- Slow Yet Firm, Evolving From Ordinary to Extraordinary November 10, 2023
Jeong Kim Kyung-sook, Director of Google International Media Liason (German Language and Literature Major '86)
Google's 'Iron Lady'
Silicon Valley, often referred to as the heart of the ever-evolving IT industry, is a place that stands out for its sensitivity and rapid transformations. Among its establishments, Google is a dream workplace where exceptional talents from around the world gather to lead innovations. Alumna Jeong Kim Kyung-sook serves as Google's representative, responsible for global media communication and sharing the stories of technology and people. Initially building her career across leading global companies to eventually becoming a Silicon Valley Googler, Jeong Kim's career is indeed glamorous, a career anyone would love to have. However, behind her brilliant career, there has been perseverance with the spirit of "never giving up". Known as the 'Iron Lady' at Google, alumna Jeong Kim Kyung-sook, at the age of fifty, is doing extraordinary things in the League of Genius.
Triple-I Timidity- A Complex?
Though Jeong Kim is currently a Googler who lives a dynamic life while communicating with various people on a global stage, on the other hand, she possesses a surprisingly introverted personality to the extent that she was self-described as having 'Triple A-Type Shyness.' Even during her university days, she spent most of her time commuting between school, home, and the library, rather than participating in various activities.
"Before enrolling in graduate school in the United States, I was an introvert who had difficulty speaking in front of a crowd. Even during my days at Yonsei, I was quite reserved, and I didn't make many friends. To the extent that my husband used to ask, 'Will you be able to cope at work?' So indeed, I spent 28 years of my life as an introvert. After completing my studies at Yonsei, and following a brief career, I pursued further education abroad with my husband. However, when I encountered a language barrier in the United States, my timidity got worse. It seemed like it was becoming a habit to belittle and shrink myself. So, at the age of twenty-nine, I wondered if it would be possible for me to love myself, and it was the moment that gave me the commitment to change. I decided to spend the rest of my life being someone I could love."
Having 'Born Again,' Jeong Kim placed herself in a new environment to start more proactively. She chose an MBA at a school somewhat separated from her husband to break free from her familiar surroundings. By creating and practicing based on a checklist to become a new person, she endeavored to reinvent herself each day. Over time, these efforts led to increased self-confidence and a parting from her former self.
"I took the initiative to start conversations with others, volunteered for presentations in lectures and team projects, and maintained a daily workout routine. All I needed was ‘diligence’. To initiate conversations, I prepared a list of questions, and to participate actively during classes, I needed to study the materials through preparation and review. I had to memorize the entire script for my presentations as well. Daily walking and running routines allowed me to build up my stamina. After a year, it became so natural that the professor would say, 'I can't finish the class because Lois didn't ask questions.' (laughs)"
Noogler At Fifty (New + Googler)
After returning from her studies in the United States, alumna Jeong Kim Kyung-sook acquired experience in public relations and marketing at Motorola Korea and the multinational pharmaceutical company Lilly Korea. In 2007, in her thirties, she embarked on her journey at Google Korea as a director, where she eventually became the head of public relations. Currently, she serves as the International Liaison and Storytelling Director for the Global Communications Team at Google Headquarters. After spending 15 years at Google, in 2019, Jeong Kim moved beyond Google Korea to work at the Google headquarters.
"I've been with Google for 15 years. Three years ago, during Google's annual gathering of communications professionals from around the world, I proposed the creation of a new role that would bridge the headquarters with various Google subsidiaries worldwide, facilitating communication with global media. Within just three weeks, this new role was established, and I was appointed to the position. I initially started as a one-person team, but now, we are responsible for storytelling, have expanded our team, and broadened our roles to craft Google's stories through emerging mediums like podcasts and collaborations with social influencers."
Moving to headquarters three years ago, Jeong Kim had to be separated from her family at the age of fifty. She was tasked to lead a one-person team, small in size. Many thoughts went through her before deciding to move to the headquarters. Those around even discouraged her from living abroad alone at age fifty. However, she made the bold decision, which turned out right eventually. Fifteen years ago, when she began her career at Google Korea, she initiated her career from a one-person team that gradually expanded in size, and to begin her adventure at the Headquarters from square one was a joy.
Of course, there were many obstacles in the way. Though she was proficient in English through her previous careers at foreign companies, overseeing communication at the head office required more than that. This is especially true since every word she uses is being translated into a message that represents Google to be disseminated around the world. Moreover, being the first non-English speaking person to work in the headquarters' communications team came with greater pressure to excel.
"Perfecting my English skills remains an ongoing journey as I enter my fourth year at the headquarters. Consistency is the key. I dedicate over three hours daily to English studies, compiling new words, refining expressions, and perfecting pronunciation and grammar. Maintaining this consistency with over 1,400 pages of notes is challenging, but I try to make routines to practice consistency. I hired a native English tutor to have lessons for 1 hour a day, and I would prepare for them for more than 30 minutes each day. Additionally, I incorporate English into my daily routine, listening to audiobooks during exercise. When I arrived in the United States, I joined the Toastmasters Club to practice my English speech constantly. It has also been two years since I formed a band group with my friends to share English expressions, and I would memorize new expressions from messages, emails, and reports from colleagues at work."
Accumulation of Repetitive ‘Today’, Leads to ‘Tomorrow’
For alumna Jeong Kim Kyung-sook, persistence is the biggest driving force in her growth, not only for her English skills but also for her career as well. She attended five graduate schools throughout her career, earning her the title of a 'degree collector'. In her late 20s, Jeong Kim pursued an MBA at the University of Nebraska's Lincoln. She attended Yonsei Graduate School of Journalism and Public Relations during her tenure at Motorola. As her responsibilities expanded to online marketing at Lilly Korea, she enrolled in Kyung Hee University's e-MBA. Subsequently, her journey continued with the Graduate School of Public Administration at Seoul National University and the Graduate School of Digital Culture Policy at Seoul National University of Science and Technology. From delving into practical matters to grasping the bigger picture, she took slow yet steady steps to enrich herself as her career unfolded. Juggling both work and study is impossible without consistency. Currently, she continues her growth through a two-year course as Chief Communications Officer (CCO).
"If possible, I want to be competitive and work as much as I can. I still have many years to work, so I feel compelled to keep learning. Also, life without learning is mundane, and living such a life would be enervating. Growth is not just about being good at work. After all, when working, we simply use up whatever we accumulate while investing little effort to fill ourselves. If one continues depleting oneself without seeking joy in filling up through growth, eventually, there comes a point of giving up. To avoid losing sight of tomorrow's future, you must constantly create your own 'filling system.' This is the reason why I chose to continue my studies across five graduate schools after graduating."
Jeong Kim believes that daily routines, accumulating into today's energy, shape the future. She emphasizes that it gives us the strength to move forward without losing confidence and not getting carried away by the situation, even when faced with obstacles. Over the past 30 years, she cultivated a mindset that allowed her to stay positive in any situation.
"I wake up at 6 a.m., check emails, listen to audiobooks, and go for a 10km jog. Work starts at 9 a.m., and I finish at 4:30 p.m., taking a 10km walk afterward. I also set and stick to a routine designated for each day of the week. Keeping to such daily habits and routines doesn't make a stark difference, but I see our daily lives as similar to sheets of paper. Each sheet may be thin, but bundled together, they form a stack. Stacks fill boxes, and when these boxes are stacked, they eventually fill an entire corner of the room. What I am doing is simply accumulating individual sheets of paper. If you build up little by little, you will one day find yourself having overwhelming skills and results. Life inevitably presents challenges, but the important thing is to build psychological core strength so that you have the "resilience" to regain composure despite hardships. The best way to achieve this is to create habits - your own routines. You must be consistent to build your foundation upon which you can persist tirelessly for an extensive period."
Having lived such a fulfilling life for a long time, Jeong Kim has recently published a book titled <Let's Keep Going, Stamina is All We Have>. With its provocative title, the book encapsulates the wisdom gained through the years. While acknowledging the common human experience of feeling 'insufficient' at various stages of life, Jeong Kim, too, shares her perspective on 'persisting on'—the commitment to strive for a better self each day without succumbing to fatigue or giving up. She wishes to spread hope among those who suffer from burnout and bore out, encouraging them not to give up.
"When my son saw the book's title, he commented, 'The phrase 'Let's keep going' suggests going together, but in the end, the only one left with stamina would be you, Mom. How do you expect me to keep up with you? (laughs)' I guess I named my book this way to inspire people to enrich their lives and careers by initiating the cultivation of physical and mental strength. Despite practicing kendo for 14 years and earning the nickname "Lightning," not for the speed of my sword but for my quick defeats in tournaments, I persist. That's not all, I was finally able to make a sound with the Daegeum (a traditional Korean bamboo flute) after two years of learning the instrument. If you persevere, you'll gradually improve over time."
A Googler Who Tells Heartwarming Tech Stories
What's it like to work at Google? For alumna Jeong Kim Kyung-sook, being part of Google entails unique experiences, encompassing her responsibilities and the distinctive corporate culture. As a communicator, she especially enjoys uncovering and spotlighting how Google's cutting-edge technologies are making a positive impact on people's lives. This is especially so since her work revolves explicitly around showing the value behind technology through the warm stories of 'people.'
"As a communication professional, my philosophy is all about concern and empathy for people. Regardless of how groundbreaking technologies and products may be, their significance diminishes if they don't connect with people personally. In the United States, numerous Hispanic families face communication challenges between grandparents who speak only Spanish and grandchildren who communicate solely in English. Google's 'Live Transcribe' app, equipped with real-time interpretation features, facilitates communication and meaningful conversations within these families. There was also a case where a grandfather named Dmitry had trouble communicating due to his different oral structure. Through Google's 'Live Transcribe' app, he could converse with his granddaughter for the first time in his life, a moment that brought tears of joy. I think it's my role to tell the story of technology that brings meanings to life."
One of the most talked-about aspects that make working at Google a dream job is the welfare infrastructure, such as a beautiful office and a micro-kitchen full of organic fruits and healthy snacks. Jeong Kim, as a Googler, certainly enjoys these benefits, but she emphasizes that Google's unique organizational culture is the biggest advantage above all.
"There is a culture where individuals do not steal credit from others. This is evident in systems like the 'Summary Report,' where employees list all the people who contributed to the project's success. The names on the list are arranged based on the level of contribution, reflecting the time invested in and practical leadership of the project. This differs from conventional companies, where the order of the names would usually be listed based on corporate rank. At Google, it is not considered justifiable to take credit for something you didn't personally contribute to. And though every Googler is some of the best in the field, they are also humble individuals. These are the people whom I always learn from."
Passion Grows at the Intersection of the Company's Values and My Own
Beyond her work, naluma Jeong Kim Kyung-sook actively takes advantage of various opportunities to pursue side projects. In particular, she is interested in things that can significantly impact the world and change things for the better at the junction between the company's values and her own. She participated in auditions for social contribution projects, leading efforts to raise funds for the LGBTQ community. Additionally, she initiated the Next Journalism School, intending to nurture young digital journalists to contribute to the digital transformation of the news ecosystem in the Korean media industry. These pursuits fuel her determination to live life with heightened passion. In particular, social contribution projects that can bring positive changes to society are particularly meaningful to her, which explains why she's so active in social contribution, to the extent that she has been nicknamed the Queen of "Dragon's Den," a program that supports ideas worthy of social contribution within Google. Jeong Kim states that such passion for social contribution has been based on the values she absorbed during her time at Yonsei.
"For me, Yonsei was the place where I first learned about the power of democracy. As a member of the class of '86, my university years unfolded amidst the pro-democracy movement. Despite being a quiet student who shuttled between the campus and the library, I didn't actively participate in the movement; however, over four years of observing and feeling the pulse of democratization on campus, I deeply engraved the value of democratization in my heart. It turned me into an awakened citizen, someone who constantly reflects on what I, as an individual, can contribute, especially in areas like human rights and societal concerns. Experiencing this in person fills my life with a comforting sense of positivity and passion."
No Working Mother is Perfect
Balancing a career while parenting poses additional challenges for working mothers. This was indeed a point of consideration for Jeong Kim, who consistently juggled work and study. With the full support of her mother and her mother-in-law, she acknowledged that her situation was relatively easier compared to other working mothers who lacked similar support. Nevertheless, there were certainly times when she felt guilty for not being able to take care of her child. As such, she focused on the quality of time spent with her child rather than the quantity. No matter how short it might be, she made sure that the moments she shared with her child were focused enough to be deeply imprinted in his memory.
"As a working mom, I never believed in the concept of a perfect or alpha mom. Instead, I focused on doing what I could. I decided to raise my child as a child of a working mother. Instilling a sense of responsibility in my child from an early age, I dedicated quality time by embarking on at least one overnight trip every month during the weekend. To make the trip much more enjoyable, I always asked my child to choose the destination and established mini rules such as eating at the market or using only public transportation to make the memory more enjoyable. Thankfully, my son still cherishes those moments."
Jeong Kim’s high-quality parenting method also involved keeping a family diary. Recognizing the challenges of coordinating face-to-face conversations due to their busy schedules, she utilized collaboration tools such as Google Docs to share daily lives, thoughts, and concerns with each family member. What she wanted was to have something that makes each family member feel "connected" all the time, even if they have difficulty conversing face to face every day. Now that her son is an adult, Jeong Kim still reminisces about the joyous days in the past with her son as they go over this family diary filled with memories.
Strong Support That Guides and Propels Me
Alumna Jeong Kim Kyung-sook uses both her parents' last names. Having lived as Kim Kyung-sook for 29 years, she embraced the name "Jeong Kim Kyung-sook" at the age of thirty, amalgamating her mother's surname, "Jeong," and her father's surname, "Kim." She believes that her mother, who brought her into this world, is half of her identity. After all, she could live as a Googler Jeong Kim Kyung-sook only because of her mother's strong support and help.
"On the day I received a new batch of my business card after changing my name to Jeong Kim Kyung-sook, I gave my mother the first one, and I saw her eyes turning red as tears welled up. I always wanted to convey the message that my mother made me into who I am today—that day marked a transformation in our relationship from merely a mother-daughter connection to a robust alliance between two women. Using both surnames consistently reminds Alumna Jeong Kim Kyung-sook of the existence of a woman in her, a mother. In my university years at Yonsei, I was influenced by Professor Cho Han Hye-jung. Although I wished to adopt the dual surname usage, I hesitated due to timidity back then. I believe that simply seeing my business card might prompt those unfamiliar with this convention to ponder its significance."
Spending over 30 years as a career woman and working mother, Jeong Kim has grown up with the support and inspiration of countless women around her. Be it her mother-in-law who actively helped her in child-raising, three friends who once worked for the same company and still share their experiences and wisdom, and advice with each other as they specialize in their respective fields, and women leaders who have inspired her throughout her career. Through solidarity with them, she was able to gain the courage to fulfill her dreams. Likewise, she aspires to be a source of inspiration for others, paving the way for more women in diverse fields to expand their influence in the future.
The Value of Being Oneself and Living Together
Alumna Jeong Kim Kyung-sook aspires to lead a life where she can contribute her capabilities to society in her work and life to create greater value. That is, living as herself in harmony with society.
"After completing my career at Google, I would like to have the opportunity to learn and contribute to smaller organizations, drawing from my three decades of experience. Looking ahead, upon retirement, I want to use my marketing communications skills to help nonprofit organizations communicate the values that matter to our society. Additionally, I also want to continue volunteering as I have done so far and live a life that goes beyond myself and my family and contributes to the community."
In addition to her unwavering pursuit of personal growth, Jeong Kim also seeks to share the significance of “living together” with fellow Yonseians.
"I sometimes regret not attempting to change my passive personality earlier. That would have made my life on campus much more enjoyable. If there's a part of you that you're not satisfied with, I encourage you to take action today. By setting a few principles and committing to them for just one year, you'll find yourself transformed in ways you can't imagine. Also, the issue of polarization and inequality of opportunity is getting worse in society these days. We might be in a tough competitive world, whether studying or getting a job, but I hope that we Yonseians dare to care for the vulnerable faction of society and act for a world for everyone."
Alumna Jeong Kim Kyung-sook states that she was once embarrassed about her extraordinary consistency and perseverance. However, she now recognizes that these qualities have driven her to venture beyond her comfort zone. She continues to cultivate her mind and body by faithfully performing her daily tasks, as this journey of self-improvement remains ongoing.