Once I started writing down my notes from the first day, I realized that I had more to say than a single blog post can bear. This is my review from the morning of the first day of G|Maghreb, the second post will be published shortly, stay tuned! 🙂
You don’t get an auditorium full to its last seat, cheering whenever you show up, enthusiastic geeks waking up before 8 am to attend your event, unless of course you’re Google. That was the first thing that came to my mind when I set foot in the G|Maghreb, the first Google event in Maghreb, taking place in Rabat from 21st to 23rd May.
I only had the chance to attend day 1 a.k.a “The mobile and web developers’ day” since it suited most my “PHD student” and “Geekette” hat (Yes, my hat is big enough to bear both). That’s to say that my review of the event would actually be from that perspective, not the hardcore developer’s one. (It’s worth pointing out that the keynotes will be available on the event’s website very soon)
Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? Once badge in hand (Not as easy as it sound believe me!), I headed to the auditorium where G|Maghreb would officially start. A countdown (see picture below), hundreds of giddy geeks with phones and laptops in hand, in short, I’ve never felt so “at home”.
Google MENA strategy: up for the long haul
After a funny Arabic-oriented welcome speech from Sebastian Trzcinski-Clément – Outreach Programs manager for MENA, we were introduced to Google’s strategy regarding the region in Juergen Galler’s keynote: “Towards an Arabic Internet Ecosystem: Locally relevant, vibrant and with an enriched user experience”. Galler listed the obvious reasons why Google would be interested in the region but also the challenges ahead: Lack of high quality content (while 5% of Internet users speak Arabic only 2% of Arabic content is published online), underdeveloped infrastructure and lack of online forms of payments to name a few. He said that Google’s mission is to: Foster the growing Internet Ecosystem by delivering a locally relevant product portfolio and promoting a mature user experience. In short, two main focuses: Relevance and sustainability.
Innovation @ Google: Culture + Technology
The second keynote by Ahmad Hamzawi, Head of Engineering – MENA, was more culture oriented as he spoke about Google’s philosophy of innovation summarized in one word “its environment” (Google Zurich headquarters point in hand). If Google is one of the most innovative workplaces in the world it’s no accident. It is bathing in a culture that encourages quick learning, embraces failure (Fail early, fail often, fail gracefully) and attracts top talents from around the world. Alongside these cultural aspects, Google is geared up by a set of internal tools that help foster innovation. Hamzawi made us a quick preview on:
- “Google Ideas”, the platform that encourages employees on acting on their ideas by sharing them and having colleagues rate them.
- “Google Snippets” that ensures transparency by submitting employees’ progress report to the system rather than their hierarchy (which takes a flatter form in the Google world by the way).
- “Google Projects” lists the various projects an employee has worked on
- and “MOMA”, Google’s intranet with various search capabilities.
Hamzawi closed the session by demoing some of Google’s innovative products. I have been most impressed by Goggles and visual search as they unleashed some of the great potential laying in augmented reality.
Now that the first set of keynotes was done, came the difficult choice of workshops (ok, it wasn’t that difficult in the end). I of course, geared up with my PHD hat, headed to “Google and students” and “Google and Professors” workshops, both presented by Noha A. Salem, University relations manager in MENA.
Google || Students: Myriads of opportunities
Noha first presented the interesting opportunities Google is offering students such as Google Ambassador program, Google summer of code and Google Code Jam. I had the nice surprise to discover that they also offered excellence awards (If you’re an excellent student, have your teacher contact Google right away!), conference and travel grants (300 € registration Fees and 400 € travel grant) and Internship programs ranging from 3,6 to 9 months. Google is also encouraging women to excel in technology and computing fields by offering the Anita Borg Scholarship. The scholarship recipients will be granted up to 7000 €, and along finalists will be invited for a 3 days stay at a cool Google office where they will meet Google Engineers and exchange experiences.
To postulate for an internship: firstname.lastname@example.org
Google || Professors: Bridging the gap
On a rather different note, where most attendees were professors and grad students, Noha affirmed that they don’t get enough candidates from the country. Bridging this gap is a priority for Google as it is trying to reach out to professors by helping them set curriculum, offering them research awards, post-Doc positions and encouraging them to weave a collaborative network through initiatives such as faculty summit.
Research awards: is a program initiated twice a year (on August and February) with grants reaching 150k$ a year. Last December’s round attained 6M $ for 112 proposals from 20 areas around the world. There are also focused grants on 3 years that could reach up to a Million $.
Visiting Faculty: is a program that welcomes faculties into Google’s offices for a year where they can use Google’s material and human resources. The project stays the researcher’s propriety.
Noha also brought out the AndroidEdu program that provides teachers up to 10 Android handsets to help their students coding and testing on the gadgets. An upcoming program dubbed ChromeEdu will do pretty much the same with Chromebooks.
And that wrapped up the morning of the first day of G|Maghreb. This was Lamia, live (with a slight 24h jetlag) from EMI, Rabat. Stay tuned for more details on the second half of the day as I will squeeze publishing the blog post into my busy schedule of tomorrow.
Have a great start of the week!