Tag Archives: Passion Projects

A Googler’s fight against the “model minority” myth

Editor's note: Charlene Wang, an associate product manager for Google Play Ads, recently published a book on combating Asian American stereotypes. We sat down with Charlene to talk about her book.

Three years ago, Charlene Wang drafted a letter to her brother Warren in Taipei. He was preparing to move to the United States for college, and she wanted to give him advice. Specifically, she wanted him to know what to expect about the stereotypes that Asian people face in America, and her suggestions for how to navigate those harmful expectations while staying true to himself. “I wanted to share all the things I wish someone had told me when I first came here,” she says.  


Eventually, her letter became a book: “Model Breakers: Breaking Through Stereotypes and Embracing Your Authenticity,” which was published in April of this year. 


The title is a reference to the pervasive and harmful myth of the “model minority” — the stereotype that Asian American people are naturally smart, studious, successful and docile. While that might sound positive on its surface, the myth is damaging in numerous ways. It pigeonholes Asian people into the stereotype of being hardworking, but lacking the people skills necessary to be good leaders. It groups all Asian people — people from diverse backgrounds and cultures from more than 50 countries — into a monolithic, homogenous group under the assumption that all Asian people have the same advantages or face the same challenges. And the model minority myth also acts as a racial wedge, perpetuating inequality by pitting people of color against one another. “That's why we used ‘Model breaker,’ since it's basically breaking up that model minority myth and turning it into something positive,” Charlene says.


In the book, Charlene explores the challenges she encountered as an Asian immigrant facing racist stereotypes upon moving to the U.S., as well as how she healed from these experiences and found her voice in spite of it all. 


One example: After she founded a company in 2016, she had an opportunity to pitch to an investor. But when it was her turn to pitch, he shut her down before she finished. “I introduced myself and I didn't even get to say what I was working on,” she recalls. He told her to take an ESL course and learn to speak English. “He didn't even let me finish. And then I didn't say anything because I didn't know I could. I didn’t know how.”


Over time she says she learned how to speak up for herself when she faced similar situations. A year later, she was invited to attend a conference to help entrepreneurs craft their pitches. She noticed that the person who had invited her seemed to doubt her qualifications. “I knew I needed to do something different,” she recalls. “I knew that if I didn't speak up this time I would be repeating the story, so I wanted to stop the pattern.” She called him out, explained why he was wrong to doubt her — and then she became the most popular speaker at the conference. She says he sent her a long apology email after, acknowledging his error. “He apologized for how he made me feel, and he acknowledged that he has his biases, and he underestimated how much age, or sex, or even other biases hurt you,” she says. The experience was eye-opening for her. “I think that moment really changed the way I think about my voice and my story,” Charlene says. It further motivated her to help others understand the power of their voice and story as well.


Charlene Wang's author photo — she's standing with her arms crossed wearing a white sleeveless shirt.

“The book is the toolkit for how to know yourself, be yourself, tell your own story and take some risks,” she says. The intended audience is young people — high school students, or people just entering the workforce. And her goal is to reach the Asian American community, as well as to raise awareness about challenges that the Asian American community faces.


She originally focused the book on her own personal perspective, but throughout the writing process it evolved to include the voices of other people who have gone through similar things. For research purposes she interviewed nearly 100 people, including Asian immigrants,  refugees and Asian Americans representing a variety of ethnicities, as well as non-Asian allies. Interviewing other people helped her to identify common patterns, particularly in how some people may experience and respond to trauma. For instance, roughly 15% of people in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community struggle with mental health, and her interviews reflected that. So she devoted some chapters to family dynamics and caring for your mental health. Another theme she discovered had to do with risk: Some people she spoke with were afraid to take risks, she says. So she devoted some of the book to the benefits of risk-taking.


Ultimately, her research helped her see the necessity of reframing and reclaiming the narrative of what it means to be Asian in America as a way to dispel the model minority trope while valuing your own authentic self.  “The first step is to really know what makes you you, what makes you excited, what values you have — from you, not your family or your parents, but what you love to do,” she says. “And then once you’ve found that, how can you see that in your family, in your work, in your passion. And that requires a lot of experimentation. Everyone is different.” 


The book is coming out amid the tragic backdrop of a horrifying increase in anti-Asian violence. But racism and anti-Asian sentiment isn’t new. “People didn’t know these things happened before,” Charlene says. She says she wants to encourage Asian Americans to feel brave enough to continue being themselves, and sharing their stories, in spite of the risks: “How can we help everyone feel secure?” she asks. “How can we help everyone see that they’re already good, that they have value? How do you find things about yourself that are so loveable that you just want to share them with other people?”


Charlene believes that recognizing, accepting and embracing your core values is a key first step to living authentically, in spite of stereotypes or pressure to act or behave a certain way. And she also thinks that celebrating your values and your culture can be deeply inspirational for others in your community. “The stereotype is the backstory,” she says. “You have to tell a better story that inspires you to wake up every day, so you can speak up for yourself. It’s hard and it takes a lot of courage, but know that you're also speaking out for thousands of people.”

No mountain? No problem: This Googler DIYed a rock wall

As a communications manager, Milan-based Googler Andrea Cristallini knows the importance of connecting with others through shared experiences. So when his partner Silvia suggested they start a sport together, he was excited to bond over something new. In December 2019, they went rock climbing together at a local gym for the first time and then climbed a real mountain soon after. 

“I fell in love with it,” Andrea says. “The movements are similar to a dance. I enjoy the concentration it requires, how it feels when you touch the stone, and the idea of ascending to see what’s up there — and take in the landscape around you.”

Then, two months later, Italy went into lockdown. “We had this new passion and no chance to practice it,” Andrea says. 

Thrilled with their new hobby, they decided to build their own climbing wall at home. “If you can’t go to the mountain, bring the mountain to you,” Andrea says. “I thought why not? It may not work, but we have several weekends ahead and nowhere to go.” 

Like so many others who found ways to pass the extra time at home, Andrea and Silvia turned to Search and YouTube. They read blog posts and watched videos on how to build a DIY training wall. 

They started small, with just one oriented panel leaning against a wall in their apartment and a few climbing holds scattered across it. But as time passed and the end of the pandemic was nowhere in sight, they added a second panel to the first, reinforcing them with support beams. They drilled in more climbing holds in different shapes and sizes. Then they connected the panels with a winch system that allows you to rotate the whole structure in order to increase difficulty and overhang. 

“The biggest challenge was designing it from scratch without experience,” Andrea says. “But I had the passion and the time.” 

Since then, Andrea and Silvia have used the climbing wall nearly every day. “Climbing helps us detach from screens; it’s a great mental break,” Andrea says. “I’m really motivated to get better at climbing, and it also makes me excited about spending more time outside soon.” 

Even after the pandemic is over, Andrea has no plans to take down the wall. "It's part of the house now, and it's very effective for training," he says. "On the contrary, I'll start inviting friends at home to practice!" 

For Rich Jones, starting a finance podcast just made cents

In this post: Rich Jones, who works in people operations at Google, is the host of a personal finance podcast called "Paychecks & Balances." He hopes his show can help people learn from his mistakes — and now he's helping others start podcasts, too.


Several years ago, Rich Jones was on the hunt for personal finance podcasts. But none were right for him. “It felt like every podcast that I listened to either made me feel dumb, or made me feel like I was being lectured by an old white guy in a suit,” he says. “Or it just was really boring.” So he decided to create his own. 


These days, his podcast, “Paychecks & Balances,” has been downloaded more than two million times and recently won an award from the Plutus Foundation, which highlights excellence in financial media. He often records episodes from his Mountain View home in the early-morning hours, then logs on for his job working in People Operations at Google. 


For years, Rich has turned to the internet to express himself. But even though his name is, well, Rich, he didn’t first think of money as a topic to talk about. In fact, he had first blogged about relationships for several years, and then co-hosted a podcast called “2 Guys, 1 Show,” that was about more general topics, including money. 


Rich realized that if he felt lectured by finance podcasters, other people like him — and possibly younger people learning about money for the first time — likely felt the same way. So he and his co-host decided to focus on finances and rename the podcast “Paychecks & Balances.”  They wanted to reach out to younger versions of themselves — and Rich also wanted to represent people like him as well as reach them. “Even now, you won’t find a whole lot of Black men in the personal finance space in particular,” he says. “I think it’s important to be out there as a Black male and show a perspective that you might not be getting elsewhere.” 

For the current season of the show, Rich is hosting the show solo, and he’s continuing to share his own financial progress while also teaching others. When he started the show, he was grappling with credit-card debt after treating his cards like “free money.” Because of his experience, he knows to talk about money in a way that’s relatable and simple, for people just starting to manage their finances. “I don’t call myself an expert,” he says. “Podcasting is a medium for me to talk about my experience. And not just my successes, but the mistakes I’ve made along the way as well.”

It felt like every podcast that I listened to either made me feel dumb, or made me feel like I was being lectured by an old white guy in a suit.

Rich is constantly surprised that he keeps getting the same questions over and over — like how to balance a budget, or why not to sign up for a credit card in exchange for a free T-shirt. And over the past year, he’s seen friends fall prey to get-rich-quick scams and even try to sign him up. Rich says this is a symptom of a lack of financial education. “The interesting problem to me is: How do we close that gap where this information feels accessible to everyone, and people are accessing that information a lot sooner?” he says. 


With the growth of his podcast, Rich says people have come to him asking for advice on starting their own podcasts. So this month he launched a YouTube page, The Show Starter, which breaks down advice for people who might not have a technical audio background. “It’ll be a combination of tutorials, reviews and some motivational content, but not the cheesy, corny kind,” he says. “It’s very similar to the approach I take with personal finance topics, where I try to simplify things as much as possible and take out the jargon.” He hopes to one day expand his work into a multimedia company, with multiple brands under the “Paychecks & Balances” umbrella. 

Rich says both his podcast and his YouTube channel have the same goal: helping others. “While the podcast is about money, for me this has never been about the money,” Rich says. “I love seeing people achieve freedom in their lives, whatever that means for them. I think continuing to focus on that is what has kept people along for the ride.”

Three years training, 13 hours swimming, one major feat

Olivia Lavin was overwhelmed with emotion as she reached the shore of Cap Blanc-Nez beach in France, greeted by a crowd of people clapping and cheering. She had just swam the English Channel, the body of water between the U.K. and France. It took her 13 and a half hours to swim 45 kilometers, 10 hours of which were done in darkness. She had trained for this moment for two years.


Olivia had always loved swimming as a child, and swam regularly until she was about 16. But when she joined Google Dublin in 2017, she reignited her passion for the sport. “I was so amazed that there was a swimming pool in the office,” she says. “I wanted to make full use of it.” Olivia signed up for coaching sessions and started competing. She challenged herself to swim longer and longer distances, seeing how far she could push her limits. 


A year in, she set her sights on crossing the English Channel, an ultimate long-distance swimming challenge. 


To start, Olivia found a boat captain certified to take swimmers across the channel and joined the two-year-long waitlist. Then, she completed a six-hour qualifying swim, with water temperature colder than 15°C (59°F). For the two years leading up to the event, she swam at least five days a week to build up speed and endurance, sometimes swimming for eight hours straight. A year into her training, she moved to Singapore, where the warm weather made it tough to replicate the chilly conditions of the English Channel; she took cold showers and ice baths to train her body to deal with the low temperatures. 

A woman in a bathing suit and swim cap celebrating on a rocky beach.

Olivia arriving on the beach in France.

If that wasn’t tough enough, the COVID-19 pandemic made it even more challenging to train. She wasn’t able to swim for three months. Others who couldn’t train because of similar COVID restrictions only succeeded at the big swim about a third of the time. But if she delayed her swim, she’d have to wait until 2022 to take the plunge, and her intense training could have gone to waste. “I couldn’t afford to put another two years of my life on hold,” she says. So she pushed forward, and got approval from the Channel Swimming Association to swim across the Channel. 


After years of work, Olivia became one of 680 women to accomplish the swim. “I felt a sense of euphoria,” she says. “I hope that sharing my story inspires others to not be afraid to pursue the most ambitious goals they can dream of!”

A custom-built robot lightens up the mood

As a technical solutions consultant at Google, Christian Gijtenbeek enjoys helping others with creative solutions to complex problems. While working from home this year, the Amsterdam-based Googler noticed a dilemma of his own. “It’s more challenging to interact with colleagues and clients without the non-verbal cues many of us are used to,” he says. “How do you effectively read body language in 2D?” 

His answer was to add an extra dimension, in the form of a 3D figurine, with a lot of help from his teenage daughter, Janine. "We decided to build a '”mood collector'” shaped like a large Android figurine," Christian says.

Christian and Janine with their robot

Christian, his daughter, Janine, and Droid, the light-up figurine they built together.

The wooden robot is about four feet (120 centimeters) tall with 640 individually addressable LEDs covering its body. He uses a small microcontroller to  signal each light to display a unique color. To show “moods,” Christian set up a Firebase website that gives people the option to share how their day is going by using a simple slider from a scale of 1 to 10.

The answers are translated to values stored in a Firebase realtime database. Any change to this data store triggers a light change to the robot. “It will briefly light up displaying the mood of the person voting,” Christian says, “which allows me to see a representation of how someone is doing in real time.”

It has shown her she can make almost anything she dreams of.

For example, if you move the slider all the way to the right and select “10” because you’re having an amazing day, Droid will automatically light up green. Then the robot’s lights will fade to a color that represents the aggregate mood of everyone who voted so far that day. And because the droid’s LEDs are equidistant, Christian can easily draw other patterns like logos, letters or even animations. 

The project serves as a conversation starter with colleagues, enables them to check in with themselves about how they’re feeling and even inspires them to use technology in a creative way to solve real problems. But the best part of building the bot was bonding with his daughter and teaching her important lessons. 

“I hoped she’d have fun, pick up a thing or two about technology and math and learn that it's OK to not get it right straight away,” Christian says. “For example, cutting 30 pieces of plywood to the wrong size because of a measuring mistake is not a failure, it’s a lesson for next time.”

Together they spent about three months working on this project, and Janine learned a lot about tech in the process. “It has shown her that she can make almost anything she dreams of. Tech is such a core part of our society, but it’s often hidden behind layers of abstraction,” Christian says. “Giving a basic understanding of the building blocks of this technology, and demystifying the ‘how’ can really help youngsters understand the possibilities and open up their horizons.” 


Interested in getting your kids involved in tech? Christian has some sage advice: “If your child shows some interest, just start. I had no idea how to use some of the tools, but there’s tons of information available and we figured it out together.”

A custom-built robot lightens up the mood

As a technical solutions consultant at Google, Christian Gijtenbeek enjoys helping others with creative solutions to complex problems. While working from home this year, the Amsterdam-based Googler noticed a dilemma of his own. “It’s more challenging to interact with colleagues and clients without the non-verbal cues many of us are used to,” he says. “How do you effectively read body language in 2D?” 

His answer was to add an extra dimension, in the form of a 3D figurine, with a lot of help from his teenage daughter, Janine. "We decided to build a '”mood collector'” shaped like a large Android figurine," Christian says.

Christian and Janine with their robot

Christian, his daughter, Janine, and Droid, the light-up figurine they built together.

The wooden robot is about four feet (120 centimeters) tall with 640 individually addressable LEDs covering its body. He uses a small microcontroller to  signal each light to display a unique color. To show “moods,” Christian set up a Firebase website that gives people the option to share how their day is going by using a simple slider from a scale of 1 to 10.

The answers are translated to values stored in a Firebase realtime database. Any change to this data store triggers a light change to the robot. “It will briefly light up displaying the mood of the person voting,” Christian says, “which allows me to see a representation of how someone is doing in real time.”

It has shown her she can make almost anything she dreams of.

For example, if you move the slider all the way to the right and select “10” because you’re having an amazing day, Droid will automatically light up green. Then the robot’s lights will fade to a color that represents the aggregate mood of everyone who voted so far that day. And because the droid’s LEDs are equidistant, Christian can easily draw other patterns like logos, letters or even animations. 

The project serves as a conversation starter with colleagues, enables them to check in with themselves about how they’re feeling and even inspires them to use technology in a creative way to solve real problems. But the best part of building the bot was bonding with his daughter and teaching her important lessons. 

“I hoped she’d have fun, pick up a thing or two about technology and math and learn that it's OK to not get it right straight away,” Christian says. “For example, cutting 30 pieces of plywood to the wrong size because of a measuring mistake is not a failure, it’s a lesson for next time.”

Together they spent about three months working on this project, and Janine learned a lot about tech in the process. “It has shown her that she can make almost anything she dreams of. Tech is such a core part of our society, but it’s often hidden behind layers of abstraction,” Christian says. “Giving a basic understanding of the building blocks of this technology, and demystifying the ‘how’ can really help youngsters understand the possibilities and open up their horizons.” 


Interested in getting your kids involved in tech? Christian has some sage advice: “If your child shows some interest, just start. I had no idea how to use some of the tools, but there’s tons of information available and we figured it out together.”

Music from the heart, with an AI assist

The next time you hear a popular song on the radio, listen to the beat behind the lyrics. Usually, a high-powered production team came up with it—but in the future, that beat could be created with help from artificial intelligence. That’s what Googler MJ Jacob predicts, as he combines his job as an engineer with his love for writing and performing rap music. 

Usually based in Google’s offices in New York City, MJ is working from his Manhattan apartment these days as a customer engineer for Google Cloud, helping companies figure out how to use machine learning and AI to accomplish their business goals. But in his free time, he’s writing lyrics, producing hip-hop tracks and creating YouTube videos detailing how he does it all. 

MJ has balanced an interest in technology with a love for hip-hop since he was a 13-year-old living in Virginia. His family was struggling financially, and he found rappers’ rags-to-riches lyrics to be inspirational. “Almost every rapper I listened to was broke and then they made it,” he recalls. “These rappers had very hard childhoods, whether it was because of money, parental issues or anger from insecurities, and all of that is what I felt in that moment.”

His favorite rappers felt like personal mentors, and he decided to imitate them and try rapping himself. He recorded songs using the microphone on his MP3 player; he says they were a crucial way for him to vent. “From when I was 13 until today, being able to write about my life and how I’m feeling, it’s the most therapeutic thing for me,” he says. 

Around the same time he discovered hip-hop, MJ became fascinated by technology. His family couldn’t afford a computer, but someone at his local church built a computer for them, complete with a see-through CPU tower. MJ first used it just to edit music, but always loved looking at the computer parts light up. One day, he spent six hours taking the tower apart and putting the pieces back together. “It was very overwhelming but exciting the entire time,” he says, “and I think that’s a similar emotion I feel when I make music.”

Most recently, he posted a video showcasing how he used AI to create a hip-hop beat. He collected instrumental tracks that he and his producer friends had created over the years, and uploaded the files to Google Cloud. Then he used Magenta, Google’s open-source tool that uses machine learning to help create music and art. (Musicians like YACHT have used Magenta to create entire albums.) Based on how he identified “hip-hop” in his dataset, the machine learning model created entirely new melodies and drum beats. MJ then used those new sounds to craft his track, and wrote and performed lyrics to go along with it.

Even though it was made with the help of machine learning, the finished product still sounded like his music. And that’s the whole point: MJ wants to show that AI doesn’t take away the human side of his art—it adds to it. “AI never replaced anything,” he explains. “It only assisted.”

Authenticity is important to MJ (whose musical alias is MJx Music), because he sees music as an important emotional outlet. His most popular song, “Time Will Heal,” which has more than a million streams, is inspired by his sister, a survivor of sexual abuse. The lyrics are written from her perspective. “She taught me so much about what it means to be a strong human, to go through hell and back and still be able to make it,” MJ says. “We decided it would be a cool opportunity to not only share her story, but also help anyone who’s ever been abused or felt they’ve been taken advantage of.”

Next, MJ is hoping to take his experiments with music and machine learning to a new level. In fact, he’s so inspired by the combination that he’s looking to create a three or four-track EP co-produced by AI. 


“Both music and tech are so fulfilling for me that they have the ability to intertwine so well,” he says. “Now I’m pushing myself even more musically, and I’m pushing myself even more technically. It’s cool to be able to contribute to a new concept in the world.”

Meet the Googlers breaking down language barriers for migrants

Googler Ariel Koren was at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018 when more than 7,000 people from Central America were arriving in the area. Ariel, who speaks nine languages, was there serving as an interpreter for asylum seekers fighting their cases.  

Ariel, who leads Marketing for Google for Education in Latin America, knew language skills would continue to be an essential resource for migrants and refugees. She decided to team up with fellow Googler Fernanda Montes de Oca, who is also multilingual and speaks four languages. “We knew that our language skills are only valuable to the extent that we are using them actively to mobilize for others, ” says Fernanda. The two began working to create a network of volunteer translators, which they eventually called Respond Crisis Translation

In addition to her job leading Google for Education Ecosystems in Google Mexico, Fernanda is responsible for recruiting and training Respond’s volunteer translators. Originally, the group saw an average of five new volunteers sign up each week; now, they sometimes receive more than 20 applications a day. Fernanda thinks the increased time at home may be driving the numbers. “Many of them are looking to do something that can have a social impact while they're staying at home,” she says. Today, Respond consists of about 1,400 volunteers and offers services in 53 languages.

Fernanda says she looks for people who are passionate about the cause, have experience in legal translations and have a commitment to building out a strong  emotional support network. “Volunteers have to fight against family separation and support folks who have experienced disparate types of violence and abuse,” she says. “It’s also important to have a support network and be able to take care of yourself.” Volunteers have access to a therapist should they need it.

In January 2020, the group officially became an NGO and to date, Respond Crisis Translation has worked on about 1,600 cases, some of which have helped asylum seekers to win their cases. Respond Crisis Translation largely works on cases at the Mexico-U.S. border, but is also increasingly lending their efforts in Southern Mexico and Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic also prompted the group to explore more ways to help. Volunteers have created translated medical resources, supported domestic violence hotlines and have translated educational materials for migrant parents who are now helping their children with distance learning.  

One challenge for the team is meeting increasing demand. “We weren’t just concerned about growing, but ensuring the quality of our work as we grew,” says Ariel. “Small language details like a typo or misspelled word are frequently used to disqualify an entire asylum case. The quality of our translation work is very important because it can impact whether a case is won or lost, which can literally mean the difference between life and death or a deportation. Every time there’s a story about someone who won their case we feel a sense of relief. That’s what motivates us to keep going.” 

Ariel and Fernanda also hope Respond Crisis Translation can become an income source for indigenous language translators. Whenever they work with indigenous language speakers, Respond  asks the NGO they’re working with to provide compensation to the translator for their labor. 

Although Ariel and Fernanda didn’t expect their project to grow as quickly as it has, they’re thrilled to see the progress they’ve made. “Being a multilingual person is a very important part of my identity, so when I see that language is being used as a tool to systematically limit the fundamental right to freedom of mobility,” says Ariel. “I feel a responsibility to resist, and work alongside the language community to find solutions.” 

This Googler isn’t afraid to swim with the sharks

As a 12-year-old on a family snorkeling trip, Fabiana Fregonesi was surrounded by fish when the boat owner threw food into the water. “All the fish came at me and they were in such a frenzy that I was terrified. After that I was so afraid that I couldn’t swim without having someone holding my hand,” she says. 

Today, Fabiana is the Head of Digital Agency for Google Customer Solutions in the Sao Paulo office. During the weekends and holidays, though, she’s an underwater photographer—and a prestigious one at that: Fabiana has photographed marine life all over the world, in places like the Bahamas and the Galapagos.

While her underwater adventures had a rocky start, years later as an adult, a friend convinced her to take a scuba diving lesson for a trip. That’s when she fell in love with the ocean. Now, she scuba dives once a month and travels at least three times a year to swim among sharks and photograph them. “It’s the little things I discover underwater that make me connect with nature,” Fabiana says. She shares her photos with her massive social media following as well as with Divemag, where she’s a featured photographer. Some of her work has even been shared by National Geographic.

“I think that images have a lot of power. Everytime I post a photograph, I also try to give information about marine life,” she says. “I share how they need us to protect them.” Her favorite underwater creature to advocate for is the shark. “I was on a trip in Australia when I first dove with sharks,” she says. “I was very afraid at the beginning, but then I realized that we’re afraid of sharks because we don't know enough about them.” 

“It’s the most powerful experience somebody can have. It’s a relationship of respect, admiration and curiosity,” says Fabiana, who’s swam with two of the world’s three most aggressive sharks: the Tiger Shark and the Bull Shark. She hopes to add the third, the Great White, to her list someday, but only when she can do so without a cage so she can get better photos. “Once you swim with sharks, it seems like a whole new world just opens for you.”

Fabiana also spends her free time studying sharks and debunking popular myths about them. “If people gave themselves a chance to dive with these animals they would be surprised to see that they aren’t aggressive. They are very shy, even loving, and they’re actually afraid of humans.”

A few months ago, Fabiana and a group of scuba divers started contacting restaurants in Brazil that sold shark fin as food to explain how fins are acquired, which is a very cruel process. “We’ve started seeing some results. In Sao Paulo there’s still one or two who officially still sell it, and we’re trying to change that,” she says. “I believe I have the obligation to protect nature and the ocean. Someone has to speak on its behalf.” 

Fabiana hopes to publish a book featuring her photos that focuses on the protection of sharks and other marine life. She plans to visit places where their habitat has been destroyed, some that are recovering and others where shark finning is still happening to share the complete story of what’s going on at sea. At the moment, her plans to travel have stalled—though she sometimes uses the Augmented Reality feature on her Android to cast 3D sharks into her living room and recreate the bottom of the ocean in her home. 

And she also knows there is a silver lining to this delay. “This is a moment for nature to breathe again and have some space to recover. We’re not that conscious about how we can protect nature, so we should embrace this time to respect it while we stay home.”


Lead image by Carlos Grillo.


Googlers get creative while working from home

When the going gets tough, the tough bake sourdough bread. Or take up knitting. Or just really get into a new video game. In the months since the COVID-19 pandemic left many of us working from home and social distancing cut down on our calendars, we’ve had plenty of time to pick up a few new hobbies here and there. Others have spent time figuring out how to adapt their passions to the inside of their homes. And that’s the case for Googlers, too, who are still playing in orchestras and working on arts and crafts in quarantine. Here are a few inspiring projects Googlers are working on in their spare time, from home. 

Dancing on their own, together

Incognito Mode dance troupe

Last year, a group of 20 San Francisco-area Googlers got together to compete in a local dance competition. They called themselves Incognito Mode and won second place. Since then, they performed in showcases both inside and outside the office, but the pandemic put a stop to performing in person anytime soon. Instead, they recorded a dance video from their homes, dodging friends, roommates and pets in the process. Each of the 18 participants choreographed a portion of the routine, and they later edited the footage together. “We faced new challenges of dancing together virtually, but it also allowed us to connect in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise,” says Jason Scott, head of Google’s U.S. startup developer ecosystem and one of the group’s creative directors. “Many of our members now live around the country, but remote dance projects have let them continue dancing with us.”

A work-from-home virtual orchestra

In the summer of 2016, around 30 Googlers picked up their instruments and played in The Googler Orchestra’s very first concert. Ever since then, they’ve rehearsed weekly and grown in numbers, with their last in-person performance featuring 80 Googler musicians. After Googlers started working from home, one orchestra member posted a call to get people to play together virtually. That started the Googler Virtual Orchestra, which has increased the group’s membership; their third recording will feature more than 100 musicians across three countries. 

Members each individually record their parts and then edit the footage together into one track. “It’s a logistical challenge,” says Colton Provias, the group’s lead audio engineer and a software engineer based in Sunnyvale, California. “It takes about three months from first discussions of what piece to play through the released video.”

The group intends to continue their work-from-home performances, and potentially adding other instruments or even a choir. “It speaks to the many talents that Googlers have, not just in the workplace, but outside of it too,” says Derek Wu, the orchestra’s founder and a software engineer based in Palo Alto, California. “The orchestra, for myself and others, allows everyone to unite together and create music that as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Comic relief from the pandemic’s stresses

Gao Fang comic

Gao Fang, who works in information security from Google’s Singapore office, had never drawn a comic before she started working from home in March. “Before the pandemic, I could roam around and sketch landscapes,” she says. “Then the lockdown happened and there was only that much I could sketch in my apartment. My hands got itchy for things to draw, and since I would like to keep a diary of this historical event, it's a natural step to record my days with some drawings.” 


She ended up drawing more than 80 comics while staying at home, and it ended up being a way to cope with living in isolation. Gao Fang’s comics touch on topics like awkward video chat moments and how stressful it can be to keep up with global news. Many of her sketches feature a rabbit as a main character, which she says was a stand-in for herself. “When I woke up everyday to frustrating news around the world, this little bunny did an amazing job keeping me company and guarding my sanity,” she says.

Focusing on the small things—the really small things

Miniature sculptures

Adam Stoves, who works on the Real Estate and Workplace Services team in New York, has been working from his 600-square-foot apartment alongside his wife and their toddler. Back in May, on a whim, he bought a pack of Play-Doh to entertain his daughter, but it ended up entertaining the parents, too. He and his wife started crafting miniature sculptures, which they now share online. They’ve created miniature foods, animals and even a teensy face mask. “Our daughter will pitch in from time to time, but her true talent lies indisputably in being the cutest hand model ever,” Adam says. “We have a limited window where she remains attentive, so we do a little chant: Big flat hand! Big flat hand!, when it’s time to photograph. It helps sharpen her toddler focus.”