Shree Bose Keynote #CS4LAUSD 2023
This year’s #CS4LAUSD conference focuses on Girls and Women of Color in Tech, with keynote speaker Shree Bose, Co-Founder of Piper.
Piper is proud to support the LAUSD ITI goal to inspire and empower teachers to foster diversity in perspectives and ideas by promoting equitable access to computer science education opportunities and learning experiences.
Speaker 1 (Shree Bose) (00:09):
Hi everybody. It is such a pleasure to be here. Thank you guys for having me today. I'm very pumped to talk about a topic that is very near and dear to my heart about women and girls in tech, and specifically women and girls of color in tech. It is something that I have thought obviously quite a lot about over the years, and I am excited to share some of the things that I have learned along the way. So while my slides are getting set up, here we go. Alright, I just want to do a thought exercise. I want to figure out who's in this room, who I'm talking to, what your sort of feel of everything is. So if I could ask you guys to do me a favor and close your eyes. All right? I feel like we're all liars when our eyes are open and we have to raise hands and everyone lies if their eyes are open.
Alright, so I see everyone's eyes closed. Okay, good. I want you to picture the most recent classroom you guys were in, most recent classroom. Alright? Now think about all of the kids in that classroom. All of those students, bright young minds. Alright? Now I want you to think of who was the most creative kid in that classroom? That can mean whatever you want it to mean. The most innovative, the kid who figures out the most efficient way to do things. Efficient is an air quotes here. The kid who interprets assignments differently. That kid might be very annoying. I'm not going to lie to you. This might be the annoying kid. Alright, now you guys all got that picture of that kid? How many of you guys have that picture? Raise your hand. Okay, good. Alright, now, how many of you keep your hands up if that kid is a girl?
Alright, let's take it one step further. Keep your hands up if that kid is a girl of color. Alright, now, open your eyes. That's how we get that 10% number. That's how we get those numbers. Sophia was just talking about this is how it happens because we picture creativity differently. And unfortunately for most of you guys who had your hands up, those girls will probably not end up in those innovative STEM careers that we envision for them. And that's a bummer, not only for them but for the world because we lose out on an incredible pool of talent and value. That's really, really important. So in this talk, I want to talk through a few different things. I want to talk through of all about how you guys can do things differently in your classrooms to encourage an innovative mindset that sticks with those girls for the rest of their lives.
And I also want to point out that it's not just about this slow inch of progress that we talk about. Representation matters. It matters a lot, but representation is slow. It counts on multiple generations going through this and going slowly and inch by inch, like one more girl in that boardroom. And maybe we're making progress and that's great. It's important, but it's not the only thing. What you do in your classrooms is what is going to accelerate that pace, that’s what's going to make the difference. And with the three big topics that I have learned through the years that I am hoping to share with you guys, I hope that you guys will accelerate that progress with me today. And just to start off, I realize you guys know absolutely nothing about me besides that very kind introduction. Let me tell you why this is so important to me specifically.
So I grew up in Texas. I grew up in Fort Worth up near Dallas. I was a really lucky kid. My dad was an engineer, and so he always taught me that if you had a problem, there was always something you could jerry rig to solve it. I didn't like my vegetables when I was little and I figured, oh, it's because they're green, that's the problem. So I took some food coloring and tried to turn them blue. I didn't like taking out the trash when I was younger. I was a lazy kid. And so I decided to build a remote controlled garbage can. But it wasn't until I turned 15 that I started thinking of problems sort of on a bigger scale, problems that weren't just involving me anymore. When I was 15, my grandfather passed away from liver cancer. And I remember at the time not really knowing what to do.
There was no solution. You can't really come up with food coloring for cancer. What could I do? And at some point I did what any 15-year-old does. I went on Google and I started reading everything I could find about cancer. And I promise you, I went to some weird places on the internet. I really did. This is early two thousands internet too. So we're not feeling good about that. There were no parental controls yet. And I started discovering a lot of really cool stuff about cancer. I was like, oh my God, I have so many questions. And I kept looking up the answers to those questions and at some point I realized that the questions I was starting to ask weren't questions that the world had answers to anymore. And that's when I decided I wanted to be the person figuring out those solutions.
So I didn't really know how to do that. So I decided I would reach out for help. And I started writing to all of the professors I could find in my area who were working on cancer. And I started all of my emails with, hi, my name is Shree and I am 15 years old and I would like to work on cancer. And I'm pretty sure 90% of people did not read past that point. 10% of people wrote back a really nice, yeah, you're a bit young, but good luck. And 1% was really, really, really mean. And that was fine and we just dealt with that. But we had one response, one lady, Dr. Ellen Basu at the University of North Texas Health Science Center who said, come in and talk to me and maybe we can do some research together. And that's how I ended up doing summer research on cancer when I was 15.
That is actually how I ended up winning the first ever Google Global science fair. I also make very photogenic faces. You're welcome. It's peak, pinnacle moment, pinnacle moment for me. But after that, my life sort of became this crazy, crazy whirlwind. I got to do incredible things. I met role models who I have adored my whole life. I met Bill Nye, I sang his theme song at him. He did not like it. It was very weird for everyone involved. I got the chance to go to Harvard. I graduated in 2016. I got the chance to go to Duke. I starred in a Microsoft commercial. I presented to people who I could have never imagined meeting at any point, including a lovely gentleman that you guys might know.
Speaker 2 (Barack Obama) (07:07):
Because that next generation is already coming. They're already knocking on the door. A couple of weeks ago I got a chance to meet the winners of the Google Science Fair. I want to point out that all three of them were girls and they had beat out.
They had beat out 10,000 other applicants from over 90 countries. So I had them over the Oval Office and they explained their projects to me and I pretended that I understood you did one of the winners. Shree Bose did her first experiment in second grade by trying to turn spinach blue. In fourth grade. She built a remote controlled garbage can and for this science fair at the age of 17, she discovered a promising new way to improve treatment for ovarian cancer at 17. And she also told me very matter of fact that she'll be going to medical school and getting a doctorate. And I suspect she will do so. She did not lack confidence. And it's young people like Shree, but also the people on this stage who make me incredibly hopeful about the future, even at a time of great uncertainty. Their stories remind us that there's still discoveries waiting to be made and unlimited potential waiting to be tapped. All we have to do is encourage it and support it. So I want to congratulate today's honorees for their extraordinary and inspiring work. We could not be prouder of all of you. And now it is my privilege to present the national medals of science and the national medals of technology and innovation.
Speaker 1 (Shree Bose) (08:56):
What is even more exciting, and this is the first place I actually get to say this, is that as of two weeks ago, I have officially kept my promise to President Obama.
But what I'll say is one of the coolest things that I got to do over the past few years is talk to a ton of students. This was one of the coolest parts of everything I did. I got to talk to students from all over the world about my story, about how I got started in science and how they could too. And my story is about reaching out to mentors and finding somebody willing to take me on. And whenever I would talk to students, an interesting thing kept happening that was a little uncomfortable for me, where after I would talk about my entire story, I would have kids who would come up to me after my talk and they'd be like, amazing, you did something great in biology. We love that for you. Amazing. I have a really cool idea for a new tech product.
And it was always tech. It was always like, I have an app idea or I have an idea for a new wearable or some new tech thing that they were like, I don't know how to get started. And at some point my answer of find a mentor or go on Google was not really cutting it for me. So I went online and I tried to find tools. I tried to find things where I was like, okay, this is something that I can give a kid and I can say, get started with this one tool and you will feel confident, you'll have fun in the process of learning. You will feel like you're good at it and you will learn something. And it turns out that product didn't exist. It didn't exist in the way I wanted it to. And that's really how Piper was created.
So in college I created this company that creates these electrical engineering kits for kids and we use gamification. We use gameplay to actually teach kids about electrical engineering, about computer science, about coding in a way that makes them feel confident that is fun and teaches them really valuable skills. And so now I finally have this answer that I can point to people. I can say, if you want to build your own computer for the very first time, check out our piper computer kit and build your own laptop. And during the pandemic, at some point when everybody was getting their own laptops, we were like, all right, well how do we transform your computer at home into a hardware station where you can be playing and learning in a similar way? And we created the Piper Make product line as well. But my entire story is one of really absorbing a lot of learning from the people around me, from the students I interacted with, from the kids who I was talking to who told me I don't know if there's some way that I can confidently and actually learn the things I need to learn.
And so I'll say that the most important thing that we can do to encourage women and girls of color to stay in tech, to continue in careers in innovative STEM careers where they are creating things that can solve the world's big problems, is to connect them to other ones who are already doing it. And that means connect them to kids and to adults and to mentors who are outside the walls of your classroom. Connect them to people who they could have never imagined that they would ever meet because the moment you start meeting them and you start realizing that they all got there with other mentors who made it all possible, everything gets a whole lot easier. My entire story started with that one mentor who let me into her lab when I was in high school. And so I can only imagine that the kids in your classroom will have incredible experiences when connected with mentors that you guys can reach out to for 'em.
I also think it's important to realize that sometimes it's okay to say, I have no idea. I don't know how to help you, but I'll find somebody who can. I think that's one of the most powerful things we can do because we're lifelong learners. We love to really pick up on things around us and be able to say, I don't know what I'm doing yet, but I'm going to iterate. I'm going to figure it out. And that's caked into every single thing that I have been able to do, including the exact way that Piper was actually developed at the very, very beginning of Piper, when I had first created this computer kit, it was a box of computer parts that you sort of put together and then you actually just started up the computer and you started playing Minecraft. That was the whole thing. There was nothing else on the kit.
We actually took it into a few classrooms and something kind of weird started happening that I noticed that was, I just found odd. I found very uncomfortable. I was walking around looking at all these kids playing with their computer kits. I was like, isn't this amazing? We love this. And I started noticing within 20 minutes, for the first 20 minutes, all of the kids in the classroom so pumped. They built their computer kits, they opened it up, they started playing. First 20 minutes, everyone was pumped, but within 20 minutes, all the girls in the room stopped playing all of them. It was like clockwork. I was like, oh, 20 minutes are up. Because I look around the room and the guys are all super pumped still. They're still playing, they're still doing something, but all of the girls are off doing something else. And for me, I was like, ah, I don't love that.
I don't love that. I'm a female co-founder. It's important to me that I create a product that reaches everybody, not okay, okay, what am I going to do? So I talked to my team about it. I was like, Hey, I would like for girls to continue playing this. Why are they not? And they were like, you know what Shree, you are a girl and how about you play it? And I was like, okay, fair enough. And I sat down and I played the entire thing. I built the computer kit, I did the thing. And like clockwork, 20 minutes in, I was like, and I'm done. I did the thing, I built the thing, I did the thing, I'm done. We've finished the task. And I realized that part of the reason there was nothing more was because there was no mission story. There was no reason to keep building. There needed to be some hook that kept me engaged. And that's where we created the storylines that are at the heart of Piper, the storylines about a robot and his martian mouse buddy who I do the voiceovers for. I do a really good mouse voice. You're welcome.
Our entire storyline and our entire core of what Piper is of learning through playing with these characters came from taking those kits to the classroom for the first time and realizing that they didn't work. And so when you are in your classrooms and you are seeing your women and girls of color who are losing their engagement within 20 minutes, think about this. Think about the fact that maybe they aren't failing because they're bad at it. Maybe they're failing because the thing that they are being measured against wasn't built for them. It wasn't built to be able to measure what they are creative at, what they're competent at. And maybe there are small adjustments, there are small adaptations in the way you do things that can make all the difference in the world for them. Maybe it's as simple as adding a storyline. Maybe it's as simple as adding in elements that keep them engaged in different ways.
But those actions start in your classrooms and they are things that you can be doing that will make all the difference in the world. We take our kits back to schools all the time now and we see girls being very engaged with our product. But what's exciting to me is we actually get measurable, quantifiable evidence that their confidence goes up when they play with our piper computer kits. Because the storylines, because of the way that the entire experience is structured is different. It's built different than any other sort of product out there that we believe can teach kids how to start learning, to code, start learning, to build technology and start learning how to solve the world's big problems. And the world does have pretty big problems still. We talked about some of these metrics. We talked about the landscape, the ecosystem of science and technology.
What does that look like? Do me a favor, close your eyes again. Close your eyes again one more time. Alright. I want you guys to picture a scientist like any person in history who you're like, this person was brilliant and shaped the way we think about science. Alright, open your eyes. You guys probably thought of the old white men that we all think about the brilliant people who shaped the way that we see the world around us. And they did. But it's also a very skewed sense of what science and innovation looks like. This is the past at this point. Science is no longer done like this. It's not one solitary genius, one lone person in their basement being like, ah, I have thought of something brilliant that is no longer the way that science and innovation happens anymore. And if, pardon me for doing a full 180 on computer science, but to go to a field that I know very well at this point.
But medicine, if you think about medicine and you think about innovation in medicine, what do you guys think in the last 20 years is the innovation in medicine that has saved the most lives? Think about it for a second. You've got in mind, you might be thinking like antibiotics, like, ah, that cool new drug, some cool new medical device, you're all wrong. The answer is the simple surgical checklist. It's the fact that right before a surgery adapting what was taken from the aviation industry where pilots say, we did this, this, this and this. People in medicine started doing the same thing. It comes from this crosstalk of these different fields. It comes from medicine interacting with aviation. It comes from computer science interacting with protein engineers. It comes from all of these different interacting fields coming together in new ways to create brilliant things. And this is happening every single day in your classrooms because the entire era of innovation in the future is going to come from making those connections.
It's not just finding them, it's making them. At Piper, we think a lot about this. Obviously my entire career has been built at these different intersections. But at Piper we also think about this in terms of how we close out our entire experience. We have something called the Makeathon where we walk you through step-by-step. If you are an educator in a classroom who does not know how to approach encouraging and engineering innovative mindsets, don't worry. We got you. We talk through exactly how you approach big problems and you break them down for your students. And in doing this, you'll realize that the most innovative solutions that you will find in your classrooms won't come from one kid. It'll come from a group and it'll come from a group of not just the kids who love tech. It's going to come from the kids who love art.
It's going to come from the kids who love. Yeah, it will come from all of the kids who have completely different backgrounds, completely different life experiences who come to together to solve problems in completely different ways. And that is an exciting, powerful place to be in. So remind yourselves all along the way that innovation in your classrooms is going to be best done together. Don't be afraid to reach out of your classroom. Always know that you are working within constraints of curriculum that have been developed over millennia to have certain biases. And remember that in the future we're going to be solving the world's big problems together and in your classrooms is where that is going to start. And so with that, it is absolutely my pleasure to be here today to help you guys create pioneers, women and girls of color in technology. I appreciate you guys having me. And if you have any questions, I will probably be around here. But thank you.