The University of Chicago Meets Google

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A few weeks ago, I was sitting around a table with the other three officers of the University of Chicago's ACM student chapter, pondering what our "big event" for the quarter could be. "Maybe bring in an invited speaker?" "No, not enough time to find someone." "Perhaps a panel discussion?" "Wait, didn't we already do that in the Fall?". With just a few weeks before the end of the quarter, it seemed unlikely that we could organize a fun and interesting event on time.

Oh man, were we wrong...

At one point in the meeting someone bounced a simple idea: "Hey, why not do something at Google's Chicago offices? They do cool Open Source stuff and are full of Googley wonderfulness!" Since any sentence including the words "Google's Chicago offices" tends to be followed by "Google has offices in Chicago??", allow me to pause and clarify: Yes, Google has an office right in the middle of downtown Chicago. It's filled with developers and, as it turns out, a couple of UChicago alums. So we asked around and one of our CS professors put us in touch with one of said alums, Jon Trowbridge. We contacted Jon and crossed our fingers, half-expecting that we'd be told that setting up an event on such relatively short notice was just not doable. Jon turned out to be an organizer extraordinaire, and outright enthusiastic about having a group of UChicago undergrads and grad students drop by the office.

When organizing the visit, our goal was very simple: let's talk about cool tech and share knowledge in both directions. While we were initially content to just take a tour of the premises and bask in all the Google glory, Jon suggested an ideal format for knowledge-sharing: a 90-minute session of lightning talks. Since five UChicago undergrads were accepted to Google Summer of Code™ 2008, we asked our GSoC students to give lightning talks about their upcoming summer work, and Jon recruited a couple of developers from Google to talk about their work, or simply about cool stuff they were interested in.

So, on the evening of May 22nd, an eclectic mix of about 30 UChicago CS undergrads, not-technically-in-CS-but-I-have-mad-coding-skills-anyway undergrads, and grad students made their way downtown to the Google offices, where we were greeted by oodles of food and drinks. The lightning talks were both instructional and lots of fun; we got to hear about all sorts of stuff, ranging from Zork virtual machines to "Do You Believe in the Users?", and the Google folks got to hear about cool summer projects. In sum, a great time was had by all.

Finally, here are a couple photos showing the highlights of the evening:


Oodles of food. Behold the awesomeness of the Chinese food tower.

Google Summer of Code Students

Lightning Talks

General Good Times and Silliness All Around