You spent money and three days of your own time, the least you can do is treat it like vacation. At the end of the day, while it is technical and maybe even career-changing, the convention is about making you feel good.

So have fun :)

Looking back, I remember the moment I realized this vividly. It was during the first night, during after hours. I looked to my left and a member of the Android team was standing not too far from where I stood. From my impression, he is a wonderful speaker, who gets the crowd engaged with wits and with his genuine approach. Hesitant (and slightly tipsy), I decided to borrow a few minutes of his time to talk exactly about that. He offered me valuable insights (on which I am still thinking as I am writing these lines) regarding his genuine joy of standing on stage, and some about humor . It was a lot of fun discussing this subject with him because to me public speaking is one of those things I genuinely enjoy doing, and he has many insights on it.

Immediately after this conversation, I caught up with some friends, went to listen to a few concerts, grabbed drinks, walked around, and sat for pizza. All of this, and we finished the evening just in time to go to sleep early and wake up early for a full day of I/O. This evening turned out to be awesome, and so were the ones afterwards.

By doing what makes you feel good, and by allowing yourself to have fun, in turn you will be able to further enjoy the convention, and in turn expose yourself to situations you would never imagine would occur. And when that happens, the sky is the limit with what can happen (It is Google after all).

Google I/O was incredible. It truly is a unique experience, and I appreciate the tens of hours I spent there learning. Out of all the conventions I have attended (which sum up to exactly this one), I learned those lessons mentioned above, and will continue to seek more insights as time goes on. To me, this was just a taste of what the tech world has to offer; and I can’t wait to see where the rabbit hole takes me next.