Monday, June 6, 2016

Google I/O 2016 as an Anita Borg Scholar

Back in February, I ran an event to celebrate Anita Borg's birthday. I along with some Shopify colleagues focused on students not majoring in computer science; we invited them for a short talk, organized mentoring activity, and coding workshop. I got the idea from the alumni network of past Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship winners: we were invited to run events all over the world. Google program managers picked the most impactful events from each region, and the winners got to attend Google I/O all-expenses-paid. I was one of the winners!

I'm not a developer within the Google ecosystem, though I do use Google products to run my life. (Even more ironically, my husband is currently an Android developer.) As such, my experience of Google I/O wasn't going to be based on the talks per se. Instead, I focused on networking while catching a few talks that seemed interesting and relevant to my group back at Shopify.

Most of the AB scholars attending for the same reason as me stayed in the same hotel, and I was really grateful to be able to head to the conference grounds with one of them after arriving Tuesday afternoon (thanks Saboya!). We got our conference badges and then headed to the Women Techmakers dinner around the corner. There, I met a bunch of wonderful women, including some as passionate as me about computer science education. I also met up with some women with whom I submitted an (unsuccessful) Grace Hopper panel proposal. The event was lovely and I'm very appreciative of the folks that put it on.

Fellow scholar Saboya before the delicious food was served

The next morning, I/O proper began. Our group of scholars was extremely lucky to be given reserved seating at the opening keynote. Hosted at an amphitheatre, half the audience was in the direct, late morning sunlight for two full hours. We were in the front half of the seating area and therefore shaded.

The keynote itself had a really fun opening with animation and music that was totally my style. I wasn't terribly inspired by CEO Sundar Pichai, and it took a while to see any women on stage. But there were a few interesting announcements like Google Home and clever uses of AI in messaging, even if I still don't see how changing the font size in instant messages was ever considered note-worthy.

After the keynote, there was a flood of people having no idea where to go to get lunch food. The conference had to feed us because there was nothing else available anywhere nearby, but being so incredibly hot and sunny, it was not exactly comfortable to eat most places on site. Our group of scholars and friends managed to find a tree to sit under, which was again quite fortunate.

This was the best we could do for lunch. Many were stuck in the sun.

You may be starting to see a theme here about the sun. Many folks, including my work colleagues, were feeling sick from being in the direct sun during the keynote, and it was difficult to escape it the rest of the conference as well. The activities were all spread around the amphitheatre's parking lot with little shade available.

Talks were in air conditioned tents, but there was grossly insufficient seating in them, so long lines started forming an hour or even two before the most interesting talks. I was lucky to get into a couple of the rather popular virtual reality talks without dying of sun stroke, which was nice. But I only attended three talks in total because it just wasn't worth standing on pavement in the sun. Frustrating to consider that people watching the conference from home for free got better access than those spending hundreds of dollars to be there in person.

I spent most of the conference chilling in the shade, but because of the reasons I was there, I didn't mind. I had opportunities to chat with work colleagues as well as fellow scholars and new amazing women I tried to recruit to Shopify (still hoping to hear from some of them!). I'll never forget the many times I got to talk CS education with some truly amazing people.

Plus, you can't complain about the parties, assuming you weren't too exhausted by the evening to attend them!

Our scholars group got to meet up several times for meals at the neighbouring Google offices, and on the last day of I/O we gave presentations about the events we ran. So inspiring! I am really looking forward to keeping in touch with the group, and seeing how we might make an even bigger impact together.

All in all, despite the griping about I/O (no device giveaway!) and the very real issues with this year's venue (your take-home is heat exhaustion!), I'm very grateful I got to attend and that I got a lot out of the trip. Can't wait to meet up with some of the scholars again at Grace Hopper!