My experience at Google Student Retreat – Part 1

written by Marie September 20, 2018

I had the great honor of being awarded the Google Women Techmakers Scholarship through my involvement with women in technology, leadership and academic achievement. This scholarship comes with a 3-day retreat at Google headquarters in California, and this is the retreat I will tell you about in my article.

So I had the chance to fly from Montreal and fly to San Francisco on August 12th. About 250 people were at the event. For the first time this year, Google’s CodeU program, with more than 200 people, was paired with the 53 scholars. The participating scholarships at retirement were Google Lime Scholarship for students with disabilities, Women Techmakers, Generation Google Scholarship and Google Student Veterans of America.

Watch my vlog of the first day!

First day – August 12, 2018


I left home at 5:15 am, having got up at 4:30 am to go to the airport! The flight left around 9 am, and we arrived in San Francisco at 12:30. Then I found Gabriela at the airport, another recipient of the Women Techmakers Scholarship, with whom I shared a taxi to get to the hotel, the Hyatt Regency, booked by Google.

A short taxi ride that cost USD $155, while my friends that took an Uber it cost them $ 48! The lesson here: Please, use Uber or Lyft in San Francisco.

I arrived at the hotel around 2 pm, and I was able to settle down a bit. My friend, with whom I share the room, had gone to eat with other people. So I went to join her!

6:30 pm – Welcome dinner

Natalia and I had to eat standing at a cocktail table as there was no other table available! At least we could meet other Google Women Techmakers. We were both very tired of jet lag, so I was not as networked as I could have been at a more normal evening.

Second Day – August 13, 2018

8:00 am – Breakfast

The day begins. We go to “Moffett Place” to have breakfast. This is where we will spend most of our time at the retreat!

9h30 – Welcome Keynote

We had an opening keynote from Kyle Ewing Talent and Outreach Programs Director.

9h45 – Google X Keynote

Diana Skaar, who is Head of Business Development, Robotics, talked to us about Google X. I did not know the organization Google X before, but I knew their projects, such as contact lenses for people with diabetes, or balloons offering the Internet in hard-to-reach places, etc.

X creates new “moonshot” technologies to solve the toughest problems in the world. So, what is a moonshot technology? Diana Skaar defines it as the intersection of a big problem, with a radical solution, and innovative technologies.

For contact lenses, for example, the big problem is defined as the fact that millions of people have diabetes and need to measure their blood sugar level. The radical solution is that it is possible to know the level of glucose in tears. What if we could create contact lenses that measure glucose with tears? Innovative technology must be identified to translate science fiction into technology. It’s the idea of using Google’s strengths and expertise to create contact lenses.

Although she is doing such an inspiring job today, Diana Skaar thought it was worth mentioning that she was not the best in class. There is always light at the end of the tunnel and hope even if it’s difficult to get good grades in university.

11:00 am – Lookout App

We had a talk by Patrick Clary about the Lookout app, which has not been released yet. The app has been introduced at Google IO, and it should be published in the year 2018.

Patrick Clary began his presentation by saying that accessibility benefits everyone. For example, deaf people use closed subtitles, but if we are in a bar and there’s a lot of noise, the subtitles will be useful for everyone.

The concept of the application is, therefore, a real-time recognition experience for blind users. Provides real-time recognition through audio as the user moves through their environment.

He spoke about the different challenges that are encountered in the development of this innovative application. Remember that it’s a cell phone, hanging from the user’s neck, which uses the device camera to perform machine learning and then use the speaker to tell the user what is essential to know in its environment.

  1. Quality of the image: Google asked a blind user to take a picture of something he held in his hand, and the result was a picture where you could not see what it was. After that, they asked him in another way and just got a blurry picture. How to know which image to give to the recognition system in such a situation? You need to be able to provide useful, clear, quality images to the system.
  2. Bad recognition: The system is not immune to bad recognition. A frog is detected as a dog. A door is detected as a refrigerator.
  3. Latency: Users want instant recognition of their environment. Thus, the application can use the cloud CPU or the CPU of the device. Using one of the devices allows getting an answer faster because we do not have the round trip time of the cloud. However, we are limited by the CPU.
  4. Cognitive Burden: The camera may have complex text to detect, how to group the text? How to say only what is necessary? For example, if we are at Costco and 50 boxes of soft bars are in front of the user. Does the app have to say 50 times “Peanut Butter Tender Bars,” or just once? Where to group?

One of the solutions to the problems listed above is the use of contexts to identify what is important to say. A score is also calculated and assigned to each element in a room. Thus, only the elements with the highest score will be mentioned to the user. Therefore, by combining score and a specific context (for example, being at home or work), we could say that at home, we will assign fewer points to a printer than to a refrigerator, so the system will tend to mention the existence of the fridge in the room before the printer, if it is not even omitted.

This conference was exciting because this kind of technology interests me a lot. I can not wait to see the application in use when it is launched to the public.

11:45 am – Ice Breaker

We went outside to do an icebreaker activity between scholarship recipients. We were in small groups of about 13 students, and we played a game where we have to be in a circle, head down, and each person mentions a number aloud. When two people say the same number at the same time, we have to start over again. I think we went to about 25.

We do not suspect it, but it’s still a game with a dimension a little deeper than just saying numbers out loud: we have to learn to take its place, let others participate, and know when what it is our turn to speak.

12:30 pm – Lunch

I took advantage of all the meals to go to different tables and to network a little more with the participants.

1:30 pm – Google Career Panel

Among a list of 4 options, we could choose to attend two talks according to our interests. The first talk I picked was the Google Career Panel. The panel consisted of 4 Googlers, each with different responsibilities.

What I learned from this panel is that creating a game, when you learn to program, is a good idea to practice a lot of concepts: memory management, graphics, moving objects (mathematics). This teaches us a lot of concepts related to our field.

I also found it interesting when panelists were asked what made them stay working at Google, and what made people leave Google. The answer was that the company’s motivation to improve the world and make information accessible everywhere in the world, so it’s hard to find such motivation in another company. Also, Google has a lot of opportunities and products, so it’s easy to change when you want to see something else. Most employees leave because they want to discover the world of startups.

2:30 pm – Art of networking

The second talk I chose was about networking tips. I found that this workshop was a little different from the typical workshops that one can attend regular conferences.

During the workshop, we did several different exercises. For example, practice our handshakes with the most people in the room for 3 minutes! Later, we also practiced an “elevator pitch.”

Another interesting question that has been raised is: what is the best social network for networking? There is no right answer. It depends on who you are trying to reach, the social networks this person uses, and the networks that make sense in the context.

They also mentioned that it is important to differentiate between “transactional” and “relational.” Are we trying to get something from our new contact or are we in the process of establishing a long-term relationship? When we do networking, we should not think about what we are going to get from this person. Instead, think of what the other person will be able to gain from us.

A bit like when we try to make new contacts on LinkedIn. It is always advisable to leave a note with our invitation of connection.

Also, it was mentioned that several networking emails fail in the first line of text. Why? Because we fall too quickly into the “transactional” part of the exchange. You have to introduce yourself and establish a long-term relationship, and above all, personalize your communications.

True or false? In 2013, an applicant for a trainee position at Google sent his recruiter 3-foot cookies, all cooked in the form of 6 letters of the company. Lesson: No need to do too much!

3:45 pm – Speed Networking

We networked with the other participants for an hour! 🙂

5:00 pm – Shuttle to the main campus

We finally got to visit Google’s main campus, the Googleplex! Unfortunately, I did not see a slide; we only stayed outside. Haha! That’s one of the first questions I get asked! 😉  

6:30 pm – Dinner

We had dinner at Charleston Park, a park in Google’s grounds. It was good tacos! We also danced a bit … see my video if you want to understand!

8:00 pm – Shuttle to the hotel

End of the first day of retirement Google! A whole day, quite exhausting!

Day 3 and 4 of the retreat

I will publish shortly the article for the last two days!


That’s it for the first part of my trip to California! I described my experience this way because that is what I would have liked to read and learned when I applied and received the scholarship. I wanted to know what to expect when I went there! Let me know if you have any questions, I would be happy to help! 

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