Tag Archives: Googlers

How sweet it is! This Googler carves fruit into art

During work hours, Leonard Ko collaborates with teams of engineers on Pixel phones. But he’s also known for a unique talent outside of tech: creating intricate sculptures out of fruit. It turns out fruit is just the latest medium for Leonard, who has been creating art for decades—and only recently decided to make his art edible. 

Leonard Ko kitchen

Leonard Ko in his kitchen.

Leonard has always been interested in expressing himself through art, and first worked on traditional Chinese paintings and oil paintings of landscapes. But eventually, his love of art translated into making art out of food. 

At first, his prowess in the kitchen came through baked goods. “I liked to bake cakes and pipe them with buttercream and chocolate, but they are so sweet and unhealthy,” Leonard says. He changed his materials to avoid all the junk food. “I chose the art of fruit, since it’s natural and healthy,” he says.

For the past three years, Leonard has been making his fruit sculptures every two to three weeks and, until COVID-19 led people to stay at home, bringing them to friends’ picnics and parties. He says fruit carvings can be as simple as creating “rabbits” from orange slices by turning the peel into “ears,” and as elaborate as crafting a shark’s head out of a watermelon, then putting other fruits in the shark’s carved-out “mouth.”

For the past three years, Leonard has been making his fruit sculptures every two to three weeks and, until COVID-19 led people to stay at home, bringing them to friends’ picnics and parties. He says fruit carvings can be as simple as creating “rabbits” from orange slices by turning the peel into “ears,” and as elaborate as crafting a shark’s head out of a watermelon, then putting other fruits in the shark’s carved-out “mouth.”

Leonard Ko with his daughter

Leonard’s daughter and number-one fan.

Usually, it takes around two or three hours for him to complete each fruit sculpture, though his most detailed ones, for parties or special events, take up to seven hours to carve. He once created a fruit sculpture for a team-building event at the office. “My coworkers thought the sculpture came from a professional chef, and couldn’t believe it was my work,” Leonard says. 

The biggest fan of Leonard’s work is surely his daughter, who often looks on with wonder as he creates little animals out of fruit. “She is very interested in what I am doing for the sculpture,” Leonard says. “She will stay with me and ask some questions, like, ‘Daddy, why did you do this? Could you use other fruits?’ After she saw the finished sculptures, she loved them.”

Since like most Googlers he’s working from home these days, Leonard is keeping busy working and taking care of his daughter, which doesn’t leave much time for fruit sculptures. But he’s still staying creative in the kitchen, cooking a decorated meal once a week. Recent dishes have included yogurt topped with a rainbow of fruit and purple sweet potato tarts. The watermelon sharks will have to wait a little longer. 

Leonard’s cooking from home while working from home.

 Leonard’s cooking from home while working from home.

How sweet it is! This Googler carves fruit into art

During work hours, Leonard Ko collaborates with teams of engineers on Pixel phones. But he’s also known for a unique talent outside of tech: creating intricate sculptures out of fruit. It turns out fruit is just the latest medium for Leonard, who has been creating art for decades—and only recently decided to make his art edible. 

Leonard Ko kitchen

Leonard Ko in his kitchen.

Leonard has always been interested in expressing himself through art, and first worked on traditional Chinese paintings and oil paintings of landscapes. But eventually, his love of art translated into making art out of food. 

At first, his prowess in the kitchen came through baked goods. “I liked to bake cakes and pipe them with buttercream and chocolate, but they are so sweet and unhealthy,” Leonard says. He changed his materials to avoid all the junk food. “I chose the art of fruit, since it’s natural and healthy,” he says.

For the past three years, Leonard has been making his fruit sculptures every two to three weeks and, until COVID-19 led people to stay at home, bringing them to friends’ picnics and parties. He says fruit carvings can be as simple as creating “rabbits” from orange slices by turning the peel into “ears,” and as elaborate as crafting a shark’s head out of a watermelon, then putting other fruits in the shark’s carved-out “mouth.”

For the past three years, Leonard has been making his fruit sculptures every two to three weeks and, until COVID-19 led people to stay at home, bringing them to friends’ picnics and parties. He says fruit carvings can be as simple as creating “rabbits” from orange slices by turning the peel into “ears,” and as elaborate as crafting a shark’s head out of a watermelon, then putting other fruits in the shark’s carved-out “mouth.”

Leonard Ko with his daughter

Leonard’s daughter and number-one fan.

Usually, it takes around two or three hours for him to complete each fruit sculpture, though his most detailed ones, for parties or special events, take up to seven hours to carve. He once created a fruit sculpture for a team-building event at the office. “My coworkers thought the sculpture came from a professional chef, and couldn’t believe it was my work,” Leonard says. 

The biggest fan of Leonard’s work is surely his daughter, who often looks on with wonder as he creates little animals out of fruit. “She is very interested in what I am doing for the sculpture,” Leonard says. “She will stay with me and ask some questions, like, ‘Daddy, why did you do this? Could you use other fruits?’ After she saw the finished sculptures, she loved them.”

Since like most Googlers he’s working from home these days, Leonard is keeping busy working and taking care of his daughter, which doesn’t leave much time for fruit sculptures. But he’s still staying creative in the kitchen, cooking a decorated meal once a week. Recent dishes have included yogurt topped with a rainbow of fruit and purple sweet potato tarts. The watermelon sharks will have to wait a little longer. 

Leonard’s cooking from home while working from home.

 Leonard’s cooking from home while working from home.

Gareth Small’s path from prison to Google

When Gareth Small’s recruiter called to tell him he’d gotten the web developer job he’d applied for at Google, his excitement quickly turned to anxiety. “Can we meet up? There’s something I need to tell you,” he remembers saying. Gareth and his recruiter met at a cafe in Fremont, near where he lives in Seattle, Washington. “I said, Hey, look, I know this is a lot and I’m sorry to spring this on you…” 


What Gareth had to tell his recruiter was that he’d recently gotten out of prison after being incarcerated for four years. But while Gareth was nervous about what his time served meant for his future at Google, he also knew that it was the only reason he had even applied in the first place. “I don’t think I would be alive today if I hadn’t gone to prison. I thought I would be dead before I’d be where I’m at now.” 


Today, Gareth is a software engineer who works on the Google Cloud platform. He lives in Seattle with his partner, Liz; they moved to the area in 2018. As a teenager living in Stow, Ohio, Gareth struggled. “I was really heavily into drugs, and I never really did well in school,” Gareth says. “It just got worse and worse.” After high school, he was involved in a robbery, which led to his prison sentence. But before being incarcerated, he was placed on house arrest in his parents’ home, and it was during those six months that he started coding again. 


“As a kid, I was always really into computers. My mom worked in computer science—she even introduced me to Google when I was, like, nine,” he says. “We always had computers around the house and I loved tinkering with them, learning how they worked.” In middle school, he told his mom he wanted to build his own game. “She just looked at me and handed me this big Java book,” he remembers. “I was 12 or 13, I had no idea what to do with it!” But with a little internet research, Gareth was able to scrap together his own game. “It was brutal, but I loved it! I would stay up until three or four in the morning when I had to go to school at 8 a.m., trying to fix a problem,” he says. “But you know, I loved the learning process around it.” 


Years later while Gareth was stuck at home awaiting his prison sentence, he decided he may as well refresh his coding skills and look for a job. “I had a lot of time on my hands, I liked coding, and I wanted to make some extra money.” He sent in the game he’d programmed in middle school along with his resumé, and landed work as a web developer for the few months before he went to prison. “I was kind of bummed when I was going to prison. I was like, ‘I’m not going to be able to code anymore.’” 


“But I got to prison and...there was coding,” he laughs. 


The prison where Gareth was incarcerated had a program to teach inmates computer and coding skills. The only hiccup was that in order to graduate into more technical work, he would have to start out learning the very basics...again. “You had to go through an introductory course that taught Microsoft Office, which was a little frustrating,” he laughs. “I was like, ‘why do I need this? I just want to write code!’” But soon he was moving along into web development, Java and digital arts programs. 


Gareth did whatever he could to get more time in the computer lab. He started off with two hours a couple of times a week, which he found wasn’t enough time for him once he was working on web development. “I wanted to be in there longer, so any opportunity I had to volunteer, I took.” Eventually he became the program aide and helped teach other inmates how to code while also taking classes himself. “I just studied as much as I could there, it was such an awesome opportunity to learn and grow.” 


He wasn’t only working on his coding skills. During his incarceration, he focused on figuring out who he wanted to be and what he wanted to do. “I spent a lot of time just looking back at who I was. I think close to about a year and a half in, I was like, ‘OK, what happens when I get out?’ So I started making plans.” One night in his cell he watched the movie “The Internship.” Working at Google “sounded pretty cool. But I never thought I would get there.” 


Still, the idea stuck with him. After being released in 2016, he spent hours a day studying computer science, while also working as a software engineer. Eventually, he started prepping his resume to apply to Google. He was surprised when he was eventually offered a job. And of course, nervous: He still had to tell his future employer about his time in prison. 


“I finally heard back, and I heard that it was OK,” he says. “I was shocked. I don’t think I totally comprehended it.” Only three years had elapsed from the time he left prison to the time he started at Google. 


Gareth knows the negative stigma associated with people who have served time, but he’s kept his attention and energy razor-focused on his ambitions. During his Google orientation, Gareth even shared his story with other new employees, and was relieved to find only support, and even admiration from his colleagues. He’s also spent time working with a program in Seattle called Unloop that offers office space to recently released prisoners where they can take coding classes and continue the education they started while incarcerated. 


When asked what advice he would give to others, Gareth says to take feedback, adapt quickly and really examine yourself. “Understand what you want out of life, and look at your failures as opportunities to change and grow. As long as you’re always able to adapt, you’re going to find a way to reach your goals.” 


Gareth Small’s path from prison to Google

When Gareth Small’s recruiter called to tell him he’d gotten the web developer job he’d applied for at Google, his excitement quickly turned to anxiety. “Can we meet up? There’s something I need to tell you,” he remembers saying. Gareth and his recruiter met at a cafe in Fremont, near where he lives in Seattle, Washington. “I said, Hey, look, I know this is a lot and I’m sorry to spring this on you…” 


What Gareth had to tell his recruiter was that he’d recently gotten out of prison after being incarcerated for four years. But while Gareth was nervous about what his time served meant for his future at Google, he also knew that it was the only reason he had even applied in the first place. “I don’t think I would be alive today if I hadn’t gone to prison. I thought I would be dead before I’d be where I’m at now.” 


Today, Gareth is a software engineer who works on the Google Cloud platform. He lives in Seattle with his partner, Liz; they moved to the area in 2018. As a teenager living in Stow, Ohio, Gareth struggled. “I was really heavily into drugs, and I never really did well in school,” Gareth says. “It just got worse and worse.” After high school, he was involved in a robbery, which led to his prison sentence. But before being incarcerated, he was placed on house arrest in his parents’ home, and it was during those six months that he started coding again. 


“As a kid, I was always really into computers. My mom worked in computer science—she even introduced me to Google when I was, like, nine,” he says. “We always had computers around the house and I loved tinkering with them, learning how they worked.” In middle school, he told his mom he wanted to build his own game. “She just looked at me and handed me this big Java book,” he remembers. “I was 12 or 13, I had no idea what to do with it!” But with a little internet research, Gareth was able to scrap together his own game. “It was brutal, but I loved it! I would stay up until three or four in the morning when I had to go to school at 8 a.m., trying to fix a problem,” he says. “But you know, I loved the learning process around it.” 


Years later while Gareth was stuck at home awaiting his prison sentence, he decided he may as well refresh his coding skills and look for a job. “I had a lot of time on my hands, I liked coding, and I wanted to make some extra money.” He sent in the game he’d programmed in middle school along with his resumé, and landed work as a web developer for the few months before he went to prison. “I was kind of bummed when I was going to prison. I was like, ‘I’m not going to be able to code anymore.’” 


“But I got to prison and...there was coding,” he laughs. 


The prison where Gareth was incarcerated had a program to teach inmates computer and coding skills. The only hiccup was that in order to graduate into more technical work, he would have to start out learning the very basics...again. “You had to go through an introductory course that taught Microsoft Office, which was a little frustrating,” he laughs. “I was like, ‘why do I need this? I just want to write code!’” But soon he was moving along into web development, Java and digital arts programs. 


Gareth did whatever he could to get more time in the computer lab. He started off with two hours a couple of times a week, which he found wasn’t enough time for him once he was working on web development. “I wanted to be in there longer, so any opportunity I had to volunteer, I took.” Eventually he became the program aide and helped teach other inmates how to code while also taking classes himself. “I just studied as much as I could there, it was such an awesome opportunity to learn and grow.” 


He wasn’t only working on his coding skills. During his incarceration, he focused on figuring out who he wanted to be and what he wanted to do. “I spent a lot of time just looking back at who I was. I think close to about a year and a half in, I was like, ‘OK, what happens when I get out?’ So I started making plans.” One night in his cell he watched the movie “The Internship.” Working at Google “sounded pretty cool. But I never thought I would get there.” 


Still, the idea stuck with him. After being released in 2016, he spent hours a day studying computer science, while also working as a software engineer. Eventually, he started prepping his resume to apply to Google. He was surprised when he was eventually offered a job. And of course, nervous: He still had to tell his future employer about his time in prison. 


“I finally heard back, and I heard that it was OK,” he says. “I was shocked. I don’t think I totally comprehended it.” Only three years had elapsed from the time he left prison to the time he started at Google. 


Gareth knows the negative stigma associated with people who have served time, but he’s kept his attention and energy razor-focused on his ambitions. During his Google orientation, Gareth even shared his story with other new employees, and was relieved to find only support, and even admiration from his colleagues. He’s also spent time working with a program in Seattle called Unloop that offers office space to recently released prisoners where they can take coding classes and continue the education they started while incarcerated. 


When asked what advice he would give to others, Gareth says to take feedback, adapt quickly and really examine yourself. “Understand what you want out of life, and look at your failures as opportunities to change and grow. As long as you’re always able to adapt, you’re going to find a way to reach your goals.” 


Gareth Small’s path from prison to Google

When Gareth Small’s recruiter called to tell him he’d gotten the web developer job he’d applied for at Google, his excitement quickly turned to anxiety. “Can we meet up? There’s something I need to tell you,” he remembers saying. Gareth and his recruiter met at a cafe in Fremont, near where he lives in Seattle, Washington. “I said, Hey, look, I know this is a lot and I’m sorry to spring this on you…” 


What Gareth had to tell his recruiter was that he’d recently gotten out of prison after being incarcerated for four years. But while Gareth was nervous about what his time served meant for his future at Google, he also knew that it was the only reason he had even applied in the first place. “I don’t think I would be alive today if I hadn’t gone to prison. I thought I would be dead before I’d be where I’m at now.” 


Today, Gareth is a software engineer who works on the Google Cloud platform. He lives in Seattle with his partner, Liz; they moved to the area in 2018. As a teenager living in Stow, Ohio, Gareth struggled. “I was really heavily into drugs, and I never really did well in school,” Gareth says. “It just got worse and worse.” After high school, he was involved in a robbery, which led to his prison sentence. But before being incarcerated, he was placed on house arrest in his parents’ home, and it was during those six months that he started coding again. 


“As a kid, I was always really into computers. My mom worked in computer science—she even introduced me to Google when I was, like, nine,” he says. “We always had computers around the house and I loved tinkering with them, learning how they worked.” In middle school, he told his mom he wanted to build his own game. “She just looked at me and handed me this big Java book,” he remembers. “I was 12 or 13, I had no idea what to do with it!” But with a little internet research, Gareth was able to scrap together his own game. “It was brutal, but I loved it! I would stay up until three or four in the morning when I had to go to school at 8 a.m., trying to fix a problem,” he says. “But you know, I loved the learning process around it.” 


Years later while Gareth was stuck at home awaiting his prison sentence, he decided he may as well refresh his coding skills and look for a job. “I had a lot of time on my hands, I liked coding, and I wanted to make some extra money.” He sent in the game he’d programmed in middle school along with his resumé, and landed work as a web developer for the few months before he went to prison. “I was kind of bummed when I was going to prison. I was like, ‘I’m not going to be able to code anymore.’” 


“But I got to prison and...there was coding,” he laughs. 


The prison where Gareth was incarcerated had a program to teach inmates computer and coding skills. The only hiccup was that in order to graduate into more technical work, he would have to start out learning the very basics...again. “You had to go through an introductory course that taught Microsoft Office, which was a little frustrating,” he laughs. “I was like, ‘why do I need this? I just want to write code!’” But soon he was moving along into web development, Java and digital arts programs. 


Gareth did whatever he could to get more time in the computer lab. He started off with two hours a couple of times a week, which he found wasn’t enough time for him once he was working on web development. “I wanted to be in there longer, so any opportunity I had to volunteer, I took.” Eventually he became the program aide and helped teach other inmates how to code while also taking classes himself. “I just studied as much as I could there, it was such an awesome opportunity to learn and grow.” 


He wasn’t only working on his coding skills. During his incarceration, he focused on figuring out who he wanted to be and what he wanted to do. “I spent a lot of time just looking back at who I was. I think close to about a year and a half in, I was like, ‘OK, what happens when I get out?’ So I started making plans.” One night in his cell he watched the movie “The Internship.” Working at Google “sounded pretty cool. But I never thought I would get there.” 


Still, the idea stuck with him. After being released in 2016, he spent hours a day studying computer science, while also working as a software engineer. Eventually, he started prepping his resume to apply to Google. He was surprised when he was eventually offered a job. And of course, nervous: He still had to tell his future employer about his time in prison. 


“I finally heard back, and I heard that it was OK,” he says. “I was shocked. I don’t think I totally comprehended it.” Only three years had elapsed from the time he left prison to the time he started at Google. 


Gareth knows the negative stigma associated with people who have served time, but he’s kept his attention and energy razor-focused on his ambitions. During his Google orientation, Gareth even shared his story with other new employees, and was relieved to find only support, and even admiration from his colleagues. He’s also spent time working with a program in Seattle called Unloop that offers office space to recently released prisoners where they can take coding classes and continue the education they started while incarcerated. 


When asked what advice he would give to others, Gareth says to take feedback, adapt quickly and really examine yourself. “Understand what you want out of life, and look at your failures as opportunities to change and grow. As long as you’re always able to adapt, you’re going to find a way to reach your goals.” 


A family holiday, no matter what

March 23 is an important holiday to the Zaraysky family: It’s the day Susanna, her sister and her parents left the former Soviet Union for the United States. This past March marked the 40th anniversary of their departure from modern-day Russia, as well as her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and the family planned to celebrate.

“Before the lock down, my mom had me call different restaurants to figure out their menus and see if they had a room that could house 35 people,” says Susanna, who today is a content strategist for Google’s Material Design division. “But then, because of COVID-19, the restrictions kept coming.” Soon, Susanna and her family realized a party would be impossible. 

“But we thought, ‘wait, this is a really big deal.’” 

Finding a workaround wouldn’t be easy. Both of Susanna’s parents are hard of hearing, and primarily speak Russian. Susanna’s father is also in a nursing home, which wasn’t allowing visitors in. The family would stand outside, separated by a glass door, which there was little to no chance her father would be able to hear them through. “We knew that we weren’t even going to be able to bring food in and sit with him and eat and visit.” 

A tool that Susanna had demoed at Google I/O last year proved to be the solution. “I had volunteered to work in the accessibility booth, and I did demos of Live Transcribe,” she remembers. Live Transcribe is a free, real-time speech-to-text transcription app for Android that works in more than 80 languages. “If someone had an accent, I would ask what language they spoke and asked them to speak in their native tongue and showed them the transcriptions in their language. It was amazing to see; people’s eyes would open up and their jaws would drop! They would say ‘oh I can use this with my parents and friends.’” After the launch, Susanna began using Live Transcribe with her father. During doctor’s visits,  Live Transcribe allowed her father to read what the doctor was saying in real time, while family members helped clarify important information and ensure caption accuracy.  Her parents had even visited Google’s campus to meet Dimitri Kanevsky, one of the creators of Live Transcribe, who also left the former Soviet Union, and communicated with him in Russian using the app. 

“My parents and Dimitri communicated in Russian using Live Transcribe,” Susanna remembers. “People with disabilities in the former Soviet Union were not given many opportunities to excel. So to see someone like Dimitri, who is deaf, from your origin country create a life-changing, revolutionary technology...I think my parents are really proud that I work for a company that makes technology to help people with disabilities, especially because of my own background."

Susanna was born with strabismus (crossed eyes) and placed in a Soviet preschool for the developmentally disabled, even though she had no developmental issues. “I know about limitations for the visually impaired first-hand.”

Susanna sees Live Transcribe as an assistive technology that helps everyone, regardless of whether or not they have an impairment. “The curb cut on the sidewalk is just as important to the grandmother in the wheelchair, as it is to the grandson wheeling it,” she explains. “That’s what makes it easier to maneuver the wheelchair across the street.” As more and more people use Live Transcribe, it builds social awareness about how we can, and why we should, integrate assistive tools into modern life. 

This much was obvious for her family this past March. “One of the nurses wheeled my dad in his wheelchair to the glass doors of the nursing home,” she says. Her father wasn’t expecting to see her, or his grandchildren, standing outside. Holding her tablet up to the door, Susanna, her sister and her niece and nephew spoke and Live Transcribe typed out their words in real time in Russian and English on the screen, so her father could read them. They heard his spoken responses through the glass door and most importantly were touched by his smile when he read his granddaughter saying “We miss you and we love you” on the tablet screen. “We could not have ‘spoken’ to my dad in real time without the app,” Susanna says. Her family left food for him, chatted for a bit with the help of the app and took a few photos. While it wasn’t the big party at a nice restaurant they’d originally planned, that moment was a way to recognize a meaningful time for their family. 

Because her mother is high risk, she couldn’t be at the nursing home for the celebration. And now, due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, quarantine procedures are even more strict and the family can no longer visit in person at all. It was a challenge figuring out how to have a virtual call with Russian captions that would have the same simple “glass door” experience, but eventually they found a way using a smartphone and video chat. “We held the tablet by our chest, so he could see us and the text on the screen at the same time,” Susanna says. The phone propped up on the table essentially became their new “glass door.”

IMG_20200527_142308 (1).jpg

Susanna's niece and mother speak to her father using Live Transcribe in Russian on their tablet while her father watches them via video call on the phone propped up on a homemade phone stand.

Susanna says there’s an “irony” to commemorating her family’s freedom during a quarantine that’s separated them. When they left the Soviet Union, she remembers waving goodbye to her cousin and uncle through the glass doors of the Leningrad Airport. Forty years later, here they were, using assistive technology to feel closer despite the glass between them. “The fact that we used this technology to celebrate our family’s departure from a country that didn’t allow people to communicate…” Susanna says. “For me, there’s a significance beyond communicating with my dad through a glass door.”

The big story behind a little Blue Dot

Editor’s note: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more about Google's mental health resources and tools. 

A few years ago, Jenny Fandrianto noticed a sticker on a colleague’s laptop that read “ask me about Blue Dot.” So, she did. 

She learned Blue Dot is a network of Googlers who simply listen to those who reach out to them. It's not therapy, and they don't tell anyone how to fix their problems. They just want to make it OK to talk about mental health. “Having that first conversation was really inspiring and energizing,” Jenny says. “I got to connect with someone and say ‘this is something that’s important to me, too.’” 

Blue Dot’s mission to destigmatize conversations like the one Jenny had began in 2016, when it was founded by Rachael Bleakley and Jack Kaden (a Googler and a former Googler, respectively). Rachael had recently seen a news segment about a barber with a poster in his shop that read “Feeling down? Chat to us!” “He said it nearly always started some great conversations about mental health with everyone who sat in his chair.” She pitched the concept and within days, was on a call with a global group of Googlers putting a plan in motion. 

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Why a blue dot? “Blue Dot was for practicality reasons...it's easy to buy blue dot stickers for cheap and anywhere in the world locally, so it made sense to pick something all the local office leads could stock up on themselves if we give them the budget.”

While growth wasn’t Blue Dot’s priority, it quickly took off. “We knew there would be appetite for this but it was so hard to measure in the beginning; the last thing we wanted to be doing was asking Googlers to tell us when they had a 'chat' thanks to Blue Dot!” she says. “We also had to be careful we weren't putting Googlers in potentially difficult situations if they got into a chat that was slightly out of their depth; the expectation is only to listen and not to offer specific advice.” 

Peter Corcoran took the reins at Blue Dot as it matured from its purely grassroots beginnings into an official employee resource group. “I was in the British Army for 10 years, and it was actually one of the reasons I got involved in Blue Dot, having suffered trauma in my military career,” Peter says. Becoming a Googler-led mental health resource sponsored by People Ops, he explains, was ultimately the right move. “It gave us access to better resources, better guidance. It created a much better ecosystem.”  Maja Bilić stepped in around the same time to help Blue Dot’s transition. She helped with infrastructure—things like building the website and creating the listener sign-up system. 

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“Blue Dot’s mission will be accomplished if every Googler knows about their mental health resources, and if people articulate their mental health needs,” Peter says. “The aim isn’t the success of Blue Dot. It’s the success of the mission.”

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Prior to the time Maja stepped in, Blue Dot was far more grassroots. “Before that we just had an idea. We had stickers,” she says.

A tipping point in this evolution came during a global Google town hall last year, where Blue Dot was mentioned as a resource for Googlers. “I was like, ‘we’ve reached critical mass!’” Peter remembers. “It was kind of like, ‘oh, we’re grown up!’”


Amy Costello, Blue Dot’s acting global lead, discovered Blue Dot in 2018 after working at Google for about six months. “I was looking for a 20 percent project and lo and behold, I learned about this program called Blue Dot.” Amy, who lost her father to suicide as a teenager, describes her work with Blue Dot as “something that really hits close to home. If this is an area I can give back in, how wonderfully fulfilling.” 

Today, Blue Dot has nearly 2,000 allies in its network, but for privacy reasons, doesn’t collect data on sessions. Participants go through a self-guided training module on effective listening and what to do if someone needs additional support. "Listening is about devoting your full attention to another human being. It's a time to ignore the IMs, text messages and emails and provide someone with your undivided attention," Amy shares.

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"When you’re talking to somebody, sometimes you’re thinking ‘well what am I going to say next?’ But your job is literally to not say anything. You’re only supposed to listen to this person and acknowledge what this person is saying.”

Jenny has benefited from Listener training even outside of Blue Dot. “While I’m on a video call, I don’t have email open, I’m not chatting with other people on Hangouts. In in-person meetings, my laptop is down, and if there are notes I need to take, I take them on paper. My attention is here, with you, right now, because you matter, and the time we spend together is valuable.” 

“Honestly, when we introduced trainings, people were a little like ‘ugh, really?’” Maja laughs. But participants ended up loving it, herself included. “You learn how to actively listen, and active listening is such an important skill.” 

Recently, Blue Dot pivoted from in-person listening sessions, moving to online only. In March, Blue Dot Sunnyvale began hosting virtual get-togethers. “But then we realized...it’s virtual! It doesn’t have to be just our campus,” Jenny says. “We shared this idea globally with the entire Blue Dot community and now we have this office hours program being replicated in all these different regions. It’s become much bigger than what we originally imagined.” 

The new online office hours may also be more welcoming for some. Googlers can select an appointment time with a Listener from any region that works for them, a system Jenny believes lowers the barrier for anyone who’s hesitant to reach out. “Just click and sign up and we’re here. I think it’s just a little bit more accessible to people who need it,” she says. 

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Jenny has noticed Blue Dot Listeners are taking on more and more time slots. “I’m seeing people who are making themselves available for office hours all times of the day. We have people signing up for even the holidays,” she says. “They’re thinking ‘you know, there might be people who need someone to talk to on a holiday, so I’m going to make myself available in case somebody needs it.”

Support systems are always a steadying force, but perhaps more so when it feels as if the entire world is on shaky ground. “I feel like on a day-to-day basis, my life is very happy, but at the same time, we don’t have the same releases right now. We don’t have the same kinds of mental breaks,” Amy agrees. “I find myself being over-tired, which is something I’ve heard from my colleagues as well. Having the Blue Dot community available for that outreach, for that friendly face, for people to know you are going to be really open to talking about things like this is so meaningful to the Google community.”

Despite the challenges of sheltering in place, both Amy and Jenny notice it’s also inspiring frank conversations about mental health. “During every team meeting now, we start with five minutes of ‘How are you doing? What’s new? Is there anything I can do to help?” Jenny says. “We’re talking about our personal lives a bit more now. It’s funny because I feel like we’re closer as a team even though we’re all virtual. It’s because we’re genuinely concerned for each other outside of work.” 


Though Blue Dot has grown, the subtle ways it creates conversations about mental health remain. That little dot disintegrates some of the pressure; “ask me about Blue Dot,” for many, is easier to respond to than “ask me about mental health.” 

Today, in lieu of laptop stickers we can’t physically see, Listeners include a blue dot in their email signatures. “So many people have asked ‘hey, I see you have this blue circle in your email signature—what’s that about?’” 

The group is hopeful that someday, we won’t need a dot or anything else to openly talk about therapy appointments or depression. “We have no problem going to the doctor for a physical, we have no problem going to the dentist to get our teeth cleaned,” Amy says. “Why should we have a problem talking about our mental health, or saying, ‘hey, I’m going to the therapist today’? One of the really special things about Google is that those things are OK to say, and I feel like groups like Blue Dot help normalize it.” 

Blue Dot has helped Jenny feel comfortable being an advocate for mental health, and talking about her own. “I’m much more open about a lot of other things I don’t think people talk about. No one really comfortably talks about the struggles of being a woman in tech, or has revealing conversations around fertility challenges like IVF or miscarriages.” As she’s become more forthcoming, she’s felt groups forming—supportive pocket communities that invite, even welcome, these kinds of conversations. 

“People are OK being vulnerable, they feel safer,” she says. “And that’s brought a lot of us so much closer.” 

Dr. Karen DeSalvo on “putting information first” during COVID-19

Dr. Karen DeSalvo knows how to deal with a crisis. She was New Orleans Health Commissioner following Hurricane Katrina and a senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services when Ebola broke out. And now, as Google’s Chief Health Officer, she’s become the company’s go-to medical expert, advising our leaders on how to react to the coronavirus. Dr. DeSalvo has been a voice of reassurance for Googlers, but her expertise is helpful outside of Google, too. I recently spoke to Dr. DeSalvo about how we’ll get through the crisis, what Google is doing to help and what makes her optimistic despite the challenges we face. 


How is the coronavirus different from other public health crises you’ve dealt with? 
In my work in New Orleans, whether it was a hurricane, a fire or a power outage, we drew resources from other parts of the country if we needed help. In this case, the entire world has been impacted. Everyone is living with uncertainty, disrupted supply chains, impacts on travel and social infrastructure. While this creates a sense of community that I hope will continue beyond the pandemic, the downside is that we have less opportunity to send assistance to other places. Where there is opportunity, we’ve seen people paying it forward, like when California deployed ventilators to the East Coast. The sense of community that grows out of any disaster is the bright spot, for me.


How are industries sharing ideas and research in this global crisis?
Physicians are using technology to talk to each other constantly about what they’re seeing and doing, and in prior outbreaks this real-time communication wasn’t possible. It makes a huge difference in clinical care. In the medical community, you sometimes have to pay for a journal article. But now if you want to read about COVID-19, it’s free for any researcher, scientist, clinician or layperson. That’s putting information first, putting knowledge and science above proprietary interest. 

It’s happening in science, too. For instance, there’s a collaboration between competitors in the private sector on designing trials and assessing the outcome of drugs and vaccines. At Google, our Deepmind colleagues were able to use quantum computing to show protein folding, helping advance the thinking about therapeutics and vaccines. I don’t think we’ve seen this spirit of collaboration in the history of science, and it’s one of the reasons I’m so optimistic. 


What is Google doing to help curb misinformation?
In this historic moment, access to the right information at the right time will save lives. Period. This is why our Search teams design our ranking systems to promote the most relevant and reliable information available. We build these protections in advance so they’re ready when a crisis hits, and this approach serves as a strong defense against misinformation.  


When COVID-19 began to escalate, we built features on top of those fundamental protections to help people find information from local health authorities. We initially launched an SOS alert with the World Health Organization to make resources about COVID-19 easily discoverable. This has evolved into an expanded Search experience, providing easy access to more authoritative information, alongside new data and visualizations. 


We’re surfacing content that’s accessible to a whole range of communities, and there’s constant vigilance to remove misinformation on platforms like YouTube—this includes videos or other information that could be harmful to people.

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COVID-19 information on Search. 

What does it mean to be Google’s Chief Health Officer?
My role is to bring a holistic view of emotional, physical and social health and well-being to Google’s products and services, particularly under Google Health. During this pandemic, my team has also thought about how Google can assist public health efforts. This has meant anything from the Community Mobility Reports, a tool to help measure the impact of social distancing, to building playlists in partnership with YouTube geared towards clinicians, and showing testing sites for COVID-19 all over the world.


In the general public, what behaviors or mentalities have arisen that should continue in the future?
First, there are fundamental ways to reduce the transmission of communicable diseases like the flu or, in some communities, measles or tuberculosis. If you’re able to, it’s important to stay home if you’re sick, wash your hands, cough into your elbow—I call these the “Grandma rules.” Second, there are a lot of components to health: social health, emotional well-being, financial stability. Health is driven by more than just medical care, and this is a moment for us to remember that a holistic approach matters. 


What should business owners consider for when restrictions begin to lift?
They need to prepare for a world in which employees can work remotely as much as possible. Policies will still recommend social distancing, but we also need to create an environment where people who are sick feel comfortable staying home. That’s not realistic for every small business, so paying attention to the basic hygiene stuff—Do the Five—is also important. 


After Katrina, there was this time when the world was paying attention and trying to help, but the emotional and social impact on our community lasted for months. There will be some of that after this pandemic, because you can’t just flip a switch and have people go back to work. That’s the important thing—being patient as people put themselves back into a normal routine. 

Health is driven by more than just medical care, and this is a moment for us to remember that a holistic approach matters.

Taking off your Chief Health Officer hat, how do you reassure friends and family when they’re worried about this situation?
Medically, we need to be patient and let the scientists do their thing. It’s probably going to take until summer or early fall in the northern hemisphere to get clarity on what therapeutics work. The end game is to develop a vaccine so we can make sure everybody is protected. This is going to be a long journey with many months ahead, so we need to pace ourselves. 

Statistically, more people will have anxiety and depression from COVID-19 than will actually get COVID-19. To share tips on mental well-being, we recently launched the “Be Kind To Your Mind” PSA on Google Search.

Lastly, I remind those who are privileged to have a safe space to stay home when other people can’t. I think about my previous work with low income patients, and how this crisis impacts them as well as communities of color, non-native English speakers, and individuals with disabilities. Staying home is not safe, comfortable and financially feasible for everybody. We should all be doing what we can for our neighbors and our friends and the people who aren’t always seen.

Meet the Googlers working to ensure tech is for everyone

During their early studies and careers, Tiffany Deng, Tulsee Doshi and Timnit Gebru found themselves asking the same questions: Why is it that some products and services work better for some than others, and why isn’t everyone represented around the table when a decision is being made? Their collective passion to create a digital world that works for everyone is what brought the three women to Google, where they lead efforts to make machine learning systems fair and inclusive. 

I sat down with Tiffany, Tulsee and Timnit to discuss why working on machine learning fairness is so important, and how they came to work in this field.  

How would you explain your job to someone who isn't in tech?

Tiffany: I’d say my job is to make sure we’re not reinforcing any of the entrenched and embedded biases humans might have into products people use, and that every time you pick up a product—a Google product—you as an individual can have a good experience when using it. 

Timnit: I help machines understand imagery and text. Just like a human, if a machine tries to learn a pattern or understand something, and it is trained on input that’s been provided for it to do just that, the input, or data in this case, has societal bias. This could lead to a biased outcome or prediction made by the machine. And my work is to figure out different ways of mitigating this bias. 

Tulsee: My work includes making sure everyone has positive experiences with our products, and that people don’t feel excluded or stereotyped, especially based on their identities. The products should work for you as an individual, and provide the best experience possible. 

What made you want to work in this field?

Tulsee:When I started college, I was unsure of what I wanted to study. I came in with an interest in math, and quickly found myself taking a variety of classes in computer science, among other topics. But no matter which interesting courses I took, I often felt a disconnect between what I was studying and the people the work would help. I kept coming back to wanting to focus on people, and after taking classes like child psychology and philosophy of AI, I decided I wanted to take on a role where I could combine my skill sets with a people-centered approach. I think everyone has an experience of services and technology not working for them, and solving for that is a passion behind much of what I do. 

Tiffany:After graduating from West Point I joined the army as an intelligence officer before becoming a consultant and working for the State Department and the Department of Defense. I then joined Facebook as a privacy manager for a period of time, and that’s when I started working on more ML fairness-related matters. When people ask me how I ended up where I am, I’d say that there’s never a straight path to finding your passion, and all the experiences that I’ve had outside of tech are ones I bring into the work I’m doing today. 

An important “aha moment” for me was about a year and a half ago, when my son had a rash all over his body and we went to the doctor to get help. They told us they weren’t able to diagnose him because his skin wasn’t red, and of course, his skin won’t turn red as he has deep brown skin. Someone telling me they can’t diagnose my son because of his skin—that’s troubling as a parent. I wanted to understand the root cause of the issue—why is this not working for me and my family, the way it does for others? Fast forwarding, when thinking about how AI will someday be ubiquitous and an important component in assisting human decision-making, I wanted to get involved and help ensure that we’re building technology that works equally as well for everyone. 

Timnit: I grew up with a father and two sisters working in electrical engineering, so I followed their path and decided to also pursue studies in the field. After spending some time at Apple working as a circuit designer and starting my own company, I went back to studying image processing and completed a Ph.D. in computer vision. Towards the end of my Ph.D., I read a ProPublica article discussing racial bias in predicting crime recidivism rates. At the same time, I started thinking more about how there were very few, if any, Black people in grad school and that whenever I went to conferences, Black people weren’t represented in the decisions driving this field of work. That’s how I came to found a nonprofit organization called Black in AI, along with Rediet Abebe, to increase the visibility of Black people working in the field. After graduating with my Ph.D. I did a postdoc at Microsoft research and soon after that, I took a role at Google as the co-lead of the ethical AI research team which was founded by Meg Mitchell

What are some of the main challenges in this work, and why is it so important? 

Tulsee:The challenge question is interesting, and a hard one. First of all, there is the theoretical and sociological question on the notion of fairness—how does one define what is fair? Addressing fairness concerns requires multiple perspectives, and product development approaches ranging from technical to design. Because of this, even for use cases where we have a lot of experience, there are still many challenges for product teams to understand the different approaches for measuring and tackling fairness concerns. This is one of the reasons why I believe tooling and resources are so critical, and why we’re investing in them for both internal and external purposes.

Another important aspect is company culture and how companies define their values and motivate their employees. We are starting to see a growing, industry-wide shift in terms of what success looks like. If organizations and product creators get rewarded for thinking about a broader set of people when developing products, the more companies start fostering a diverse workforce, consult external experts and think about whose voices are being represented at the table. We need to remember we’re talking about real people's experiences, and while working on these issues can sometimes be emotionally difficult, it’s so important to get right. 

Timnit:A general challenge is that people who are the most negatively affected are often the ones whose voices are not heard. Representation is an important issue, and while there’s a lot of opportunities with ML technology in society, it’s important to have a diverse set of people and perspectives involved when working on the development so you don’t end up enhancing a gap between different groups.

This is not an issue that is specific to ML. As an example, let’s think of DNA sequencing. The African continent has the most diverse DNA in the world, but I read that it consists of less than 1 percent of the DNA studied in DNA sequencing, so there are examples of researchers who have come to the wrong conclusions based on data that was not representative. Now imagine someone is looking to develop the next generation of drugs, and the result could be that they don’t work for certain groups because their DNA hasn’t been rightly represented. 

Do you think ML has the potential to help complement human decision making, and drive the world to become more fair?

Timnit:It’s important to recognize the complexity of the human mind, and that humans should not be replaced when it comes to decision making. I don’t think ML can make the world more fair: Only humans can do that. And humans choose how to use this technology. In terms of opportunities, there are many ways in which we have already used ML systems to uncover societal bias, and this is something I work on as well. For example, studies by Jennifer Eberhardt and her collaborators at Stanford University including Vinodkumar Prabhakaran, who has since joined our team, used natural language processing to analyze body camera recordings of police stops in Oakland. They found a pattern of police speaking less respectfully to Black people than white people. A lot of times when you show these issues backed up by data and scientific analysis, it can help make a case. At the same time, the history of scientific racism also shows that data can be used to propagate the most harmful societal biases of the day. Blindly trusting data driven studies or decisions can be dangerous. It’s important to understand the context under which these studies are conducted and to work with affected communities and other domain experts to formulate the questions that need to be addressed.

Tiffany:I think ML will be incredibly important to help with things like climate change, sustainability and helping save endangered animals. Timinit’s work on using AI to help identify diseased cassava plants is an incredible use of AI, especially in the developing world. The range of problems AI can aid humans with is endless—we just have to ensure we continue to build technological solutions with ethics and inclusion at the forefront of our conversations.


Two Googlers on resetting expectations for life at home

Like many people, Googlers Alan Mclean and Jennifer Daniel are navigating their new at-home lives, finding ways to work while also parenting their two young children. The couple are working from their home in the Bay Area, where they’re taking shifts parenting and creating a remote office from...wherever they can find some room. 

I recently had the chance to “sit down” (via Google Meet) with them and talk about our relationships with technology during stressful times, how they’re personally handling all the changes and also, why playing "Animal Crossing" is a totally acceptable coping mechanism.


Alan, you’re a Product Designer on the Digital Wellbeing team, and Jennifer, you’re the Creative Director for emoji. But how would you describe your job to someone who doesn’t work in tech?

Alan: There’s an official answer, which is “I help people balance their relationship with technology,” but…

Jennifer:🚨Ugh, corp speak!! 🚨What did you tell our neighbor?

Alan: I told him I’m trying to help people get more rest and have a healthier life. 

Jennifer: Yes! Hmm, for me I guess I usually say I make little smiley faces. :-)

What do your days right now look like? 

Alan: Typically the day before, we both check-in on our calendars and look to see where we might need coverage from the other. If we both have meetings, we’ll throw a tablet in our kids’ faces with a mix of educational (and not so educational) games. Lately our son has really taken to playing chess so he’ll practice digitally and we play together on a physical board. 

Jennifer: Our daughter enjoys the books that read out loud with her, and Toca Kitchen. They both love ”making food” that makes the characters get sick.

In terms of day to day, we divide and conquer by keeping it fluid. Sometimes I cover the morning routine which has settled into a relatively stable pattern now: breakfast, walk the dog with the kids, writing, reading and drawing time, punctuated with video meetings.

The afternoon, depending on our work schedule, includes science experiments (tin foil boats or paper airplane contests), some outside time, yoga (Cosmic Kids Yoga is great!), TV (Science Max is a hit), more tablet time and then dinner. 

Alan: I usually make up some work time in the evening once the kids go down.

What is your home office setup like? 

Alan:We live in a small home—950 square feet, two bedrooms—with twin 5-year-olds and an eight-month-old Husky puppy, so there isn’t much of an office. In general, we move around the house and try to be out of earshot. Sometimes I work in the kitchen, other times on our front steps, once from the kids’ bunk beds.

Are you able to create some work-home boundaries? 

Alan: Trying to avoid working where you sleep is a big one. Don’t do what we’re doing right now...which is working from bed. 

Jennifer:Sometimes that isn’t really possible. The bedrooms and bathroom are the only rooms with doors! For me, it’s less about creating a physical boundary and more about a mental one. I don’t work early in the morning or in the evening anymore. That’s MY TIME.

Alan: I think the challenge right now is that it’s hard to reinforce boundaries when you’re in the same place all the time. In the past we used context clues like walking to the bus or the BART or whatever, or there were subtle hints when a meeting was about to end. But you don’t really have that anymore. So trying to avoid working where you sleep…

Jennifer: But, I work from the bedroom, and I sleep in the bedroom. That works for me 🤔.

Working from bed works for you?

Jennifer: I’ve spent most of my life in small apartments, I guess I just got used to it? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Alan:I also think maybe the norms of what “balanced” means has changed. 

Jennifer:Yeah, just be forgiving of yourself. It took awhile but I really had to recalibrate and give myself permission to not live up to my previous expectations as an employee, as a mother and as a partner. I also have to make it clear to others to not expect the same out of me. As much as I try to project that I am fine, I am not fine.

I’ve personally seen my screen time and news consumption skyrocket; have you?

Alan:I’m definitely more of the news addict; I’m also lying in bed looking at an endless stream of things to worry about. I think a bit of an insight for me is that there’s a couple reasons why you might do that, and part of it is that you might want to feel some light version of control over what’s happening. And of course the net effect of that is that you might feel incredibly anxious. That’s my personal experience with screens lately. What about you, Jen, what about your doom-scrolling?

Jennifer:I love that you call it doom-scrolling, did you just make that up?

Alan:No, no, definitely not. 

Jennifer: Not to make this just about parenting, because this is also very much about work, but I am having flashbacks to new parenthood. When I became a parent, I got extremely efficient at my job. I don’t have time to doom-scroll! That would be a luxury! I have things to do, I got people to take care of. And, just as important now as it was then, I need to find time where no one needs me 😉. These days I’m playing "Animal Crossing." And I love it; it is screen time, unquestionably, but it’s a very specific kind of screen time as it is clearly not work-related. Now that Alan mentions it, maybe playing video games is also an expression of seeking control and stability in an unknown time? But, instead of doom-scrolling I plant cute flowers and little animals come visit me 🌼🌻🌸🐰🐻🐿🐙.

What else are you adding to your routine? Anything else to help find some balance? 

Alan:For me, I know that the end of my day and the end of my use of my phone is occurring when I put a podcast on at night. Or ambient music. For me, that’s a really strong signal and I try to do it every night. For some people, that might be putting your phone in a box or charging it. I like the audio cue because that way you’re experiencing some stimulus without interacting with the screen. But I got that from Jen; I used to be like, “Why are you putting a podcast on at night? It’s time to go to bed… and doom-scroll for two hours.” 

Jennifer: I just listen to podcasts so I don't have to listen to my own thoughts as I fall asleep. Otherwise I'd be up all night 🤣.

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How are you keeping your kids entertained?

Alan: We just got tablets—prior to that we hadn’t experienced the liberating power of having educational apps and games with our kids before 😉. 

Jennifer: When the tablets arrived, I felt like I was not being a great mom but the kids say I'm really good at technical support 😛. I need to remind myself that being a quote-unquote good mom is not related to screen time. I can’t disguise my stress from the kids, I’m doing my best. Now, go watch some "Octonauts."

Alan: I’ve been taking the kids to the beach on the bike. 

Jennifer:Bonus! No one else is in the house! I get to stay home and be alone! I definitely need some time for myself. 

Are there any surprise “silver linings” you’ve experienced?

Jennifer: I'm getting to really be with my kids in a way that wasn't possible before; I used to only see them in the morning and the evening. Age five is really cute.

Alan: The transition to two full-time jobs simultaneously has been incredibly difficult, although our colleagues have been really supportive. But we’re both struggling with the desire to be the best possible parents and employees we can be. That feeling was always there, but with the lack of boundaries, it’s exacerbated. One thing that’s especially nice these days is seeing colleagues’ kids jump on video conference calls. It’s a nice reminder of what everyone is dealing with.

Right now, we all have to be compassionate with ourselves, and also with our colleagues and friends. Coming late to meetings, missing emails, things like that, are OK right now. We sort of just need to be empathetic and flexible for a little while.