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Designing Tech At 90: A New Narrative for Silicon Valley

Let’s be real, the tech world worships at the altar of the very young. It’s the official origin story of Silicon Valley: young person has billion dollar idea, rogue group of creative friends, and boundless energy to spend slaving away in their college dorm to develop the next great app or platform. Two years later, they’re gracing the covers of Fortune, giving TED talks, meanwhile still too young to rent a car.

And we eat it up.

This narrative is reflected back to us again and again, so much so, that anyone nearing 30 starts worrying they may soon be too irrelevant to contribute to the pressing technological and cultural conversations at hand.

Enter Barbara Beskind.

At 91 years old, Barbara is living out the ultimate dream: as tech designer for IDEO, creating dynamic products to assist the elderly.

In a time when both ageism and sexism seem pervasive in tech and the world at large, Barbara is absolutely crushing cultural expectations.

Always passionate about pursuing a career as an inventor, Barbara hoped to study engineering after high school. However, women were strictly barred from attending these types of programs. To put this in perspective, we’re talking about the 1940’s: women had gained the right to vote only twenty years prior and equal wages and reproductive rights weren’t even close to being part of the cultural dialogue.

So Barbara joined the army and became an occupational therapist instead.

After retiring, going into private practice, and eventually establishing six patents for the disabled, opportunity struck again.

Two years ago, while watching 60 Minutes, Barbara was inspired to see IDEO founder Devin Kelley speak out about the importance of staff diversity on design teams and Barbara knew she had to apply. “It took me two months to write my resume, paring it down from nine pages. Then I wrote the letter by snail mail.”

Within days, Barbara was hired for the job. And she couldn’t be happier. “I want to be someplace stimulating, with people who are passionate and creative. This is the best experience I’ve had in my professional life.”

Best of all, her age allows her to have a pulse on the needs of the consumer. “Everybody who ages is going to be their own problem-solver,” she says. And who better to solve these kinds of problems than a woman who lives them daily?

Though Barbara struggles with macular degeneration and has trouble walking, she shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. Revered by her fellow designers at IDEO, Mrs. Beskind brings a fresh energy to the tech world and an excitement and confidence that only comes from decades of problem-solving and being unphased by failure.

Barbara is adding her very own chapter to the classic Silicon Valley story, creating a more inclusive narrative that lets women of all ages know that there is, indeed, a place for them.

“I enjoy the age I’m in. I think it’s one of the best chapters of my life.”

We couldn’t agree more.

So to the community, I ask: “What advancements in hearing loss technology would YOU like to see made?” Who knows, maybe you’re just the person to be creating them.

 By: Ariana Seigel

 

 

One response to “Designing Tech At 90: A New Narrative for Silicon Valley

  1. Time the phone techies had a phone that would monitor itself to existing noise levels for us hearing impared.

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