A magazine about programmers, code, and society. Written by humans since 2018.

Google TechTalks

Seventeen years is a long time in our industry. To give us an idea, Gmail appeared eighteen years ago, and in those days Google pledged not to be evil. Those were the days of AJAX web applications, of Prototype versus jQuery, of Ruby on Rails and script.aculo.us. Those were the times before Obama, before the MacBook Air, before the pandemic, before Google Chrome, before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, before Android devices, before Docker and Kubernetes, before the Go programming language, before the V8 JavaScript engine, before the 2008 stock market crash, before Brexit, before SPAs, before Node.js and npm, before Star Wars Episode 7, before HD video was widespread.

In those days there was not only YouTube, but also a similar thing called Google Video, a service that was promptly phased out, as Google often does. And in that old service we could dream to be a Google employee in Mountain View attending one of the many Google TechTalks of that era.

Thankfully, Google transferred most of those videos to YouTube, and we can (and should) watch them today. The audio is sometimes jaggy; the image is far from HD quality; it has the grainy texture of early web videos, and it looks certainly amateur by today standards. Some were filmed pointing directly to the screen where the slides were being projected. HDMI and splitters weren’t as widespread back then as they are today.

Let us enumerate some jewels in the Google TechTalks collection, beginning with programming language-related subjects. In July 2007, Lennart Öhman celebrated 20 years of Erlang with a Google TechTalk. In 2006 Jack Herrington talked about code generation in Ruby. Lawrence Crowl showed the upcoming new features of C++0x. Raj Bandyopadhyay about the compilation of Python. Philippe Mougin about the FScript scripting language for Mac OS X.

There were lots of celebrities, too. Guido Van Rossum, Google employee at the time, explained not only how the Mondrian code review tool worked, but also gave another talk about Python 3000 (remember?) Gregor Kiczales talked about Aspect-Oriented Programming. Jacob Kaplan-Moss gave a speech about Django. Brian Foote described the Big Ball of Mud. John Resig talked about JavaScript library design, a topic he knew a thing or two about. Bjarne Stroustrup talked about C++0x initialization lists. Marissa Meyer talked about scalability. Scott Berkun about the browser wars in the 1990s. Mark Shuttleworth about Ubuntu. Ola Rosling about Gapminder.org. Richard Hipp about SQLite. And Ron Avitzur told the story of how the Graphing Calculator became part of Mac OS despite Apple’s best efforts.

This is what I call being starstruck.

Many presentations dealt with project management, teams, and their dynamics. Robert Watson explained how the FreeBSD project worked. In a premonitory talk 13 years before the pandemic, Hubert Smits showed how to plan and work with distributed teams. Viral Shah and Vikram Aggarwal talked about the measurement of programmer productivity. Wilco Jansen and Louis Landry about the Joomla! project. Adam Connors and Joe Walnes about testing AJAX applications.

Among those Google TechTalks there were not only talks about programming subjects: there were also sessions about physics, economics, creativity, mathematics, education, and of course at least one about the much hyped semantic web.

Google used to stand for bigger things. The Google TechTalks series were one of those things that inspired a whole generation of young engineers to work at a company that openly claimed not to be evil.

Cover snapshot by the author.

Continue reading "John MacCormick" or go back to Issue 054: Google. Did you like this article? Consider subscribing to our newsletter or contributing to the sustainability of this magazine. Thanks!
Back to top