My personal how/why/what of Google Apps Script

Google Apps Script Video Shoot - photo by Charles Maxson
Image credit: Google Apps Script Video Shoot – photo by Charles Maxson

Recently I had the opportunity to be interviewed with some of my fellow G Suite GDEs for a Google Apps Script marketing video that is being pulled together by Google. The final video is still in production and I look forward to seeing the results. Over the years I’ve either produced or appeared in a number of videos and the recording session for this video was definitely on a new level. Before the recording session I was given the questions I would be asked so that I could prepare some thoughts. Those questions and responses are included below:

How did you get involved with Google Apps Script?

I first found out about Apps Script in 2009 when I had a national advisory role supporting innovation in learning in teaching. In education two big barriers are time and money. Given Apps Script was and still is free for anyone to use, it immediately got my attention. In terms of time given Apps Script is just there and ready to use with zero setup it immediately makes it very attractive. Where Apps Script really shines is the opportunities it gives educators to spend less time administering teaching allowing them more time to spend with their learners. Administering class rosters, scheduling calendar slots, managing gradebooks, sharing and marking quizzes are all tasks you can easily be automated with Apps Script allowing teachers to spend more time with their students.

Why is Apps Script different than other platforms you have used?

Apps Script is different to other platforms I’ve used because it’s serverless, there is nothing to install, you can open a web browser and start coding straightaway. To run a script it’s a click of a button, you can even start debugging straight away in the browser. There is no need to setup an IDE, no need to install client libraries and often no need to setup any additional authentication with client IDs. Because Apps Script is running on Google servers within Google Drive if I want to write to one of my Google Sheets, it’s a line of code, if I want to access my Google Calendar it’s a line of code, if I want to access emails from my Gmail account it’s one line of code. And this is all achieved using a JavaScript syntax, which for a lot of people will mean you can start coding without having to learn a new programming language.

What is your favourite killer app you have built with it?

In many ways I think Apps Script itself is the killer app – within our organisation we have scripts running allowing us to automate a number of our workflows saving us a huge amount of time and cost. The flexibility Apps Script offers also creates lots of opportunities for creativity and creative problem solving which often means I end up not just developing scripts for our organisation, but I also create scripts to help with my personal life: I’ve got scripts that control switches in my home, allow me to automatically backup data to GitHub, or do small things like update my gmail signature with personal information. With Apps Script you’ve also got the perfect platform to explore and prototype new ideas. Recently one of my favourites has been exploring conversational interfaces in Google Sheets. With Apps Script I’ve been able to integrate with Dialogflow which is a service you can use to rapidly develop virtual agents. Using Dialogflow I’ve been able to prototype a Sheets add-on which lets the user have a conversation with their data performing actions like highlighting rows based on the conditions the user asks for.

Why should a business user learn to use Apps Script?

Having been part of the Google Apps Script community for a number of years one of the great things to see is the range of users the product attracts. We have some seasoned professionals using Apps Script to do some really advanced stuff, but at the same time we see a lot of people who have never coded before start making solutions that are helping them get the job done. I regularly see users become empowered by Apps Script regardless of whether they are working in a small business or a multinational enterprise. With Apps Script businesses are able to work more intelligently often finding huge time and cost saving along the way. With just a little Apps Script a world of opportunities opens up.