Google Development Conference DevFest 2015

DevFest 2015 took place on March 22, 2015 at the downtown Minneapolis, MN campus of the College of St. Thomas. Although I had not attended any previous meetings of the sponsor, the Twin Cities Google Developers Group, I recognized several people from PyMNtos, a meetup group dedicated to Python. I wondered briefly how much backing Google would provide to a locally-organized developer conference, but my question was quickly answered by keynote speaker Martin Omander, a Google program manager, who brought the Chromebooks, Moto360 smart watches and Nexus 7 tablets used as door prizes. Martin highlighted key parts of the Google Cloud Platform, including:

  • App Engine – Google hosts your app and automatically adds servers based on traffic. The first server is free.
  • BigQuery – Upload massive datasets (millions of rows) and run complex SQL queries for free. 314M rows in under three seconds. Data storage costs extra.
  • Firebase – Real-time database connections for app users (such as the live Uber location map that alerts users to cars available nearby).

Martin Omander’s keynote addess and several other DevFest presentations were recorded and posted to YouTube.

Target Corporation sponsored and recruited at DevFest as they continue to harden their IT infrastructure following the discovery of malware in their point-of-sale credit card systems in December 2013. Target announced the layoff of more than 3,100 (23%) of Twin Cities headquarters employees just two weeks before the conference, reflecting a broad shift in priorities for the retail industry. Target has plenty of competition in the hiring arena, including Agosto, another sponsor, a local custom Google App developer. Their software streamlined participant registration for the City of Lakes Loppet, the largest urban cross-country ski race in the U.S., a version of which I suspect powered the check-in for DevFest. Agosto had a friendly contingent of developers circulating through the conference; one I spoke to at length described a situation where skilled project managers were able to protect the software team from difficult negotiations between a client’s U.S. and European business units, who intended to deploy the same app without addressing key differences in each unit’s requirements.

Lead Pages senior developer Abram Isola’s presentation on BigQuery demonstrated how the product is actually used for data analysis in a business setting. The Lead Pages software platform allows businesses to focus on lead-generating marketing ideas that can be plugged into templates that appear to users as apps, emails, online ads, etc. The platform tracks user movement through the sales funnel from email to landing page to purchase page, and for users that do not convert, locates the point at which they drop out. In this scenario, BigQuery allows the company to upload massive amounts of server data on a nightly basis–the recorded movements of every user that enters a Lead-Pages-powered client portal–and generate aggregate statistics on platform use as well as support A/B testing for individual clients. Isola emphasized that BigQuery should not be used to store long-term operational data.

Another session outlined Docker, a disruptive open-source linux-based technology that encapsulates the entire operating state of an application, ensuring the code will behave precisely the same way on a developer’s notebook as on a production server. The Cloud Security session drew a standing-room-crowd for what turned out to be a description of published security breaches, and few in the audience who remained until the end were enlightened by the main takeaway: protect your keys and certificates.

Given the overall level of skill and enthusiasm I encountered, it bears repeating that the conference was conceived, executed, and attended by volunteers. For the $20 admission fee, attendees were exposed to a host of leading-edge technologies that are changing the face of business in every industry, and even for those of us who straddle strategy, finance and technology, practical steps to digest the flow of data your business will produce in order to survive. One last takeaway: to see if the main Google I/O conference in San Francisco can justify its $900 entrance fee with 45X more valuable insights when compared to our local conference, I’ll be signing up for the May 2016 conference ticket lottery. If scarcity is any proof, this year Google I/O sold out within an hour.