My 26-hour journey to Google I/O 2018

I’ve been watching Google I/O keynotes and sessions live every year since 2011, being a Google fan and an Android enthusiast even before becoming a developer, I/O has always been the most exciting technology/developers events for me, and attending it in person has been a far-fetched dream of mine for years, that became the most magical reality this year!

Shoreline Amphitheater Lawn

How it started?

I’m an Android developer living in Baghdad, Iraq, and been developing Android apps since 2014, I’ve built apps for Startups, SMBs, Corporates and Government Agencies in Iraq, the two apps that I’m most proud of is S Converter, the first app that I’ve published to Google Play which got popular on reddit for a while and was recognized as one of the best “Material Design” units converter by XDA-Developers, although the only thing that’s material about it by now is the FAB, due to lack of time the app hasn’t been updated for almost four years now.
The second app is Talabatey, which is a local food delivery application, which happens to be the most popular application in all of Iraq, having over 1.6 million downloads.

Some of the apps I’ve built over the years

I’ve also been active in the community since 2014, been a Core Member at Fikra Space, giving tens of free workshops on Java & Android Development, I’ve also co-founded Code Lab, a software development bootcamp which empowers Iraqi developers to create high-quality software by teaching coding the right way by following best practices and using the right tools, and last year when I learnt about GDG (Google Developers Group), it only made sense that I start a chapter in Baghdad, and so we did, and it became the fastest growing GDG community in the MENA region, accumulating almost 2k members on Meetup in less than a year.

DevFest Baghdad 2018

I later learned that some of GDG organizers get invited to Google I/O, and it happened to me in March this year, and the excitement started!

The Journey

The journey was definitely not easy, Baghdad is over 12,000 km away from California, plus there are no direct flights, so it took me 26 hours to get there (2 hours flight to Qatar, 8 hours layover, and then another 16 hours flight to California), but I already knew that it was all worth it!

Enter Google I/O!

The magic of I/O isn’t all the sessions and swag, it’s the people that are there from all over the world who share your enthusiasm for Google and coding, the magic started since I stood in line for the keynote, I immediately met people from different countries and we began discussing and guessing the announcements they’ll make and what they’ll push for the most this I/O, and admittedly, we also speculated what this year’s swag would be (I called the Android Things kit!) 😃

Inside The Shoreline Amphitheater

Seeing the Amphitheater from the inside was breathtaking, and I was early enough to get a seat close to the stage.

During the hour leading to the keynote, they did a couple of shows, including AI-powered music, and a multiplayer plane race, which the green team which I was in finished last three times in a row! 😂

And then, the main event started and Sundar was on stage, seeing him in person was amazing, Sundar has been an inspiration for me, that even if you come from a third world country like India (or Iraq), you can still make it to the highest positions and stand on the biggest stages.

Sundar Pichai on stage!

Here are the highlights of the announcements they made in the keynote.

  • The Android Oreo’s burger and beer emojis were fixed! 🍔🍺
  • Google is continuing to prove to be heavily invested and the leader in AI and ML and is working on integrating it into many fields, most notably health care.
  • AI optimized Tensor Processing Unit 3.0 announced, 8x more powerful than the previous generation.
  • Google Assistant: more natural voice using AI, and introducing John Legend as one of the new voices, Google Assistant is available on over 500 million devices, with more focus on the visual aspect of the assistant, and teased the new Duplex feature which will allow Assistant to make natural phone calls to make reservations for you.
  • Revamped version of Google News with more emphasis on bringing the news that is relevant to you, and aggregating different stories and timelines to give you the full picture, and providing the ability to users to support their favorite publishers by subscribing to their publishings.
  • New features in Photos will popup appropriate actions to save you time.
  • The new “Compose” feature in Gmail can write your emails for you.
  • Android P focuses on Intelligence, Simplicity and well being and is available in beta for select devices (it requires flashing the ROM) available at www.android.com/beta.
  • Maps will get a lot more personal by matching your preferences with the places’ ratings and giving you a match rate (think Tinder but for places)
  • New augmented reality directions in Google Maps will make it easier to navigate.
  • Waymo (Alphabet’s self-driving car company) is making advancement in that field and will be available to use in Phoenix Arizona via their app.
Keynote Highlights

And then, the Keynote was concluded, and the developer keynote followed with a lot of exciting announcements such as:

  • Kotlin is now being used in 35% of production applications.
  • App Bundles will dramatically reduce app install size by serving only the relevant resources to each phone depending on screen size, resolution, language… etc.
  • Android Jetpack will provide an opinionated approach to architecting Android apps and developing new features like Navigation, Slices, and is built with a focus on Kotlin optimizations
  • A host of improvements on Android studio focusing on speed.
  • New tools to create better Assistant Actions.
  • On the web side, there’s higher adoption for PWA across all major web browsers (including Edge and Safari!), Lighthouse 3.0, new features for AMP, and much more.
  • Tensorflow is continuing to grow, at over 13 million downloads as of today.
  • Firebase gets a lot smarter with ML Kit, giving a bunch of services like text and face recognition and much more, services like Analytics also receives an AI boost.
  • AR Core 1.0 was released earlier, and there are a lot of apps that are taking advantage of it to create immersive experiences.
Developers Keynote Highlights

As for the sessions, I mostly attended Android related sessions, with some AI, Web, Firebase, Material Design and Flutter sessions in between, and in the last day I dedicated my time to visit the Sandboxes and Office Hours and ask questions to Googlers and have an in depth discussion with them about specific products and services, as well as attending meetups in the community lounge, knowing what I know now, I would have spent more time in sandboxes and office hours and meetups, because the sessions are recorded and available on YouTube anyway, the only advantage here is being able to meet the speakers directly after the session and ask them some questions.

And some sessions are just too awesome to not attend in person, this is how happy I was in Chet Haase’s and Romain Guy’s Modern Android Development Session, as well as attending some of my favorite Googler’s sessions, like Nick Butcher, Reto Meier, and Jake Wharton (bonus: I got to take pictures with them!).

Me attending Modern Android Development Session by Chet Haase and Romain Guy
My Heros!

There’s something exciting happening everywhere!

Where ever you go in the venue, there’s always something exciting happening (aside from the sessions, sandboxes, office hours, meetups, and code labs), like the selfie-taking Android, live graffiti drawing, DJs, intense ping-pong matches, and much more!

Activities happening around I/O

And you can visit the Googleplex (you won’t get inside though), and the Android Lawn Statues, a 15 minutes walk away from the venue.

Android Lawn Statues

Takeaways

Android development is getting much more organized with Jetpack which introduces an opinionated approach to almost every aspect of Android development, and it was clear that Kotlin will be the primary programming language for Android while Java gets phased out gradually.

Tensorflow is evolving and so is the hardware that runs it, and is the enabler of much of the features we saw in I/O

Material Design 2.0 will solve the issue of all apps looking the same, by giving flexibility to the developer to create different shapes and flows for the UI, while sticking to the guidelines.

Flutter is here to stay; it won’t be Google Reader’d or Angular’d any time soon, it looks very promising for the rapid development of relatively simple applications, and is well integrated with the new Material Design components.

Firebase is focusing on achieving planetary scalability with the new FireStore database and is adding ML Kit to enable easier Machine Learning and AI integration for mobile apps.

Conclusion

Google I/O is an amazing experience for growing on a personal level, and on the community level, meeting Googlers and high profile people from tech companies around the valley allowed me to advocate for the developers community in my country to help solve issues that faces us, one of things that was resolved was allowing Iraqis to take the Android Associate Degree Exam which was not possible before because Iraq was an embargoed country a few years ago.

Scratching attending Google I/O off of my bucket list felt awesome, the experience is amazing and fills you with inspiration and energy that will enable you to keep on creating great things and helping the community grow, and that’s precisely what I’m planning to do in the coming months!

Thank you Google for inspiring people from all around the world to build great things!

I’ll post more on medium in the coming weeks, including tutorials on some of the things I’m working on currently, so make sure you hit that follow button if you liked this post.

Until Next Year (Hopefully!)

Update: We (GDG Baghdad) will be hosting I/O Extended for the first time even in Baghdad on the 29th of June, it will be sponsored by Zain Iraq which has generously sponsored our past events, make sure to follow our Facebook Page where we will be announcing more details very soon!

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Full-stack software engineer working on empowering the tech & AI community in Iraq via @CodeLabBootcamp @TheAIDojo

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Sabri Monaf Sabri

Sabri Monaf Sabri

Full-stack software engineer working on empowering the tech & AI community in Iraq via @CodeLabBootcamp @TheAIDojo

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