This is a 2 parter on my experience attending my first I/O. In this post I’ll talk about what it is like to attend the event. For a session roundup, see
Google I/O ’19 was held at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA. I’ve been fortunate to be one of the GDEs selected to attend the event.
Due to cost, I did not stay in the Mountain View area. I opted to stay in San Bruno, within walking distance to the BART or Caltrain stations. I usually took the BART to Milbrae to catch the free I/O shuttle there.
Tip: If you don’t like to get stuck in traffic, time your trip outside of rush hours! Opting to take the 7:00 am shuttle in the morning and a later shuttle to return trims my shuttle ride from an hour to 30 mins.
Uber and Lyft were also popular options for attendees.
Registration & The Swag
Like Cloud Next, you register by signing in at one of the tablets in the Registration area, then line up to pick up your badge & the welcome package. I registered early on the day of and it was pretty quick.
The welcome package / swag contains everything you need for I/O – a water bottle, a t-shirt, some stickers, sunscreen, a bandanna, and a bag to carry it all in. Tip: I’d recommend bringing a more ergonomic backpack though if you’re planning to carry more, e.g. extra battery pack for your phone, laptop, jackets, etc.
…I don’t use bandannas, but look! I can make a furoshiki bag with it! 😉
I/O has been outdoor for a number of years now. Pretty much everything happened under some sort of tent – so I imagined even if it rained it’s not too bad. Do dress in layers – the bay area is generally cooler in the morning and night but gets hot in the afternoon (hence the sunscreen in the welcome package!)
AR at I/O
I believe it’s new for this year- you can use the AR feature in the I/O app to navigate around. You scan one of the AR tag posted in various sign posts and you can then use it to navigate. It’s a cool little feature and an awesome demo of what’s possible now with AR.
Things to Do
The general public can see all the keynotes and sessions online – here are some things you can see/do at I/O as an attendee:
- Sandboxes: The Sandboxes are where you can try out pretty much most of the features and tech that was covered in the keynote (and more) and chat with Googlers about them. They are grouped by themes (e.g. Google Assistant, ML, Gaming, AR, etc.) and some put on mini talks as well (I went to a couple at the Material Design & Accessibility tent). They are great for times when you don’t have a session to attend. The AR Sandbox and the Android Auto tent are particularly popular this year and you have to wait in line for them.
- Codelabs: Similar to Cloud Next, you can get into the code lab and try building something – e.g. ARCore cloud anchors and Building actions for Google Assistant. The Hangout Chat bot codelab I referenced in my hangout chat bot post is also featured here too!
- Art Display: There are a number of art displays (usually incorporating an AI element to it) around the venue that’s fun to check out as well.
- Office Hours & App Reviews: You can schedule time with a Googler to ask questions or talk about what you’re building. I was at the G-Suite Office Hours to chat with some attendees there!
- Community Lounge: Various meetups were hosted in the lounge for groups to meet up (e.g. GDGs. GDEs, Women Techmakers) – you can also just hang out here whenever to chat with people.
- I/O store: if you need to purchase more I/O swag, they got t-shirts, hoodies, notebooks and android bots for sale…most items were sold out by the end, so buy early if you do want something!
You won’t go hungry here. Breakfast & lunches are provided. The breakfast sandwiches are quite popular so you’ll need to be early for that one; for lunch, there’s always a long line when it starts, but there’s plenty of food and I don’t find an issue getting my choice even after the long line dissipates. Generally they have a selection of sandwiches, wraps and salad, with some vegan / diary free / gluten free options.
Snack stands can be found all around the venue, handing out little packets of chips, nuts and bars.
As for drinks, you’ll find coffee and soda, and lots of water refill station.
After Dark Party and Concert
For the 2 evening events, you get a bit more interesting options for dinner, like a buffalo chicken cone and fried yuca. And there’s free flowing beer on tap and wine!
The first night was the After Dark party. There’s an arcade, a roller disco, and various performances. I wished Google Next’s evening party was more like this!
I opted out of the Flaming Lips concert the next night – it was livestreamed though for attendees who didn’t go in-person – it looked pretty fun!
Visiting Google HQ
Google HQ is about a 15 mins walk away, making it a popular excursion for attendees. You can walk through the outdoor areas unescorted – you’ll need to know a Googler to actually be able to go inside.
The Google Merchandise store is an extra 8-10 mins walk away for all your Google branded merchandise needs.
Google Cloud Next versus Google I/O
If you are wondering what’s the difference between Google Cloud Next and Google I/O, and which one you should attend, here are my observations:
- The technology/topics of focus is different; I/O emphasize more on consumer-level items like Android and smart homes, while Next is all about Google Cloud Platform and G-Suite.
- I/O is definitely more targeted to developers. Honestly, I don’t think I would get as much value out of the content if I didn’t have a software engineering background. I think Cloud Next is more business-user friendly in comparison.
- …For designers though, there are more content in I/O related to design compared to Cloud Next.
- Outdoor vs indoor – It feels less cramped in I/O mainly because it’s an outdoor space, and it makes it nice to walk around in. (Cloud Next has the Yerba Buena garden, but it’s not as convenient as you need to exit the secured area, so you’ll have to go through security again to get back in if you want to go outside.) Though we were probably lucky it didn’t rain for I/O ’19, so the weather didn’t spoil our experience!
- There’s also a lot more places to lounge/sit at I/O!
- Cloud Next being in downtown San Francisco does give you the option of wandering out for food or a drink if you want, whereas in I/O you’re most likely just sticking around in the venue
- Cloud Next has more talks from external companies whereas I/O talks are mostly from Googlers. I think as a result, I/O has more how-tos and more ‘experimental’ examples and tech demos, where Cloud Next has more business examples, real-life usages and success stories
- On a similar note, the sandboxes and showcases at I/O are all run by Googlers while the show floor of Cloud Next has a mix of Googlers and partners/external companies.
Overall, as a G-Suite GDE, there’s definitely more content relevant to me at Cloud Next, but given my own background in software engineering and UX design, I definitely learned a few things as well in those areas from I/O!