For our last official visit of the #BlogBus tour, we are treated to a session with the company that has defined the internet age, Google. Elizabeth Markham at Google set up a session with five of Google’s best communicators:
Simon Meacham – Cloud Developer Relations
Louis Gray – Google Developers Live
Peter Magnessun – Engineering Director
Wesley Chun – Google Developers Academy
Michael Manoochehri – Developer Programs Engineer
We begin by talking about the culture of the region. Simon, Louis and Michael talk about success in the Bay area being based on a culture which is much more tolerant of failure. People will ask, “how many things have you tried? How quickly have you ‘pivoted’?” (from a failure to a success). Agility and responsiveness to change in the sector is far more important than a ‘clean’ record of business successes. They also note the value of incubators in assisting ‘hockey stick’ growth. Incubators provide a cushion for innovation failures (or perhaps, innovation adaptation) as well as the advice from others in how to adapt ideas more effectively. And in this area, success is measured not just by your audience or your product features. It is measured also by how quickly you pivot, or how much you have learned from multiple failures.
While it is essentially now a self-funding economy, it took 70 years of initial investment from the US government to get things going in Silicon Valley. People here talk about being 1st gen, 2nd gen or 3rd gen Silicon Valley. Louis notes that to replicate the Valley you would have to replicate all the pieces. It’s not ‘Internet Valley’ – it’s ‘Silicon Valley’. You’d need the academic institutions, the hardware creation tradition, the chip making and software industry, and the internet culture of the region. That makes the region unique and essentially impossible to replicate. As such the innovation of the area is likely to be sustained simply by accessing the companies, history and skills of the area.
And the Valley should not be considered a distinctly ‘American’ creation. 40% of all new startups in the Valley are founded by non-Americans.
[We are now evacuated from the building as part of what we assume was a drill, but we're not ruling out the possibility of our presence being considered a security risk! But as we were let back in to the building, we assume we passed the test. When we settle back down, Louis talks about the need to bring people together from around the world to generate the best ideas.]
Louis said he ‘dated’ Google for a long time before he ‘got married’ to it – formerly a tech blogger and startup consultant, Gray joined Google about a year ago. He talks about Google I/O as an event which he finds fabulous for its capacity to facilitate excitement and idea sharing. But the excitement needed to be maintained. As a result, Google are taking that face to face experience from Google I/O to the online environment at http://developers.google.com/live. At Google live, presentations and ‘open talk show’ style Q&A sessions are timetabled so that participants can join from around the world.
This is tremendous for making enhancements to applications and for solving problems for specific issues. And as all conversations, presentations and so on are archived on YouTube, content can be accessed at any time and any place in response to localised issues and interests.
There’s no doubt that this transparent business practice can reveal weaknesses or problems in platforms and products, but it also provides an opportunity to create the most efficient and usable tools that will add value to the overall Google product and service offering. It’s creative collaboration in action.
Louis says Google has achieved the extension of the excitement from Google I/O, and extended the reach of emerging apps which they would otherwise not have been able to access. A lot of new tools have been created to examine data in new and interesting ways. While the service has not been operating long enough to register improved cycle time or quality of applications, there are clear signs that the service is generating more and better products both for Google and for other institutions and companies using Google products.
Louis suggests we look at his recent blog post on Cloud computing which covers his vision of the future for Cloud. He expresses his excitement and happiness in being part of the development of this programme.
We complete our conversation with Gray by talking about Silicon Valley as a ‘bubble’. The term is not used in a derogatory fashion, but rather a protective bubble, where ideas are given the opportunity and support to flourish. Gray captures precisely the experience we have observed all week – that sense of being part of something bigger than oneself; clear understanding the important of one’s contribution, but still a sense of humility and gratitude simply in being part of the process.
Peter Magnussen, Engineering Director for Cloud at Google, now joins us to discuss the Google Cloud Platform. I admit, at this stage, to being a little star struck, as Magnussen has one of the most important jobs for the future of Google. Google’s ambition is to provide a full portfolio of app engines and applications, storage and databases for consumer and premium services for the global market. They have the scalability and reliability to deliver, as well as premium support. It’s hard to articulate just how massive this ambition is – and how extraordinary it is that Google could well be in a position achieve such an audacious vision.
Peter describes the Google Cloud platform as having two primary components, Google App Engine and Google I/O Engine. The App Engine gets 7.5b hits a day and has had 100% uptime since launch in January.
Google believe a small number of single use cases are responsible for the majority of calls to the cloud. This means that for each user case the cost of accessing and processing of data is massively reduced. There are solid efficiencies in terms of overheads, and there are efficiencies in security and as well as carbon neutrality. Peter says there are a lot of ‘T-cells’ in Google; applications, redundancy systems and sheer innovative thinking to be able to respond the threats as they arise. And with services such as Google Big Query, you have the capacity to see trends much sooner than may be possible in a discrete network. It is a great example of the scalability of Google and the affordability of processing data by
For our last session at Google. Wesley Chun joins us to discuss how Google education is being developed to meet not only developer needs, but the needs of the education community to deliver better learning experiences. He begins by showing us his Python script that sucks all his notes into Powerpoint. We’re all salivating a bit at that.
Wesley describes himself as a teacher and a speaker, but primarily a software developer at Google.
He clarifies that the Developer Relations team don’t represent consumer products like Docs, Gmail or Youtube, but rather they are focused on app development tools and developer audiences. They distinguish themselves as advocates rather than evangelists, because they speak to and on behalf of developers and users of cloud technologies. So Wesley does tend to speak to educational institutions to raise awareness as well as assist various user groups in their engagement with Google cloud services and apps built on the platform.
Wesley talks about the Developers Academy as a source for learning among developers. The Academy was launched in June at Google I/O and comprises a range of 20 min lessons that are skills-based. People who undertake the courses don’t need a computer science degree but will need basic tech understanding. There is no intention to pursue an accredited course as yet, but the focus is only on Google tools, so for the present the academy courses are offered as a means of developing understanding.
For reference, the academy courses are available at http://developers.google.com/academy
Wesley also discusses the Google Developers University Consortium. This is a platform for academics to talk to each other. Also launched at Google I/O, the Consortium is accessible at developers.google.com/university. Then there are University relations (research.google.com/university/relations) as well as communities for teachers who use technologies in the K-20 groups. Additionally there is the Google research programme (google.com/research). There’s the Google Apps for Education community (google.com/a/edu). Then there is Google Scholar [my favourite thing in the whole academic world!] and Chrome apps development tools. And finally the Google university student programmes and the open source programmes at http://google.com/university and http://google.com/opensource.
Wesley notes that Google education services have been designed to improve the user experience of Google products, and also as a means of understanding the needs of the education community. To innovate properly, companies like Google need to be among the user communities, communicating with them and observing their needs as they arise. This is the heart and spirit of the Valley. You need to share ideas, respond to needs, deliver efficiencies. In such a competitive world, only organisations that respond to their audiences will have true longevity.
What a fabulous way to finish our tour of the Valley on the #BlogBus tour. Thanks to all at Google for sharing their vision with us!