Google Cloud Live 2014 – A Humbling Experience

Google Cloud Live 2014 – A Humbling Experience


Life as a software engineer very rarely exposes you to a week like I just had. You’re usually the lucky one if you get to fly off to any type of tech conference for a day or two while the rest of the team have to stay behind plugging away on that critical fix that needs to be pushed out to production – all because you committed a magic number into the repo just before you left which caused a stack overflow (since when is 34 in a recursive function a magic number anyway?).

But my recent week in San Francisco was something entirely different altogether and a few days that I won’t be forgetting any time soon. It encompassed:

Thought provoking, surreal and just downright cool are just some of the words that pop into my head when I reflect back on it. But above else it was humbling. So humbling in fact that it led me down that dark and eerie path of asking myself: “did that really just happen?”. *Pinch*: yes, it most certainly did.

This blog entry is not going to regurgitate the whole GCL event and attempt to wade through all the great talks, recap on all the important announcements or list all the exciting things coming out of Google at the moment through their cloud platform. It would just take too long and you can already find a great run-down of the event from fellow Shiner Luke Alexander here. Or you can catch the whole eight hour event (sixteen hours really as there were two stages) here if you want to immerse yourself.

No, instead I want to try and paint a picture of what my experience in San Francisco was like as a plain-old-vanilla software engineer having the privilege to attend an event of such magnitude and scale. Being privy to get an invite, rub shoulders and drink beers with some of the brightest and most influential people in the tech industry. And not just talk tech with them but also, well, just hang out and chat.

A Change Is Coming


We’re clearly on the cusp of a monumental shift in the IT industry and the way in which software will be developed, deployed, hosted and maintained in the future. This isn’t yet another map-reduce paradigm, a cloud storage solution or the next über-cool functional language for web development. This is an entirely different animal altogether. It’s not going to happen overnight or even in the next few years but it’s coming. The writing is on the wall in big, bold, neon CAPITAL LETTERS. It should now be clear for all of us to see and if you can’t then you better visit specsavers.

Sure, I’m well-aware that cloud technology has been gaining a lot of traction recently. Who in the tech space could not be? And in fact my whole reason for going to San Francisco was all down to some recent work we did using Google BigQuery – an IaaS, as it just so happens. But I’ve been grossly miscalculating just how big it really is and how much bigger it eventually will be. After all, I’m a software engineer by profession and I still love focusing on the finer details of building software solutions, tinkering and getting that buzz when you write a sexy bit of code that just nailed a tough problem.

I’m fairly confident that my manager, who travelled with me and who’s already been excited about the cloud for quite some time now (that’s probably why he’s my manager), came along to share in the excitement when ‘it‘ clicked for me. The ‘it‘ is the bigger picture. The hundred foot wave of change that’s barrelling straight toward us. The grandiose fifty-foot mural on the wall and not a postcard from your best friend holidaying in Ibiza that’s magnetically affixed to your fridge.

No sir-ee Bob. This is something much, much bigger. And my manager happily sat back and watched it all unfold in front of him as I finally ‘got it‘.

Disclaimer: By absolutely no means I am trying to curry favour with my manager here by writing nice things about him so that maybe he’ll give me a raise or a promotion. Of course not. Who would think such a thing? It’s really because I want him to approve my next holiday request, which will span a total of 3 months travelling India.


Urs Hölzle, SVP Google Technical Infrastructure, summed it perfectly himself during the fireside chat with Jeff Dean. When  asked why the cloud is so important to both Google and to him personally, he responded:

“..if you think about it in a ten year time frame, there isn’t really any chance that ten years from now the public cloud isn’t a major part of the world[…]. We’re really not going to live in the same world we know now. Things will profoundly change and what we’re proud of today, like handling petabytes of data or recognising cats, we’re gonna be kinda embarrassed when we look back at it because it’s so lame – even though it seems so amazing today.”

Some might argue that it was all hype, or that is was simply a marketing spin to use the big occasion as a spring board to promote Google’s cloud platform. And that’s understandable. Let’s not forget that this of course was a huge day for them. He also laid down the gauntlet to Amazon by slashing their prices and publicly stating:

“..if you look at the numbers, it [Google’s cloud] will be bigger than our advertising side of the business.”

That’s a big statement to make. Massive. Gutsy. Brash even? Nah, I don’t think so. I’d like to think this man is right. He’s seems like a clever enough fella and he’s gotten a lot of other things right over his multi-decade tenure at Google (being employee number eight for starters, and now SVP of Technical Infrastructure).

“I Was There”


Why do I think that Mr.Hölzle right? Because there are moments in everyone’s life when you ‘just know‘ that something is going to change or that a big shift is just on the horizon. That sixth sense that we all possess as humans and that lurks beneath the other five. That ‘gut feeling‘ that takes a hold of you and overrides your otherwise logical thoughts. And, for me at least, my week in San Francisco was the second time I’ve felt such a moment.

The first time I felt it was almost fifteen years ago now. It wasn’t tech related – not even close. It probably wasn’t even a moment that 1% of this reading audience will have even heard of.

It was a sporting moment. A game of rugby which I attended on the 18th March 2000 in the Stade de France, Paris between France and Ireland. Brian O’Driscoll was a relatively new player to the Irish squad having played on the international stage just a handful of times. He was only 21. But what he did that day changed not only the shape of Irish rugby but also that of rugby in the northern hemisphere (with some pundits even going as far as saying he changed it globally).

So, what did he do? Well, he scored a magnificent hat-trick of tries (Irish rugby fans can reminisce here – try not to shed a tear) which propelled Ireland to their first win against France in 28 years. It was phenomenal to watch. His third try was nothing short of sheer genius. Nobody can disagree that he won that match single-handedly and the game of rugby changed forever after that. He went on to become Ireland’s most-capped player and was the catalyst for the Emerald Isle going on to become one of best teams in world. Players rapidly transformed into bigger, stronger, faster and fitter athletes from that day onwards. Rugby suddenly professionalism exploded onto the scene.

And I knew there and then that I had just witnessed a changing moment. Just like the feeling I have right now after attending the GCL event, talking with the “who’s-who of cloud” and listening to some truly brilliant and engaging talks. The last few words of the day, once again from Urs (he really is a great inspirational talker), solidified my thoughts:

“We really are just at the beginning. Only 1% of the world is in the cloud. It’s going to be a very exciting time for us as computer scientists to be part of this – when decades from now you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren: ‘yeah, I remember the time when we went from stone age to modern computing and I WAS THERE – and I now realise the importance of that’. This is the most excited I’ve been in a very long time.”

Wrapping Up

It was both humbling and eye-opening – that’s the message that I want to get across front-and-foremost through this post.

Thinking back to that day in Paris and comparing it to my last few days in San Francisco, it’s clear that the Google has scored the first try with their price announcements and the new services that they are offering in the cloud (my personal favourite will be the ability to use JavaScript functions directly within BigQuery – that’s just bloody awesome).

The second and third tries are yet to come. However, the play is still being set and the players are jostling into position – they will need some more time before it can be finally executed. It’s going to take time for the cloud to be fully adopted globally and to show its full potential. But it’s coming and we need to all realise that – no matter if you are a technologist or not. It will effect every facet of every industry and the everyday life of everyone. What the future will look like is anybody’s guess. But it will be different. There’s no doubt about that and we as technology professionals are extremely fortunate to have the privilege of working in this industry at this moment in time. It’s a very exciting place to be.
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