Los Altos resident Katherine Kuan’s career seemed like a Silicon Valley dream come true – she studied computer science and electrical engineering at MIT, then returned to the Bay Area and landed a job at Google Inc. as part of the Android team.
Then, last year, she made the decision to leave it all behind.
“I think it came down to three things,” said Kuan of resigning from Google after six years there. “Wanting to write a children’s book, wanting to start a business and begin that experience and working on a social justice cause.”
Inspiration and dedication
The Belmont native decided to commit to her dream of writing a book. She published her first children’s book, “Use Your Voice,” last December. Kuan’s inspiration for the book came to her on a women’s retreat with her church. She said it’s based on her struggles to stand up for herself, and the story urges children to use their voice to express themselves.
“It’s kind of inspired off of my own journey to find my voice because it’s kind of only in recent years where I learned the power of speaking up for myself and not being afraid to say what I want and what I think,” Kuan said. “With this book and future books, I just want to share life lessons that I’ve learned as an adult and make it simple for kids to understand, because that’s when we form our conceptions of what the world is like and how life works.”
Although Kuan had no experience as an artist, she wanted to illustrate the book herself. So she purchased a book on “how to draw cute stuff,” she said, and – after a lot of practice – used a Wacom tablet and Adobe Illustrator to create drawings for the book. “Use Your Voice” includes a lot of contrasting colors on the opposite side of the color spectrum to attract the attention of young children.
She used IngramSpark, a self-publishing service, to push her book out to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retailers.
The book has been well received so far, according to Kuan, and has helped some children become more vocal and gain more self-confidence in reading.
“The last page of the book says, ‘Use your voice to tell people that you love them,’ and (my friend’s) son actually said ‘I love you’ for the very first time,” Kuan said. “I was just shocked. I guess I didn’t fully understand or think about the impact that this book could have.”
Whereas her experiences at MIT and Google measured impact using tangible numbers and data, Kuan now finds herself making an impact through emotion – which can’t be measured.
“I just feel so overwhelmed in terms of emotion, in terms of realizing that if there’s just one more parent that says ‘I love you’ to their child one more time, or a child says it one more time, that type of impact, it can’t be quantified into numbers or anything, which a lot of the world is driven by,” she said. “Now my impact is more anecdotal and qualitative, more story-based, which is interesting.”
Teaching life lessons
Kuan wants to write more children’s books that teach important life lessons. She is brainstorming for books revolving around the concepts of positive body image and the fact that humans are complex and don’t fit under a single label, she said. Yet she is also looking for other ways to make an impact, including starting a social justice project that she may eventually build a company around. Kuan noted that one issue she’s passionate about is education.
“Sometimes (education) is building kids’ character, building grit in them. Those are really hard concepts, but I think the challenge excites me,” she said. “There’s such a need for education reform as well. There’s just limited resources, so maybe I can use my technology background to bridge that, to deliver quality education.”
Additionally, Kuan has been exploring underemployment and maximizing human potential.
“I think a lot of people feel that they could be contributing more to the world,” she said. “So just providing more job opportunities for people, because we talk about the hiring system being broken, how talent isn’t really being acknowledged or rewarded. There’s just a lot of untapped potential in human beings, so I think it would be interesting to create sustainable ways for them to create income.”
To document the process, Kuan created a blog and a YouTube channel, both called “What Kat Found Out.” She releases content about her experience writing and publishing a book but also discusses topics such as her favorite podcasts, things that inspire her and important lessons she’s learned through her journey to better understand herself. Through her media channels, Kuan has realized that her story of transitioning careers resonates with a broader audience.
“I was sharing my story, and it was about the struggle of transitioning careers, and I think that people at all ages are always considering that in the back of their minds,” she said. “Even people who are retired are thinking about an encore career.”
While Kuan said she’s spent her entire life chasing specific achievements and fixating on outcomes, she’s now learning to enjoy the process. While others have doubted her, she’s learned to take criticism and listen to her inner voice.
“When you leave a place like Google, other people will doubt you and they’ll doubt your decisions and they’ll say you’re wasting your time,” Kuan said. “(I try) to separate myself from those types of messages, and even if there’s just a tiny voice inside of me that says this is the right path, I try to listen to that (voice).”
Kuan’s instagram handle is @kat.kuan and her youtube channel is “What Kat Found Out.” Her book “Use Your Voice” is available at amazon.com.