Our Gen Arm 2Z program started almost three years ago to connect young architects of tomorrow with industry mentors, and give them an even greater platform from which to shape the world.
Here, 12-year-old Samaira Mehta, Gen Arm 2Z ambassador and Founder and CEO of CoderBunnyz, meets Renee La Londe, CEO and Founder of iTalent Digital and GLAM (Girls Leadership Academy). Here they talk tech, female empowerment, entrepreneurial endeavors, and what inspires them every day.
Renee: So Samaira, tell me what you’ve been doing with your board games and your goal of Yes, 1 Billion Kids Can Code.
Samaira: A lot has happened, but GLAM has always been really supportive of my work. With Yes, 1 Billion Kids Can Code, a lot of leaps and bounds have been made. I’ve actually created an entire ecosystem and platform to work towards making this goal achievable.
A few months ago, I released my third board game called CoderMarz, which teaches coding and artificial intelligence through an adventure on Mars. The huge inspiration behind this was actually the Mars 2020 mission. And actually, the Rover just landed too!
Using my board games, I’ve taught around 15,000 kids how to code through workshops and events and talks that I’ve given. In total, we’ve reached around 1 million kids across the world, which is pretty cool to think of. In the past year, I’ve also created curriculums to help people make the most out of the games. It’s really helpful in schools and in homes when people are trying to learn more in depth about computer science or AI with the board games.
But I think the biggest impact on the Yes, 1 Billion Kids Can Code initiative will be the new product I’m working on — an app that is going to essentially streamline the way that kids learn how to code. It’s like the supercharger to achieving the goal of reaching a billion kids.
I’ve also launched a new initiative called Boss Biz, whch is a platform where I share my entrepreneurial skills and journey and stories that I’ve learned along the way so that others can create their own businesses and get their ideas and visions heard. About 200 companies have been created from two events alone.
So, it’s been amazing to see how much has changed in just these past few years. And I’ve really, really enjoyed continuing to work on the things that I’m passionate about.
Renee: That’s amazing! You’re just such a force and such a role model for so many other entrepreneurs out there that want to work their own way. It’s great to see you engaging with Arm — tell me a little bit about what you’re doing with Gen Arm 2Z.
Samaira: Working with Arm and Gen Arm 2Z has been a really amazing experience. The first time we worked together was back in February 2019 at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. It was the first time that kids had ever presented at MWC. We were the youngest people to ever present on the stage of this conference. And being the youngest out of all the four ambassadors, it was cool to be the youngest person to ever speak on that stage.
Later that year I worked with the other ambassadors and a group of mentors from Arm to develop an app called PlantPal, which centers around the idea of smart gardening using AI. It was really fun making our idea a reality. In August of 2020 at Arm DevSummit we presented PlantPal as well as some of the new creations we ambassadors had constructed through the pandemic.
Working with Arm has been truly amazing, and their support is just incredible.
Renee: We have been very grateful to work with Arm as well with GLAM.
Samaira: I see this past year with the pandemic your focus has been shifting — how has that been and what’s in store for GLAM in 2021?
Renee: GLAM has launched a virtual and it’s been a big deal for us. Our goal is to reach a million girls and get them excited about leadership and forming business plans. GLAM is about teaching girls how to be leaders and that’s why we invited so many strong women to talk to them about their journeys. Now that we’re working virtually, we have these superpower quizzes so girls can figure out what their superpower is, and then they get paired up with leaders that can help mentor them so they can continue to learn those leadership skills.
Samaira: You’ve been putting the next generation — especially girls — at the front for so long. What have been some of the most rewarding things that have come out of this work and why has girl empowerment always been such an important thing to you?
Renee: The most rewarding thing for me is to have the girls come out of it with that “I can do it” attitude. That’s something that we stress throughout the whole conference. It’s all about: you can do it, you can get there, all you need is grit and passion, and you can actually achieve everything that you want to achieve. It doesn’t have to be tech either. It’s really important for us to teach them that coding is something that they can do, but a lot of their business plans are not always around tech. A lot of them are around saving the Earth, or baking, or whatever their passion is. That’s what we want to inspire them to do.
So, what keeps you motivated? What keeps you up at night? What keeps you inspired?
Samaira: The biggest motivator for me is just seeing the impact that my work is able to make in the world. From the workshops I do, just seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces after they write their first code. I think just the impact is my biggest motivator and biggest inspiration.
Renee: That is amazing. And you are a big inspiration to all of us. So, with the Gen Arm 2Z program in mind, what advice do you have for my generation? What do you want to tell us to help us understand Gen Z a little bit better?
Samaira: I think to better understand Gen Z you have to understand the way our minds work. We like to think outside of the box and to not see problems but see opportunities to develop solutions. I think that is the most unique thing about Gen Z — we actually want to create those solutions, and we think differently than the past generations. Being able to understand that mindset will better help people understand Gen Z.
And I wonder, how do you see this tech of today influencing the world of tomorrow?
Renee: That’s a big question because you have artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms already making a big impact on how we view health data. It’s also speeding up the vaccine creation process.
Then there’s AI in recruiting, which does all the matching instantly. When a candidate hits our database our ML engine is always learning as well as doing anonymization so that the ML is not actually looking at the gender and only looking at the qualifications. Because one of the big issues within AI is making sure it’s inclusive. But I think that problem will be solved by getting more women, minorities, and people from your generation involved in the coding process. And that’s something that we’re working on with our recruiting engine.
Samaira: That brings me to my next question — I wonder about the challenges you’ve face as a woman in tech? I’d love to hear about them.
Renee: I was very lucky in that my dad was an entrepreneur and he taught me a lot about starting businesses. Every summer we would do a business project. Whether it was a firework stand or something else, he always had us thinking in those terms.
I think that made me pretty fearless coming into the workforce and was a natural leader from the background that he gave me. I don’t think everyone has had that same experience, and that’s why at GLAM we are very big about helping girls find their voice, their passion, and showing them that they can do these things.
In my era you didn’t really hear about a lot of the women that did amazing things. So, you had to have that role model in your household to give you that inspiration. The good thing is I think a lot more of what women have done to get us to where we are is out there now and girls are hearing about it. So, we’re just trying to reinforce that.
One of the most important programs that we do at iTalent Digital is we actually nominate other women that are blazing stars in tech or anything entrepreneurial, and we actually spend a lot of our marketing dollars on promoting these women. It’s really meaningful to me that we make every woman and every girl feel just as comfortable being entrepreneurs and leaders as their male counterparts.
So, tell me a little bit about how you, your journey as a young woman and what, what are some of the challenges that you face?
Samaira: Being a young woman in tech has really been a difficult journey for me in multiple ways. I think a lot of people think that just because I’m a girl and just because I’m a 12-year-old girl, I can’t do the same things that somebody older than me can do or somebody of the opposite gender could do. But I think a huge part of what I do and what my mission and work is for is to break those stereotypes and to prove that girls, too, can do anything they put their mind to.