How Google alums are helping families with distance learning


Jonathan Rochelle has been fielding questions from parents wondering how to help educate their kids from home, helping them with Google’s education products and talking with Google staff about how to make their products better for remote learning.

But he doesn’t work at Google. He left his job running Google’s education efforts eight months ago to become chief product officer at task automation company Zapier.

Since Covid-19 hit, he’s spent the majority of time observing his own kids’ learning practices and helping others trying to navigate the change.

“Parents and teachers were and still are struggling to teach this new world,” Rochelle told CNBC in a phone interview. “They weren’t given any time. They were just told, ‘Tomorrow, you will not be teaching the way you’ve been teaching for the last 10 years.'”

As soon as the shelter-in-place mandates came down, Rochelle connected with Christopher Fong, another former employee. The two first met after Google bought Rochelle’s company 2Web Technologies, which was the technology behind Google Sheets. Today, Fong runs the Google alumni group known as the “Xoogler Network.”

In March, Fong flew to Sydney where his family lives and began running live online math classes for students between the ages of 5 and 12. He even updated his LinkedIn title to “parent support specialist” with the description, “Supporting parents who are now homeschooling their kids due to the coronavirus.” 

He then invited Rochelle to give an impromptu virtual discussion about learning from home. “Chris was like, ‘hey can you talk to some folks who are sort of daunted in this new world?’ Rochelle recalled.

Rochelle and Fong are just two of many former Google employees who jumped in to offer home-learning resources for families who were suddenly — for the first time — learning from home as schools closed across the world during the coronavirus pandemic.

So why are so many Google employees focused on this space? Fong and Rochelle think it’s because education and curiosity are core values that helped many employees get hired at Google — one of the most prestigious (and best-paid) places to work in the world. Now, they feel a natural urge to pay it forward.

“Many know that access to work at companies like Google begin at the youngest levels and are passionate about using their background and abilities to help others get there.” Fong said.

“Also, many are now having kids so it’s also a personal interest area and they can understand the customer (parents and kids).”