In the key of G: Meet June Wu, Googler and concert pianist
June Wu loved classical music from an early age. A very early age. “There are home videos of me as a baby, conducting to big symphonies as my dad was playing them on the stereo,” she says. Her love of music has lasted to this day, as she flies around the world as a concert pianist—all while working in a totally different field at Google’s offices in Redwood City, CA. Living in both worlds is what makes June happiest—and it took her a while to figure that out.
When June was a kid, her mother decided to learn how to play the piano. June and her sister would tiptoe downstairs after bedtime to listen to their mom play, and they would sneak a few plinks of the piano keys while she was trying to practice. Eventually, June’s mother got so frustrated she signed her kids up for lessons. June ended up taking piano very seriously, competing at the state, national and international level while in middle and high school.
June was, and still is, drawn to the emotions you can channel through piano, whether you’re playing or just listening. “For me, music is a way to explore deeper emotions and access some of what you may not yet have the words to articulate,” she says. “You can do that through music, and you can also move others through that.”
By her senior year of high school, she was ready to pursue piano professionally, and even got accepted to Juilliard, her dream school. But something gave her pause: She worried she’d have to choose music and music alone, leaving behind other academic interests, if she went to Juilliard. The students she met there had a laser-focus on their art, leaving very little free time for other interests. “I had always been intellectually stimulated by both worlds, both music and non-music,” she says.
June passed on Juilliard and ended up at Harvard, but had a tough time leaving music behind. She didn’t touch a piano for six years and didn’t share her previous passion with her college friends. “Piano was so intertwined with my sense of self and identity,” she says. “I felt ashamed that I had given up on my childhood dream without even trying. I threw myself into other things in college and didn’t play at all.”
After she graduated, she worked as a journalist and then moved to management consulting. While staffed in Paris, she had a chance encounter that led her to pick up piano again. A friend asked if she could sub in for her during a concert, and at first June demurred, saying she had likely lost her ability to perform at a professional level. But the concert was two months away, so she had time to prepare.
“I decided to say yes, because I didn’t know anyone in Paris, so what’s the worst that could happen?” June says. “In the beginning it was tough—my fingers weren’t able to do what my mind wanted to do, because I hadn’t been playing for so long. But the technique came back so quickly.” She also noticed that even though she’d stopped playing, she had still grown as a person and as an artist. She brought a new perspective to her music now.
The concert reignited her passion for music. Next, she entered an international amateur competition for pianists—and won. That led to invitations to perform with professional orchestras, concerts she had to balance with a full-time career and then business school.
After business school, she sought out a company that would help her with that balance. “I thought that working at a place like Google, which is very supportive of outside interests, would be a great fit for me,” June says. “I’d continue to work on exciting problems and build a great career in addition to playing and performing when I can.”
Now, June works as chief of staff and a strategy lead for Google Customer Solutions, which helps small and medium businesses grow using Google Ads products. She practices piano nearly every day and recently got a Steinway grand piano in her San Francisco apartment. “It’s amazing for me, but my neighbors hate it,” she jokes. She aims for two major performances a year, most recently performing Chopin and Tchaikovsky piano concertos as the featured soloist with the Penn Symphony Orchestra in Philadelphia and the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra in South Africa. (She even performed at a gala event at an offsite meeting for her leadership team at Google.) Next, she aims to revamp her solo repertoire and prepare a full recital.
June says her job at Google and her love for music go hand-in-hand. “Music exercises a different part of my brain, so I think it makes me more well-rounded,” she says. “It’s a way for me to get inspiration from a different part of my life and bring that to my work at Google.”