Automate & Extend with Apps Script (Google Cloud for Student Developers)

Posted by Wesley Chun (@wescpy), Developer Advocate, Google Cloud

In the previous episode of our new Google Cloud for Student Developers video series, we introduced G Suite REST APIs, showing how to enhance your applications by integrating with Gmail, Drive, Calendar, Docs, Sheets, and Slides. However, not all developers prefer the lower-level style of programming requiring the use of HTTP, OAuth2, and processing the request-response cycle of API usage. Building apps that access Google technologies is open to everyone at any level, not just advanced software engineers.

Enhancing career readiness of non-engineering majors helps make our services more inclusive and helps democratize API functionality to a broader audience. For the budding data scientist, business analyst, DevOps staff, or other technical professionals who don’t code every day as part of their profession, Google Apps Script was made just for you. Rather than thinking about development stacks, HTTP, or authorization, you access Google APIs with objects.

This video blends a standard “Hello World” example with various use cases where Apps Script shines, including cases of automation, add-ons that extend the functionality of G Suite editors like Docs, Sheets, and Slides, accessing other Google or online services, and custom functions for Google Sheets—the ability to add new spreadsheet functions.

One featured example demonstrates the power to reach multiple Google technologies in an expressive way: lots of work, not much code. What may surprise readers is that this entire app, written by a colleague years ago, is comprised of just 4 lines of code:

function sendMap() {
var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
var address = sheet.getRange('A1').getValue();
var map = Maps.newStaticMap().addMarker(address);
GmailApp.sendEmail('[email protected]',
'Map', 'See below.', {attachments:[map]});
}

Apps Script shields its users from the complexities of authorization and “API service endpoints.” Developers only need an object to interface with a service; in this case, SpreadsheetApp to access Google Sheets, and similarly, Maps for Google Maps plus GmailApp for Gmail. Viewers can build this sample line-by-line with its corresponding codelab (a self-paced, hands-on tutorial). This example helps student (and professional) developers…

  1. Build something useful that can be extended into much more
  2. Learn how to accomplish several tasks without a lot of code
  3. Imagine what else is possible with G Suite developer tools

For further exploration, check out this video as well as this one which introduces Apps Script and presents the same code sample with more details. (Note the second video emails the map’s link, but the app has been updated to attach it instead; the code has been updated everywhere else.) You may also access the code at its open source repository. If that’s not enough, learn about other ways you can use Apps Script from its video library. Finally, stay tuned for the next pair of episodes which will cover full sample apps, one with G Suite REST APIs, and another with Apps Script.

We look forward to seeing what you build with Google Cloud.

Google Cloud for Student Developers: Accessing G Suite REST APIs

Posted by Wesley Chun (@wescpy), Developer Advocate, Google Cloud

Recently, we introduced the “Google Cloud for Student Developers” video series to encourage students majoring in STEM fields to gain development experience using industry APIs (application programming interfaces) for career readiness. That first episode provided an overview of the G Suite developer landscape while this episode dives deeper, introducing G Suite’s HTTP-based RESTful APIs, starting with Google Drive.

The first code sample has a corresponding codelab (a self-paced, hands-on tutorial) where you can build a simple Python script that displays the first 100 files or folders in your Google Drive. The codelab helps student (and professional) developers…

  1. Realize it is something that they can accomplish
  2. Learn how to create this solution without many lines of code
  3. See what’s possible with Google Cloud APIs

While everyone is familiar with using Google Drive and its web interface, many more doors are opened when you can code Google Drive. Check this blog post and video for a more comprehensive code walkthrough as well as access the code at its open source repository. What may surprise readers is that the entire app can be boiled down to just these 3-4 lines of code (everything else is either boilerplate or security):

    DRIVE = discovery.build('drive', 'v3', http=creds.authorize(Http()))
files = DRIVE.files().list().execute().get('files', [])
for f in files:
print(f['name'], f['mimeType'])

Once an “API service endpoint” to Google Drive is successfully created, calling the list() method in Drive’s files() collection is all that’s needed. By default, files().list() returns the first 100 files/folders—you can set the pageSize parameter for a different amount returned.

The video provides additional ideas of what else is possible by showing you examples of using the Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides APIs, and those APIs will be accessed in a way similar to what you saw for Drive earlier. You’ll also hear about what resources are available for each API, such as documentation, code samples, and links to support pages.

If you wish to further explore coding with G Suite REST APIs, check out some additional videos for the Drive, Sheets, Gmail, Calendar, and Slides APIs. Stay tuned for the next episode which highlights the higher-level Google Apps Script developer platform.

We look forward to seeing what you build with Google Cloud!

Evolving automations into applications using Apps Script

Posted by Wesley Chun (@wescpy), Developer Advocate, Google Cloud

Editor’s Note: Guest authors Diego Moreno and Sophia Deng (@sophdeng) are from Gigster, a firm that builds dynamic teams made of top global talent who create industry-changing custom software.

Prelude: Data input & management … three general choices

Google Cloud provides multiple services for gathering and managing data. Google Forms paired with Google Sheets are quite popular as they require no engineering resources while being incredibly powerful, providing storage of up to 5 million rows of data and built-in analytics for small team projects.

At the other end of the spectrum, to support a high volume of users or data, Google Cloud provides advanced serverless platforms like Google App Engine (web app-hosting) and Google Cloud Functions (function/service-hosting) that can use Google Cloud Firestore for fast and scalable data storage. These are perfect for professional engineering teams that need autoscaling to respond to any level of user traffic and data input. Such apps can also be packaged into a container and deployed serverlessly on Google Cloud Run.

However, it’s quite possible your needs are right in-between. Today, we’re happy to present the Gigster story and their innovative use of Google Apps Script—a highly-accessible service conventionally relegated to simple macro and add-on development, but which Gigster used to its advantage, building robust systems to transform their internal operations. Apps Script is also serverless, meaning Gigster didn’t have to manage any servers for their application nor did they need to find a place to host its source code.

The Gigster story

Gigster enables distributed teams of software engineers, product managers and designers to build software applications for enterprise clients. Over the past five years, Gigster has delivered thousands of projects, all with distributed software teams. Our group, the Gigster Staffing Operations Team, is responsible for assembling these teams from Gigster’s network of over 1,000 freelancers.

Two years ago, our team began building custom software to automate the multi-stage and highly manual team staffing process. Building internal software has allowed the same-size Staffing Operations Team (3 members!) to enjoy a 60x reduction in time spent staffing each role.

The Apps Script ecosystem has emerged as the most critical component in our toolkit for building this internal software, due to its versatility and ease of deployment. We want to share how one piece of the staffing process has evolved to become more powerful over time thanks to Apps Script. Ultimately, we hope that sharing this journey enables all types of teams to build their own tools and unlock new possibilities.

End-to-end automation in Google Sheets

Staffing is an operationally intensive procedure. Just finding willing and able candidates requires numerous steps:

  1. Gathering and formatting customer requirements.
  2. Communicating with candidates through multiple channels.
  3. Logging candidate responses.
  4. Processing paperwork for placement

To add complexity, many of these steps require working with different third-party applications. For awhile, we performed every step manually, tracking every piece of data generated in one central Sheet (the “Staffing Broadcast Google Sheet”). At a certain point, this back-and-forth work to log data from numerous applications became unsustainable. Although we leveraged Google Sheets features like Data Validation rules and filters, the Staffing Broadcast Sheet could not alleviate the high degree of manual processes that were required of the team.

centralized Staffing Broadcast Google Sheet

The centralized Staffing Broadcast Google Sheet provided organization, but required a high degree of manual entry for tracking candidate decisions.

The key transformation was integrating Sheets data with third-party APIs via Apps Script. This enabled us to cut out the most time-consuming operations. We no longer had to flip between applications to message candidates, wait for their replies, and then manually track responses.

To interact with these APIs, we built a user interface directly into the Staffing Broadcast Google Sheet. By introducing an information module, as well as drop-down lists and buttons, we were able to define a small set of manual actions versus the much wider list of tasks the tool would perform automatically across multiple applications.

integrating Apps Script with third-party APIs

By integrating Google Apps Script with third-party APIs and creating a user interface, we evolved the Staffing Broadcast Tool to centralize and automate almost every step of the staffing process.

doPost() is the key function in our staffing tool that facilitates third-party services triggering our Apps Script automations. Below is a snippet of how we listened to candidates’ responses from a third-party messaging application. In this case, queueing the third-party message in a Google Sheet so it can be processed with improved error-handling.

/**
* Receive POST requests and record to queue.
*/
doPost(e) {
var payload = e.postData.contents;
SpreadsheetApp.openById(SPREADSHEET_ID)
.getSheetByName("Unprocessed")
.appendRow([payload]);
return ContentService.createTextOutput(""); // Return 200
}

Almost all manual work associated with finding candidates was automated through the combination of integrations with third-party APIs and having a user interface to perform a small, defined set of actions. Our team’s day-to-day became shockingly simple: select candidates to receive messages within the Staffing Broadcast Tool, then click the “Send Broadcast” button. That’s it. The tool handled everything else.

Leveraging Sheets as our foundation, we fundamentally transformed our spreadsheet into a custom software application. The spreadsheet went from a partially automated datastore to a tool that provided an end-to-end automated solution, requiring only the click of a few buttons to execute.

Evolution into a standalone application

While satisfied, we understood that having our application live in Google Sheets had its limitations, namely, it was difficult for multiple team members to simultaneously use the tool. Using doGet(), the sibling to doPost(), we began building an HTML frontend to the Staffing Broadcast Tool. In addition to resolving difficulties related to multiple users being in a spreadsheet, it also allowed us to build an easier-to-use and more responsive tool by leveraging Bootstrap & jQuery.

Having multiple users in a single Google Sheet can create conflicts, but Apps Script allowed us to build a responsive web app leveraging common libraries like Bootstrap & jQuery that eliminated those problems while providing an improved user experience.

When other teams at Gigster got wind of what we built, it was easy to grant access to others beyond the Staffing Operations Team. Since Apps Script is part of the G Suite developer ecosystem, we relied on Google’s security policies to help deploy our tools to larger audiences.

While this can be done through Google’s conventional sharing tools, it can also be done with built-in Apps Script functions like Session.getActiveUser() that allow us to restrict access to specific Google users. In our case, those within our organization plus a few select users.

To this day, we continue to use this third version of the Staffing Broadcast Tool in our daily operations as it supports 100% of all client projects at Gigster.

Conclusion

By fundamentally transforming the Staffing Broadcast Tool with Apps Script, Gigster’s Staffing Operations Team increased its efficiency while supporting the growth of our company. Inspired by these business benefits, we applied this application-building approach using Apps Script for multiple tools, including candidate searching, new user onboarding, and countless automations.

Our team’s psychological shift about how we view what we are capable of, especially as a non-engineering team, has been the most valuable part of this journey. By leveraging an already familiar ecosystem to build our own software, we have freed team members to become more self-sufficient and valuable to our customers.

To get started on your Apps Script journey, we recommend you check out the Apps Script Fundamentals playlist and the official documentation. And if you’re a freelancer looking to build software applications for clients, we’re always looking for talented software engineers, product managers or designers to join Gigster’s Talent Network.

Thank you to Sandrine Bitton, the third member of the Staffing Operations Team, for all her help in the development of the Staffing Broadcast Tool.