Hello, my name is Jason. I’m a UI/UX designer in NYC, and this year I was lucky enough to attend my first Google I/O conference.
I’m an avid researcher who likes to gather as much intel as I can before taking on a project or visiting a new place; I try to gain a feel for what it is I’m about to embark on. This conference was no different, but when I tried looking online for articles such as this, I found very little on what it was like to actually attend Google I/O. Basic information like: When do lines form? What are sessions like? How’s the After Hours party? etc etc etc. I thought I’d document as much as I could and share it.
I’ve heard plenty of stories about registration for the event: Long lines. Mistakes with your personal information. General disorganization. Personally, I found it to be breeze! It was different this year compared with previous years, as this was the first year that Keynote access would be first-come, first-served during registration. Used to be you arrived on the day of the Keynote with your badge and hoped you’d get in, but this time, those who arrived at Registration earlier would be given color-coded wristbands. Knowing the horror stories of previous years, I told my coworker that we should get there early. Maybe not 4am like we’ve heard for past events, but 6am seemed reasonable to us. This is what we saw . . .
We’d clearly chosen the right time to arrive—we were a sure bet to get Keynote access the next day! During the conference we chatted with a few attendees about what time they arrived, and it varied from 6:30 to 7:45 and even one at 11am. All got the blue wristbands that denoted access to the Keynote. I guess we were a bit eager. But hey, better safe than sorry.
After signing in, you are handed a bit of swag and are told not to take the NFC wristband off until after the conference is over. Listen to them! You’ll need it to get into the Keynote and After Hours party, as well as pick up your swag.
With all my goodies in hand, I wandered around the first floor a bit, but they were still setting up. The second floor is off limits until the show opens. So I spent the rest of the day meeting with friends and exploring San Francisco a bit with my girlfriend.
The big day! With the trusty blue wristband on my wrist I knew I’d get into the Keynote, but in order to get my choice of seat I decided I’d get there at 6am to line up. I walked to the Moscone Center and this is what awaited . . .
Yep. My line luck was good! I was about 10th in line again. While in line I met an awesome developer, Kyle, from Ball State — who I hung out with quite a bit at the show — some of the awesome people that host the Big Android BBQ every year, and even my long time online friend Virginia in person!
The short line doesn’t last long. Soon enough it started to fill in and wrap around the building . . .
The free Wi-Fi works even outside so don’t worry about being bored. Plus Google provides breakfast, and vendors walk the line giving out other goodies. The hours flew by! This year was the first time they had barriers to ease the line, which was great, and this was also the first year for metal detectors at the door.
We made our way through the empty Moscone Center, up to the third floor. There, we were greeted by Google employees ready to scan our NFC wrist bands. Once you got the a-ok, into the Keynote room you go . . .
BAM! A HUGE screen that I couldn’t even get to fit into this panoramic shot. Impressive! They played videos of a giant whale swimming around and even hosted a mini-tournament of Pong, much to the crowd’s delight.
The Keynote was well worth it. Such electricity in the room. I’ll save my thoughts on each session and the keynote itself for another post, but you can watch it online if you haven’t already.
We ended up snagging seats in the middle and near an aisle so we could make a quick getaway for lunch when it was over. Of course, that was everyone else’s idea as well!
Before attending, be sure to visit the Google I/O website to download their mobile app (though they have QR codes posted at Registration for you to get it quickly if you need it). Make a gameplan. Make a list of which sessions you want to attend. The app was invaluable during the event: Not only did it house my schedule, but it pushed notifications reminding me of the sessions I’d flagged, alerted me to changes, gave me instant access to the Wi-Fi network (on Android), and had a handy map of the convention center. You can even rate sessions after each one.
Speaking of sessions, they ranged from hands-on to development-focused to design-focused to future thinking — a little bit for everyone. There are different types of rooms too:
Sandbox: These mini-towers were scattered around the show floor. They usually had just one or two screens and were smaller focused. There were three types: developer, design, and various. One even had headphones to help the attendees hear over the crowd. These were probably one of the easier spots to take in a session.
Alcoves: Three in total, these were the medium-sized spaces. As with all rooms, they are first-come, first-serve. There’s only one way in and out, and they fill up fast! You can sometimes stand outside the space, but hearing a quiet speaker can be tough, and the glare from the windows makes it almost impossible to see the presentation on the screens if you’re not facing it directly. This was my least favorite of the session setups.
Sessions: The largest of the three rooms, three in total. These rooms held the sessions that were being live-streamed on the web. These were the bigger, more important talks, focused on larger concepts and thinking.
There are other spaces too, for more hands-on learning. Code Labs helped users learn bits of code. Design Labs had you sit with a UI/UX designer and paper prototype. The Design team offered material design reviews of your apps — those filled up fast!
No matter which sessions you attend, one thing is certain: There will be people there taking up space, paying zero attention. They’re either replying to emails on their phones or trying to eBay swag they got earlier in the show. This is quite aggravating for those wishing to actually learn at these events, especially with the limited seating.
The Show Floor
Sessions aren’t the only things going on at the event. There are plenty of things to do and see on the show floor, including things that only came out on the second day! Android Auto had a presence on the third floor. There was a station devoted to Android Wear so you could test and try on various Wear devices. You could try out a demo of JUMP videos on Google Cardboard. Sit in fake living rooms to try out Android TV. But by far the most interesting was the ATAP booth. This is Google’s funbox.
You could go hands-on with a number of interesting projects like Project Jacquard, pictured above. Even more items were on display in their booth after their Day 2 morning presentation. In the back they had an area roped off so attendees could strap a Project Tango to their faces and move around safely. Always hilarious to watch!
It’s not all business . . .
There are plenty of other things to do. Games. Snacks. Lounging areas. And more! Every time I walked through I noticed another nook or cranny with something cool awaiting.
Getting food this year was actually a rather easy experience as well. My new friend Kyle mentioned that in previous years it was a wild west, cafeteria-style showdown, but this year everything was on trays in lines labeling what was in each container. Sides/sauces on the side. Super simple! Pretty tasty too. The worst part? The horrid signs. Light blue on cardboard is NOT easy to read! You could sit in the Playground area or find a beanbag chair elsewhere in the convention center to eat. There are also plenty of snacks, coffee, and more to be had on the second floor at other times.
The Other Attendees
Don’t be shy. Talk to your fellow attendees. Especially in line! There are so many people from different areas of the world with different backgrounds. It’s a treat! Designers meeting developers and vice versa.
You may even run into someone you know. Pictured here is Virginia Poltrack and her husband, Jono. I’ve known Virginia for a few years online — she’s submitted some illustrations to dsktps. Google I/O was the first time we got to meet in person. How cool is that?!
Going with someone is always helpful — I had a coworker, Shahbaz, as my wingman. Sometimes strangers just don’t want to talk or engage, so it’s nice to have a friend there to break the ice with.
Also, you never know who you’ll talk to. I was telling Shahbaz about playing with Project Soli when a very enthusiastic person behind him said, “I hear you talking about my project!” Yep, she was an engineer on the team, and we spent some time picking her brain while she asked for our feedback. It was awesome! Plenty of Googlers were just walking around enjoying the show, too.
Don’t Attend Just for the Swag
For the last few years, one common question about Google I/O has always been: What cool free shit did you get?!
Everyone was handed the new Google Cardboard after the Keynote (and yes, it’s pretty damn awesome).
That was all that was announced. Later we got an email about receiving a free Nexus 9 the next day — just a swipe of the NFC wristband to pick it up.
Honestly, I would have been OK with nothing. Not being overwhelmed with swag made the conference about the conference, not about the free goodies we got. Attendees who’ve attended previous years told me they’ve seen a growing number of people attending just for free stuff and not to learn. That’s a bummer, especially given how hard it is to get in.
This was bananas! There are plenty of parties during the week, and if you hear about one and have a chance you should definitely try to attend some of them. I heard that at the Intel event they handed out free phones to the first 100 or so guests.
But every attendee can attend the Google After Hours party. Your wristband gets you in. Sorry, non-attendees can’t join you. Like everything else with the event, get to the line early as it gets long fast!
There are PLENTY of food booths and free booze to go around. There were small meditation pods, a balloon-popping art exhibit, a large Karaoke area, and more! A live band was always on the stage, too.
As the night goes on, it gets crazier!
Light sabers were handed out by guys dressed as Jedi, followed by headphones. Yep, headphones. After 9pm, the speakers are turned off: Put on your headphones to hear the two DJs on stage — switch between them via a toggle on the headphones. Silent Disco time! Pretty fantastic!
The last “session” of the day was titled Speechless. Now, you won’t learn at this session — it’s an improv event with a few guest Googlers. Still, I’d say the line for this event was larger than most sessions! They had to move us into overflow rooms where they live-streamed it to the rest of the event.
A Googler would spin a wheel for a presentation type (i.e., Keynote / Announce a New Product or Partnership / Post-Mortem) and then the crowd would suggest a subject matter. My personal favorite: Ellie Powers doing a Post-Mortem on a failed partnership between Google and OshKosh B’Gosh. Yes. Seriously. She perfectly mimicked elements from the earlier ATAP Levi’s announcement. What a wonderful way to end the show.
Misc Points (and Stating the Obvious)
- Download the I/O app as soon as you can and make a gameplan.
- Wear comfy shoes — lots of standing and walking.
- Lines form fast. Get there early for the bigger talks.
- Talk to people! But don’t invade their space.
- The main session rooms have power outlets under the seats. Pretty handy to charge your gear. But bring a battery pack to charge your phone just in case.
- Don’t take up space if you’re not there to learn in a session.
- Wi-Fi is free and pretty decent. But it will dip at times.
- After Hours is a blast.
- Don’t attend for the swag! Go to learn and grow. If you do get swag, wait until you get home to eBay it, if you must.
Would I Attend Again?
Yes. Yes. And Yes again. I went in thinking, “heck, maybe next year I can just attend an I/O Extended event.” Nope. I need to go back! I had a blast learning new things and meeting fantastic new people. If you get a chance, go! You’ll love it!
I think that about covers it for now. I’ll be writing more posts on my blog in the coming weeks detailing some of the sessions themselves and more about my experiences at Google I/O this year. I hope you had has much fun reading this as I had sharing it. Maybe I’ll see you at Google I/O 2016 . . .
Update: I’ve uploaded a bunch of photos from the event. Check them out on Google Photos.