Tag Archives: Passion Projects

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.” 

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.