In October, I was selected along with 150 other Google Local Guides from 59 countries to attend the Google Connect Live Summit in San Francisco! (This is the city where Gabe asked me to marry him, so it holds an extra special place in my heart). The process to apply for Connect Live: Local Guides level 5 and above were eligible to apply. I’m a level 8 so I figured I would give it a shot. We had to submit a 60-second audition video describing why we should be chosen and what our favorite things were to contribute to Google Maps. I enjoy contributing photos and reviews of pet-friendly and fitness-friendly locations around the US and the world, so I mentioned that in my video. Full disclosure: I didn’t make the first cut invitation, but thankfully there were some spots that opened up for various reasons, so I was thrilled to get a last-minute invitation and grateful that my job allowed me the time off without much notice! This video gives a fun summary of the energy and enthusiasm at Connect Live!
For many in attendance, it was the first time they had left their country – what an incredible opportunity and amazing first city to visit in the US! Google covered the cost of everything, and I truly mean everything. They paid for visas for those coming from other countries, checked baggage fees, all flights, a Hyatt while in San Francisco, and our meals! I was floored by their generosity.
So, why did Google do all of this for us? From what they explained to us, they wanted to say thank you to the top contributors in the Local Guides program, allow us to offer feedback on how to improve, teach us how to be better LG’s, and renew our enthusiasm for improving the world through Maps. Contributions include things like photos and videos of locations, answering questions about businesses, editing maps to correct incorrect or missing information, reviewing businesses, adding new places to the map, and meet-ups that aim to improve maps and connect local communities. It was neat to see how all of the different focuses of the LG’s combined to complement each other. Some were focused on listing recycling locations for their city, some added beautiful hiking routes in their city, some focused on taking photos of handicap accessible businesses, some hosted meet-ups to clean up trash, and others contributed by adding new places and landmarks in rural places that didn’t have much of an infrastructure on maps.
Day 1: Our time in San Francisco was kicked off with a fun welcome party where we got to meet our fellow LG’s and Googlers (Google employees) in attendance. We all got Polaroid pictures taken and then we placed them on the globe you see above on our country/state. I enjoyed making so many new connections! I met people from the Ukraine, Hungary, Switzerland, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, El Salvador, Mexico, Lebanon, Thailand, Croatia, India, Bangladesh, Canada, England, Poland, France, Nigeria, and the list goes on! We got to paint stones with decorations from our country of origin! Also below, I got to cross off a bucket list item and workout at November Project SF with some fellow LG’s!
Day 2: We kicked off early with a buffet breakfast in the hotel, then started our informational sessions. We had a few hours together as a group, then we had breakout sessions of 10 or so people based on what topics we were interested in learning more about. I learned a lot but more importantly started to think about new and different ways I could contribute based on the feedback of others. We also got some exciting news on Google updates coming up in the next few months. Due to a non-disclosure agreement, I can’t give details, but I’m excited for them to release to the public! We all had nifty official Google badges that got us into all our events and had a fun camping-themed lounge where we could all connect and hang out after the official sessions were over.
That afternoon, we had a few hours of free time, so being the foodie that I am, I ventured out to Chinatown to try the cheese tea I had been hearing about. You can read more about that here. Shortly after I got back to the hotel, it was time to leave for our evening party at Terra.
There wasn’t a formal agenda, just a night of fun! They had a photo booth, cornhole, tons of food and drinks, fortune cookies, pools filled with balloons and live painter creating a Google “G” on canvas as we mingled. They also had tables of San Francisco themed postcards we could send to our loved ones, free of charge. As we ended the night and headed back to our bus, they had ice cream sundaes for us to take with us! I definitely gained a few pounds on this trip from all the good eats! By the end of this night, I had amassed so many cool gifts from all the LG’s and a sweet backpack and gear from Google!
Day 3: Our last official day started off early again because we had about a 2-hour drive to Mountain View, California first thing in the morning. Mountain View is home to Google’s Headquarters, aka the Googleplex. I think all of us LG’s were most excited about this day because it’s not open to the public and is an invite-only location inside. We started with a group session, then had more breakout sessions which ended with us all being given a yellow, green, blue or red hat and creating the giant G you saw at the end of the video above. Some cool things about Google that we learned while there – they have free bikes on the campus, a pool, volleyball courts, FREE cafeteria, plenty of recycling, and they are allowed to bring their dogs to work (they get their own badges). I want to work there! I watched the movie The Internship after my visit and laughed about some of the similarities as they show Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn trying to be interns at Google.
After finishing the G picture, we had time to go visit the Google store and get some photos with all the cute Android statues. Once we finished all our geeking out about Android, it was time for our closing party at Google. They told us to be on time for the bus because they had a surprise for us, so everyone was wondering what it would be. When we arrived back the Google HQ, we were all handed gift bags that contained a Ricoh Theta 360 Camera! I’d never taken 360-degree photos before, but I’ve been practicing and have really enjoyed playing around with this camera. I can’t wait to take it with me on all my future travels and capture some unique images.
As everyone was still giddy with excitement about the cameras, we were ushered into the cocktail hour and got to mingle a little more before the closing party started. As we went into the party room, they had small flags for each person to take from their country and there was such an energetic vibe of camaraderie! There were ethnic foods from various countries, endless photo ops, face painting and to finish things up, awards for the top performing guides in each category. Each winner received a gift for winning and we all celebrated with each new winner announcement.
All in all, it was an incredible 3 days, and I’m so thankful for everyone I was able to meet during my time there. My eyes were opened to the struggles that people in other countries face when navigating and I will no longer take our infrastructure for granted! I came away energized and equipped to contribute in new ways. If you are someone who loves taking pictures, leaving reviews, helping others by answering questions and/or just generally showing people the gems in your city, I would encourage you to become a Local Guide! As you’ve seen from this post, there are definitely perks, but as cliche as it sounds, the daily reward is being able to help people both near and far through your contributions.
Thanks so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed this recap! Let me know if you have any questions about the Local Guides program or if you’re already a Local Guide and want to connect! I’d love a co-host for a local meetup in North Carolina. #LetsGuide #LocalGuidesConnect