Meet Bukola Somide the creator of the first-to-market African American interactive STEM doll that’s helping Black children learn about computer science.
Somide, a veteran software engineer, created the innovative doll to expose kids of color to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Somi is a 14-inch interactive doll that explains different computer science terms and brings awareness to cyberbullying.
There is also a Somi Storybook and a computer science activity book that can be purchased separately. The Somi Storybook is a chapter and picture book that is fun and educational; it incorporates computer science topics with Somi’s experiences. The storybook also includes 2 coding exercises and a free audiobook. The activities allow children to engage in different computer science exercises.
We had the chance to have a Q&A session with Bukola, which is featured below:
What made you want to pursue a career in IT?
My love for science and curiosity about computers led me to pursue a career in Computer Science (CS). When I first heard of CS back in 10th grade, I had no clue what it was all about but the sound of it intrigued me. When I attended a minority-based program, BRIDGE, in the summer preceding my freshman year of College, I successfully created a working program using C-programming language. I was in awe and loved the critical thinking aspect of coding. That was my AHA moment to continue pursuing a degree in Computer Science.
You have been in the industry for nearly two decades…what’s your experience been like as a Black woman in tech?
I was always the only Black woman on the Software Development team. My innate confidence helped me to thrive in this male-dominated industry. I was confident enough to speak up when needed, in a room full of individuals that did not represent my demographic and/or background. Also, it came in handy while addressing microaggressions. There are certain stigmas or stereotypes confident Black women in tech could encounter, such as being labeled abrasive, bossy, and in some cases, overly-passionate. Character traits akin to a leader are often praised in men but criticized when exuded by women. However, one critical lesson I learned (particularly, when communicating with those in authority) was to ensure that my message was communicated effectively. The manner in which you communicate can affect how your message is received. This may require a softer yet confident use of words and framing your feedback as thought-provoking questions.
What inspired you to create the Somi Doll?
I am on a mission to cultivate future innovators through fun Computer Science educational products. My award-winning interactive Somi Computer Science doll is based on the character in my five-star rated storybook, “Somi the Computer Scientist: Princess Can Code”. All the EdTech products I create must be entertaining and educational. They help to address the pain points I found during an internal customer survey on what’s preventing young Black girls from pursuing CS. Our Computer Science EdTech products are 1) Fun (not boring); 2) Easy-to-understand, hence, demystifying CS (not complex and intimidating); and 3) Projects relatable minority characters/mentors (addressing the issue of lack of relatable mentors because representation matters in tech).
What ideas or lessons do you hope children will learn from engaging with Somi?
While engaging with Somi, I want underrepresented children to feel more confident and aspire to become pioneers/innovators of technology and not just consumers of it. Children are exposed to the fundamentals of Computer Science because, in this fast-paced digital age, they cannot afford to be left behind. I want children to understand that these CS concepts are everywhere around us. They engage with computing technologies every day such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs Siri or Alexa. An “Algorithm” is simply a list of steps to complete a task such as the things children do to get ready for bed at night. The concept of a “Loop” is simply a repeating cycle through a list of instructions like a traffic light switching colors continuously. Making these CS concepts easy to understand demystifies CS because every child is smart enough to learn it.
Any future plans for Somi? Will you be expanding the interactive STEM doll collection?
Yes! I plan to expand my product offerings through various mediums such as educational gaming and educational animated cartoon series. We have adopted a B2C and B2B business model meaning our Somi EdTech products are being used at home and are also the new “Superhero Teacher’s Helper”, empowering the classroom with knowledge and fun. Once our “Somi, the Computer Scientist” brand has successfully become a household name, we may explore expanding our interactive Computer Science doll collection.
Do you think more children are now interested in STEM careers? If not, what do you think needs to be done to spread more awareness about STEM?
Unlike when I naively decided to pursue Computer Science in 10th grade while I had no clue of what it entailed, thanks to advancements in digital technologies and others (e.g. Internet, Social Media, YouTube, nonprofit STEM organizations, etc.), these CS resources are more easily accessible. However, I find that Computer Science is not a requirement in public schools, especially inner-city schools. More affluent districts are taking advantage of these CS resources because they see the value. That is why our “Somi, the Computer Scientist” EdTech products are appealing enough to reach the masses, hopefully becoming a household name such as Disney’s Doc McStuffins. Spreading the awareness appropriately would require Computer Science literacy to be a required elective in K-12 schools across the nation. Related policies would need to be mandated from the state level.