Samaira Mehta is the 9-year-old Founder & CEO of CoderBunnyz, a board game teaching CS concepts.
Selected Topics: Coding & creativity, turning your passion into a product, taking responsibility for changing the world & being a CEO.
About Samaira: Samaira is a 9-year-old 3rd grader who invented a STEM coding board game called CoderBunnyz, which helps teach coding to kids age 4-104 in a playful way. She has given more than 40 workshops with her board game in Silicon Valley, teaching over 1400 kids, including 50+ at Google HQ. She started a non-profit called Girls U Code to teach coding to underrepresented girls.
She’s honored to have received a letter from Michelle Obama and has been featured on NBC, Sony, ZDF, Mercury News, sina.com and other media outlets in 11 countries on 3 continents. She was the youngest speaker at CMG Impact 2016: Women in Tech, and has been a speaker at tech events in Silicon Valley and beyond. She is a singer, composer and an active blog writer.
Her mom, Monica, is an MBA who is an advisor to Samaira’s efforts. Dad Rakesh deals with technology and innovation and helps bring interesting and advanced technologies to the market. Brother Aadit is the first player of CoderBunnyz and has been a very active contributor to CoderBunnyz.
CoderBunnyz on Facebook
CoderBunnyz on Twitter
CoderBunnyz on LinkedIn
Note: The text below reflects constructive editing of the published audio for clarity and flow. Time stamps indicate a change of topic.
Erin: In today’s episode of WITtalks we’re at the home of Samaira Mehta, Founder and CEO of CoderBunnyz, a board game that teaches kids about computer science fundamentals. Don’t miss this episode if you’re interested in coding and creativity, turning your passion into a product, taking responsibility for changing the world, and what it’s like to be a CEO before your 9th birthday.
Welcome to another episode of the WITtalks podcast. I’m Erin, your producer and co-host.
Tammy: I’m Tammy, your co-host.
Erin: We are here today in Santa Clara, California with a lovely family. Monica is the mom, Rakesh is the dad, Samaira, who is almost 9 years old, and her younger brother, Aadit. We’re here for a very special reason. Tammy, do you want to share why?
Tammy: Absolutely! Samaira created a board game called CoderBunnyz. We’re here to learn how to play the game and we’re very excited. While we’re doing that, we’ll talk with everyone about coding, technology, girls in technology, and what it’s like to be a CEO when you’re almost 9.
[1:39] Erin: While Samaira’s setting up the game for us right now, Rakesh, could you tell us a bit about how you prototyped this and how this all came about?
Rakesh: Samaira, do you want to give a bit of a background of the story and how it all started — and then I can add on to it?
Samaira: I got the idea of making Coderbunnyz when I finished playing board games with my parents. When they got bored so I went to the computer to do coding. And then I said, “Today has been a really fun day. I did two of my most favorite things: coding and board games! If I mix them together, I can create something really cool.” That’s when I got the idea to create a coding board game.
[2:18] Tammy: I have a question about coding. You said that you like to play board games and you like to code. Where did you discover that you liked to code?
Samaira: One day my dad did a prank on me. He showed me something on his computer which had one button and a command which said, “Press this if you’re beautiful.” [Laughter] But when I tried clicking the button the “you are beautiful” part disappeared, so I asked, “How did you do that? Am I not beautiful? What’s going on here?” He told me it was all made of coding. Since then, I’ve spent so much time learning how to code.
Tammy: Wow! Rakesh, what kind of coding do you do?
Rakesh: I design processors for big servers and hardware. That involves a lot of coding in various languages, which I use to design microprocessors. I’ve done almost all forms of coding including C++, Python, Perl.
[3:11] Tammy: Samaira, have you learned to code any particular things or are you just playing around with different kinds of code right now?
Samaira: I’m just playing around with different types of code right now. I know Scratch, Python, and a little bit of Java.
Erin: Cool! I’ve used Scratch and Python. I’ve actually just started to learn Java. We might have the same skill level.
[3:35] Tammy: Is there a coding language that you like more than others right now or are you just exploring them?
Samaira: I’m just exploring them, but right now my most favorite is Python. It’s really cool to make stuff when you just type a few things on the computer that can actually listen to your command.
Erin: It’s almost like English, isn’t it?
[3:55] Erin: As you’re continuing to set up the game, could you tell us a little bit about what you’ve got going on here?
Samaira: Sure, I can explain how to play it. In the game, there are four decks of cards — ‘Move Forward’, ‘Turn Left’, ‘Turn Right’, and ‘Jump’. Your goal is to eat your carrot and then reach the destination.
Erin: Eat your carrot?
Tammy: Because you’re a bunny, right?
Erin: Ohhh! Right right right.
Monica: That’s their favorite food, right?
Tammy: Exactly. We actually had a bunny and his name was Tucker.
Monica: Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it!
Tammy: We had to give him to a new home because he got a girlfriend, and we couldn’t have two bunnies. He was pretty awesome and his favorite thing was carrots, so you’re totally right on track. OK, so you have to turn left, turn right, and get to your carrot?
Samaira: Yes! You have to roll the dice. How many numbers might get on the dice is how many cards you can lay out to get your bunny a little bit closer to your carrot. Let’s say I roll the dice and get the number one. I can then move forward one step and get a little bit closer to my carrot. And then, I roll it again.
Erin: If you have the green card, do you have to go to the carrot on the green square?
Samaira: Yes, and then you have to reach the destination.
Erin: Does the bunny have to eat the carrots before going to the destination?
Samaira: Yes, so it gets energy. From the carrot.
Erin: So the carrot is like the fuel.
Monica: This is the very basic level.
Tammy: Well, this is the good place for us to start.
[5:25] Erin: You said you can move forward, turn left, turn right, or jump. That’s pretty similar to what you can do in a Python program, for example, right?
Tammy: Now I’m seeing the connection. I’m a little bit older than you, and I’ve been trying to learn how to code for a long time but I just can’t figure it out. What I’m hoping is that your game will help me figure out a little bit about how to code, so let’s find out.
Samaira: It will.
Erin: Tammy is going to be our tester.
Tammy: [rolls the dice] One.
Samaira: You can use any one code card to get your bunny a little bit closer to your carrot.
Tammy: Can I pick any one of my four cards here?
Tammy: I’m going to pick the yellow one.
Monica: No. The logic is that you have to reach there. You have to move forward but this isn’t forward. This is left, this is right—
Tammy: You’re right! I can’t turn left. There we go.
Rakesh: That’s the first concept.
[6:24] Erin: Samaira, what was the process for getting the game out of your mind and onto this table? What did you have to do to get the board and the cards and everything?
Tammy: Did you draw it? Did you do it on a computer? What did you do?
Samaira: I drew the rough sketches and then showed them to my parents.
Rakesh: The bunny that started it all is from Legoland.
Samaira: Instead of getting Legos from the Legoland store, I got a bunny.
Tammy: A real bunny?
Samaira: No, a stuffed animal.
Tammy: Got it. We just want to make it clear for our listeners that you cannot go to Legoland and get a real bunny. [Laughter] That would be cool though if you could go there and get a real bunny.
Rakesh: She would get the bunny, take pictures of it, and draw how she wants to do it. Her mom would then help her go to the websites and figure out which graphic designers would be able to do these graphics and finalize it.
Tammy: It sounds like you actually used your stuffed animal bunny to make yourself visualize how the bunny could move around the board.
Samaira: That’s one of my first prototypes. We printed out the cards. It was my bunny from Legoland wearing my mom’s glasses. [Laughter]
Rakesh: We still have those prototypes somewhere.
[7:40] Erin: Samaira, what’s it like for you to have an idea and have other people working on creating your idea and giving you feedback?
Samaira: I was open to other people’s ideas, too. For example, maybe other people might want it to look another way since not everybody has the same ideas as me.
[7:57] Tammy: I’m really curious about something. When I read your story, you said after you played a board game, you went to do some coding and then had an idea. Did your parents know what you were doing or did you go to your bedroom and start drawing your coding game? How did you first tell your parents what you were doing?
Samaira: When I was done with coding, I told them my idea and they were surprised.
Tammy: I would be! [Laughter]
Samaira: But they were fine with it. They told me I could start drawing rough sketches, so I did! They contacted some graphic designers who made the real image, and then they sent it to us.
[8:30] Tammy: What did you, as parents, think when she comes to you and says, “I have this idea — I want to make a coding game”? Did you think, “This might be pretty interesting!” or did you think, “That’s kind of crazy”?
Rakesh: Our first thought was “What was going to happen?” because it’s such an interesting idea. Before that, she actually had a previous idea for a board game that she prototyped.
Tammy: So this wasn’t your first board game? That’s amazing.
Erin: You are a serial entrepreneur! [Laughter]
Rakesh: Since we see a lot of entrepreneurship in the Silicon Valley, in the back of my mind I thought, “Wow, that’s a great idea. If we push this through, maybe this can work out to be something very interesting and amazing.” Her mom is really supportive. She knows all the marketing and all that.
Tammy: Erin is the one in our family who has all the ideas. I don’t have any ideas. Erin has all of them. But every time Erin has an idea, my first thought is, “How much work is this going to be?” I’m always really excited about her ideas but I also recognize that it’s going to be a lot of work.
I wonder what your thought was about that. Did you think, “Yeah, we could do this,” or did you think, “Oh… this might be a lot of work”?
Monica: You are right that it’s a lot of hard work. As a family, we always believe that if you work passionately about something, you will achieve something. That’s the bottom line. At the back of my mind, I knew that it’s going to be a big task. I’m a working mom. We have two kids and we’re taking care of other things besides this. We have come very far with this game in one year, so it’s also encouraging.
[10:00] Erin: Tell us about some of the cool people you’ve met.
Monica: She was featured in NBC Bay Area Proud.
Tammy: That’s pretty awesome.
Erin: Did they come to your house like we did and talk to you? Was that your first time being recorded?
Erin: Holy smokes! How did you feel?
Samaira: I felt nervous, happy… and very happy! [Laughter] It was amazing to see how much time people spend just to get a few minutes of clips.
Monica: The NBC Bay Area reporter, Garvin Thomas, came to our first workshop, also. That was our first telecast.
[10:36] Tammy: Tell us about this workshop.
Samaira: It’s when I teach kids how to play my game. First, I explain to them how to play it. And then, I give them 20 minutes to play. Then I give them a piece of paper where they write in the algorithm—their code and cards—that they had used to eat their carrots and reach their destination.
[11:00] Erin: I’m going to guess here so correct me if I’m wrong… does the algorithm part work where a player collects all these cards and then translates them onto paper?
Monica: Exactly! That’s the recipe here.
Rakesh: That’s the Python code!
Monica: Our workshops are very planned out and last for one hour. Initially, we have a 20-minute presentation where she shows everything from how to play the game, to why coding is important, and by playing this game, what coding concepts you’ll learn. And then, she’ll let the kids play for 20 minutes. In the last 10 minutes, they will do the algorithm. There’s also a fun part where she sings a song and lets everybody dance. That’s pretty much our workshop and how we planned it in a one-hour duration. She has done workshops at many places. She has gone to almost all the libraries in the Bay Area.
Erin: That’s amazing! Libraries are my favorite.
Monica: She’s already booked for the summer.
Tammy: Wow! We are really lucky that we got in here.
Rakesh: There are about 35-40 kids in a workshop. She has also done some specific workshops for girls only. All of these workshops are very interactive sessions where the kids learn how to code, and actually write their algorithm and take away a tangible piece of paper with them.
Tammy: And say, “Hey, look, here’s the code that I wrote!”
Monica: It’s not only about coding but also about learning that if you work hard and are passionate about things, you can achieve anything. We try to give the complete package in that one-hour duration, from personality, to how to go on the stage and talk about it—as with public speaking—, and how to carry a whole workshop by themselves at their age.
[12:38] Erin: How does it feel for you as a creator to have so many other people using the thing you made?
Samaira: I feel really proud and honored that other people are playing my game. Some people like the game… and other people like it even more! [Laughter]
[12:55] Tammy: Kids are awesome but there are a lot of things going on in your minds. You’re all very busy in your brains. It can be really hard to get kids to pay attention for 20 minutes. How do you do that? This idea that you stand up and do these workshops in front of a lot of kids, how do you get them to pay attention to what you’re saying?
Samaira: I’m a kid and they’re also kids. When they listen to a kid, it’s easier than listening to an adult.
Tammy: That is very true.
Monica: They can relate more easily.
Tammy: Maybe because other kids are seeing you as a kid?
Samaira: Yes. Sometimes when they start playing the game and we have to move on since the time is running, I have a buzzer. It sounds like a fire alarm so everybody pays attention right away. [Laughter]
Tammy: That’s a good idea. I should start using that for my meetings at work. I’ll just turn on my fire alarm buzzer.
Erin: They’re getting some really good practice at being a leader.
Rakesh: The reason why kids are not listening to her is because they’re looking for what it is they’re going to do next, and she’s struggling like, “Come on. It’s a good game but listen to me!” [Laughter]
[14:05] Tammy: About speaking, maybe it’s different too because you’ve been doing it for a while now, but if you can think back to where you first started, were there things that you were nervous about or were you always excited about being in front of people?
Samaira: I was always excited about being in front of people. For some reason, it just came to me that I like being on stage. I like getting other people to pay attention to me.
Tammy: Sounds like a true extrovert, awesome!
Monica: Believing in yourself and your product makes you comfortable on stage.
Samaira: We met the CCO of Google, Stacy Sullivan, one of the top people at Google after my two back-to-back workshops at Google on Take Your Child to Work Day.
[14:46] Tammy: That’s awesome! Why was it exciting for you to meet Stacy?
Samaira: Because she’s one of the top people at Google! We also have so much in common. We both care about getting girls into technology at a young age so that we can help bridge the gender gap in technology.
[15:02 Listener support]
[15:45] Tammy: There are so many things that we can ask you from there. One of the first things is about your workshops. You said that you gave workshops to lots of kids and sometimes, workshops just for girls specifically. What kind of difference do you see when you give workshops for boys and girls compared to workshops that are just for girls?
Samaira: Girls can achieve many things. It’s also amazing when there are boys and girls, of course. But I realize that maybe we should do more girls-only workshops and get more girls into coding and computer science at a young age, not only to help bridge the gender gap in technology but to also serve as an inspiration to other people. From there, they can move on to advanced concepts when they grow up and want to become a coder.
[16:41] Tammy: When you do the coder workshops for boys and girls, do you see them mostly working together?
Samaira: Yes, they are working together.
Tammy: That’s pretty cool too — getting boys and girls to work together in coding.
Samaira: Yes, that’s also very awesome.
Tammy: Right on. All right… now whose turn is it by the way?
Rakesh: It’s your turn.
Tammy: OK. Let’s get a good roll here. [rolls the dice] Two! All right, two is not bad. I’m here and my carrot is way over there, so I’m going to pull another Forward card.
Monica: Yes, you’re learning how to code!
Tammy: Maybe I might… maybe I might…
Erin: I’m the blue one over here and my carrot is there. I rolled a two so I would like to go forward two spaces, and I’ll take two cards. Now it’s your turn, Samaira.
[17:29] Tammy: Samaira, do you have any other interesting people who you’ve met, who you’ve heard from, or maybe people who wrote you a letter?
Samaira: I got a letter from Michelle Obama.
Monica: [Laughter] That was a dream come true.
Samaira: It was.
Erin: That would be a dream come true for me, too. It sounds like you’re completely surprised by it. Did one of your parents come and tell you that you had some mail?
Samaira: One day I was coming home from school. My dad was picking me up and he told me I had gotten a letter. I asked, “Okay… a letter from who — from my principal?!” He said, “No, a little higher than that. Think about one of the leaders of America.” I said, “Leaders of America… the Senator?!” He said, “No, higher.” And the only person higher than a senator is the president, but he said, “Well, not exactly the president.” Then I said, “The First Lady!” And he said, “Yes.” So I was so excited to go home… for the first time. [Laughter]
Tammy: We’re sure that sometimes you like coming home… but you were just SUPER excited this time.
Samaira: Yes. When I got home, and while my mom was filming me, I went to my room and saw a ‘Priority Mail’ on my desk from Michelle Obama. I opened it with so much excitement! There’s a letter from her with a picture of her family and an autograph from her and Barack Obama. In her letter, she said that I’m doing an amazing job in helping our community and that if I keep on working hard, we can help bridge the gender gap in technology.
Erin: High five, girl! That’s awesome. Good for you.
Tammy: Very nicely done.
[19:14] I can only imagine as a parent what it must be like for you. If you can articulate it at all, what is it like being a parent and seeing your kid giving workshops to 30 kids, or on television, or getting a letter from Michelle Obama?
First of all, Monica is smiling so hard I think her head is going to explode. [Laughter]
Monica: It feels good. It’s a great honor that she’s doing some amazing work. Randomly, when I go places, people recognize me and say, “Are you the CoderBunnyz mom?” Similarly to how you asked me when you entered our home.
Tammy: “That’s the CoderBunnyz mom!”
Monica: People also started to recognize us in the community because she has done so many workshops. I still tell her that it’s important to be humble and give back to the community. That’s why we started another initiative, a non-profit one, called Girls U Code, where she teaches underprivileged girls to get into technology.
Yesterday, we got in touch with another non-profit organization who works in India for underprivileged kids to get them into technology and give them mentorship.
Going back to Girls U Code, Samaira presented at PitchFest—
Samaira: Also, I was competing against middle schoolers and high schoolers in PitchFest, and I won second place, which was $2,500, and I used that to help Girls U Code and CoderBunnyz.
Monica: It feels good but at the same time, we still have to work really hard. This is just the beginning. If you stop working hard, this will fade away. It’s very important to keep yourself grounded and keep on working hard.
Rakesh: To build upon that, we’re all trying to keep ourselves grounded with all of these things happening. These things that are coming are great, but there’s a lot more room to grow. There’s a lot more opportunity. There’s a lot more impact that can be made on the community with this work.
Tammy: That’s actually one of the things that I was thinking. It’s a great idea. It’s awesome that you got a letter from Michelle Obama. It’s awesome that people are really excited. But I can also imagine that there is a responsibility now, because now you realize what you could possibly accomplish and who could you possibly impact. It’s almost like, “Wow, now we have to do this.”
Monica: Yes, you got it. You put it rightly. It’s more responsibility now.
Rakesh: That’s where the workshops come in. For example, one of the local schools’ PTA contacted us saying that they’re doing a game night, and 100-200 kids and parents are coming. It’s the same with our workshops with anywhere from 1200 to 1400 kids. These kids or some of these girls who come into these workshops, which we partnered on with Santa Clara Library, may or may not be exposed to coding before. Getting all of those things going is a responsibility. Speaking of Santa Clara Library, I want to mention a very important person that has been a part of the whole journey. Her name is Erin, too! She’s a manager at Santa Clara Youth Library. She has been an AMAZING supporter of this gig.
Monica: And Santa Clara is our town [so we love being involved here].
Tammy: Absolutely! I like that you started at home too.
Monica: Yes! We want to do everything near our home now. But beyond that, Samaira’s heart is in Santa Clara. She wants to take it to the next level for the Santa Clara kids for sure.
[22:58] Erin: How many games exist like this? Are there only enough games for your workshop or can kids get this in a store somewhere?
Samaira: It is coming to stores in April 2017. But right now we’re only doing this in workshops.
Rakesh: We have about 6 of these games. These are the prototypes that were made a year and a half ago. We’ve been using those games to play and do all these workshops.
[23:22] Erin: April 2017’s just a couple of months away. Where will people be able to find the game?
Samaira: Right now it’s only going to be on my website, but my parents are working with other places that we think CoderBunnyz might—
Tammy: Can you say what your website is?
Samaira: My website is www.coderbunnyz.com.
[23:46] Tammy: You really are dedicated to making sure that girls get exposed to code, and we talk about having a gender gap in technology. Why do you think it’s important that girls get involved and code?
Samaira: Because girls only represent 1/5 of all people in the engineering field. Why does that matter? People say, “Engineering is a boy’s job— it’s a boy’s club and the girls just don’t fit in.” But the truth is, girls can bring more creativity to any project including software and computer science, that’s why we need to bring more and more girls into technology at a young age.
[24:22] Tammy: You obviously brought a lot of creativity with your game. Do you now find that you actually have less time to code because you’re doing your game? Or do you try to practice your coding?
Samaira: I try to practice coding as much as I possibly can.
Monica: Her dad is always behind her. We make sure of that. [Laughter]
[24:45] Tammy: Make sure that some coding gets done in this house, absolutely! This brings me to one point, which we talked about when we were setting up. We’ve interviewed other women for our podcast, whose dads were software engineers or knew people in computer science, but it never occurred to them when they were girls to think about coding. They didn’t discover it until maybe they went to college or sometimes even after college. So it’s very helpful that you’ve discovered it at this age. How important was your dad for this?
Samaira: He’s really important. He motivated me a lot — so did my mom!
Tammy: Do you think you would’ve discovered coding without your dad?
Samaira: No, I would not have discovered coding without my dad. He has played a very big role in helping me know what coding is, and I thank him for that.
Now, Rakesh, come on, isn’t coding just for boys? Why are you dragging this cute little girl into coding? She could be doing so many cute girl things. What are you doing over here? [Laughter]
Erin: Devil’s advocate.
Monica: By the way, she likes dancing and singing — but why coding?
Rakesh: I would like Samaira to answer that.
Samaira: Recently, a test was taken in 65 countries in the world. Girls and boys were tested on the same science tests. Overall, girls outsmarted boys.
Tammy: No way… girls outsmarted boys?
Samaira: But not in the US. So, scientists now think it’s not a biological thing but a cultural thing, and the way we grew up.
Erin: I’ve also heard about another study, I think it was on the subject of math, where scientists tested both boys and girls in 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th grade. What they found was that the girls outperformed the boys until 5th grade. After 5th grade, the girls started to perform lower than the boys. When girls get to a certain age, there’s a lot of cultural stuff that happens.
Samaira: But coding is very important. If I can learn to code, then I can learn many other things.
Erin: That’s exactly how I feel, too, because I didn’t actually start learning to code until I was 27 years old—almost 20 years older than you are! One of the reasons why I challenged myself to learn how to code was that I didn’t want to feel like I was being left behind. I grew up in the Bay Area and I knew a lot of people who were involved in technology. I thought coding would be really hard, but what I discovered was it wasn’t as hard as I thought. Then, I thought to myself, if I can learn how to code, which I thought was hard, what other things in the world can I learn how to do? Now there are no excuses. Now I have to try to learn everything that I think is hard.
Tammy: What do you think about that, Samaira?
Samaira: I think that’s absolutely true. Coding will also improve your mental thinking in other ways. As President Obama once said, “For the people who want to be the leaders of tomorrow, there’s no skill as important as learning to code.” While not every student will become a coder when they grow up, a basic coding and STEM understanding can make them better thinkers.
[27:57] Tammy: Are there other things now that you know you want to learn? One of the things that Erin’s studying now, for example, is physics.
Samaira: I want to learn how to play the guitar.
[28:12] Tammy: Awesome! Playing the guitar would be important because you also make up songs. Why is it important to make a CoderBunnyz song?
Samaira: I just thought that if you make a song out of it, it would interest more and more kids into coding. After all, I love to sing, so why not make a song out of it?
Tammy: What’s really funny about that is there are things I remember from being a kid because I heard it in a song, but I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday. [Laughter]
Rakesh: That’s what all of these things actually is. We evolve, we learn, and we grow. She came up with that idea with the workshop, where along with the game and besides the workshop itself — how about we also do a song? The kids enter into the workshop while the song is playing, and people start to tune in…
Samaira: [sings the CoderBunnyz song] We are the CoderBunnyz, we are the CoderBunnyz, we are the CoderBunnyz, and we love to play. Let’s go every single day! Where are we going today?
[forgets the lyrics] Um… [Laughter]
Tammy: That’s okay. Nicely done!
[29:13] Erin: When you play the song for the workshop, it is pre-recorded and you play it while they’re walking in?
Erin: That’s very cool.
Tammy: You’ve got to learn how to play the guitar — a rock guitar — and then play a rock version of it. [Laughter]
Erin: You can start a whole band and make songs to inspire girls and younger people to get involved.
Samaira: That’s an amazing idea!
Tammy: Yeah, that actually would be fun.
Erin: Now Aadit, you have played this game quite a few times, right?
Erin: What’s your favorite thing about the game?
Aadit: The carrots.
Erin: It looks like Aadit might be in the lead here.
Tammy: I’m noticing that Aadit is right next to me…
Samaira: If there’s another bunny in your way and it’s your turn, you can always jump over another bunny or jump over another bunny’s carrot by using your Jump card.
Tammy: That’s right. You’ve got a Jump card.
[30:09] Erin: When it’s my turn, there was nobody in front of me on the 7 squares to get across, so I’m going to have to pull a lot of Forward cards, right? Are there a lot more Forward cards in each of the decks than there are Turn cards?
Samaira: Yes. There are 18 Forward cards, 9 Left, 9 Right, and 6 Jumps.
Erin: You’ve clearly thought this out thoroughly.
Samaira: Sometimes in advanced levels, some people don’t want to keep moving forward. That would be moving forward seven times in your case. So we have the Repeat cards, where a player can just repeat the ‘Move Forward’ four times, three times, two times…
Erin: Can you tell us in Python what that would be called?
Samaira: Repeat loop.
Erin: A loop, very good.
Samaira: We even have Function cards, where you can move forward, turn left, and turn right all at once using only one card. Let’s say you rolled the dice and got one. You can use that card as a Function card and create a combination of moves of your own.
Erin: Just to be super clear, you can create a function, let’s say “move forward, move forward, turn right,” when normally, that would be three different cards, right?
Samaira: Yes. If you get a one, you can always make that as a Function card.
Tammy: I could’ve definitely used a Function card earlier when I only got one. That would’ve been super helpful.
Samaira: Yes — or repeat. This is just an example for a very basic level. We also have a second level, which has puddles and fences. If there are puddles in your way, it’s easy for a bunny to jump over it, so you can use your Jump card. If there’s a fence in your way, it’s a little too high for the bunny to jump over, so the bunny can just use—
Tammy: Erin just looked at me because our bunny actually jumped over the fence. [Laughter]
Erin: But he was still in the house. It was a fence that we had inside the house.
Tammy: Not only did he jump over the fence—
Monika: How big was the fence?
Tammy: It was about 3 feet high.
Samaira: Oh my gosh! How big was the bunny?
Tammy: He was a little, tiny bunny. He jumped over the fence, found our internet cord, chewed on it, and took down our Internet.
Monica: We’ll make sure that our fence is more than 3 feet high. [Laughter]
Samaira: Our fence is 7 feet high!
Tammy: There’s no way a bunny is getting over that fence.
Samaira: If there’s a fence in the way, it’s too high for the bunny to jump over because it’s 7 feet and not 3 feet, so the bunny can go around the fence.
Monica: That’s where you use the Turn Left and Turn Right cards to move around.
Tammy: Got it. This makes the game a little more complicated.
Monica: Yeah, you have to think strategically to reach the destination with minimum cards.
Erin: That would be optimization of your code.
Rakesh: That’s right.
[32:49] Erin: Can the players put the obstacles, such as the puddles and fences, wherever they wish?
Erin: Is there some sort of order?
Samaira: No, they can put them wherever they wish.
Tammy: That way then, there are infinite ways you can organize the game.
Samaira: There are a few maze examples at the back of the rule book.
Erin: And you have easy, intermediate, and difficult patterns.
Rakesh: Let’s say that she’s a really strong player and we’re just beginners, our maze could be a simpler maze and her maze could be a harder maze. That way, she could have more of a challenge [while we have less of a challenge, but we can still play at the same time].
[33:15] Erin: So the game can actually accommodate a variety of levels at the same time. Cool!
Samaira, you’ve seen a lot of different kinds of kids play this game. Do you notice any patterns in parts of the game that kids find to be more challenging than others?
Samaira: Yes, I do. Sometimes kids get stuck when they have two blocks in their way. Let’s say there’s another puddle in my way. In that case, I would use one Jump card to jump over two tokens. Sometimes kids find that difficult to understand, or it can be difficult when they have many fences in their way.
Tammy: That’s a metaphor for real life, too: There are so many fences in your way, you just can’t figure out how to go forward.
[34:00] Erin: Given this expertise that you’re developing about teaching kids how to code, do you think you might use that knowledge you have to help other people? If there are grown-ups who have their own organizations just like you do, who are also helping kids to learn how to code, have you ever thought, “Hey, maybe I could help those other people help even more kids!”?
Samaira: I’ve actually thought of that. In fact, yesterday I was on Skype with some underprivileged kids. I thought maybe I could help them by giving them this board game. Maybe they could learn coding with their organization, and other kids in the organization could be a part of their class too.
[34:41] Erin: I noticed just now about this game that there are no words. It’s all pictures. That means people who speak any language can play your game.
Samaira: Yes, that’s the main point. Kids don’t even have to know how to read in this game. All they need to know is that this is ‘move forward’, this is ‘turn left’, this is ‘turn right’, and this is ‘jump’. Even if they don’t understand that, they can play with a parent who can help them out.
Erin: You have thought of a lot of different things. I’m super impressed.
Tammy: Erin has been a teacher for Girls Who Code and has worked with high school girls, teaching them how to code.
Erin, do you think you might have tried this game with your high school students?
[35:22] Samaira: We even have advanced levels if they think this is way too easy. This will teach them not only functions and repeats but parallelism, stacks, queues, lists…
Erin: No way! I would love to see that because I’m studying those advanced data structures right now on my own.
Samaira: We have problem-solving, sequencing, conditional branches, loops, functions, debugging, inheritance, parallelism, lists, stacks, queues, and algorithm writing.
Erin: Samaira’s reading a list of more advanced topics off the back of the box. This stuff definitely would’ve been super cool to teach in the Girls Who Code classroom. I’m pretty amazed at how flexible this game is.
Rakesh: That’s exactly true. You had a couple ideas about how organizations can leverage this. Yes, she’s only one person and she cannot go everywhere and teach everyone.
Erin: The cool thing is that you’re actually not just one person, in a sense because the game is a physical representation of everything you’re trying to do. You can send all these games out into the world and impact people who you probably you will never even know that you’ve impacted.
Rakesh: Also, if we work with non-profit organizations in the Silicon Valley that help underprivileged kids, where she teaches one class and provides games, she can grow a tree of instructors and people who can carry this forward, just like you said.
Going back to the different levels, this game grows with age. The first time you look at it, you think, “Oh, that’s easy. I can play it. That’s easy and so simple.”
Tammy: As we saw though, I couldn’t even figure out which card to pull first. It may not be as easy as you think. I just want to put that out there. [Laughter]
Rakesh: But you can look at it and say, “These are the cards. There’s a bunny, there’s obstacles, and this is what I need to do.” You can also add complexities like loops, functions, inheritance, and so forth, which are just concepts, so that when you define a function in Python, for example, you go back and say, “Wow, I know that.” As small and young kids grow up, they can use this game to continue learning the concepts of programming.
Erin: I like that, again, it’s just teaching the concepts and not teaching any particular programming language. As the kid progresses through the levels in the game, whether they’re taking a Python course or a Java course, they already have the structure in their mind. From the game, they’ve already gotten the concept of how a list works for example, regardless of the language they’re using.
Samaira: Once kids know how to play CoderBunnyz, they’ll learn so many other coding concepts more easily because they have a good foundation.
Rakesh: This is going to teach you all of those concepts and then you include the syntax and semantics of the coding. You can then compliment those by practicing coding. What you learn by playing the game or even singing a song, just like what Tammy said, stays in your mind.
Samaira: One of my teachers, when we were learning an English lesson, our class couldn’t memorize when you were supposed to take off the last letter of a word and add “-es”.
Erin: To make a plural word?
Samaira: Yes. Our teacher looked up this video on YouTube and it had this song which is now officially stuck in my head. [Laughter]
[38:44] Tammy: I want to come back to this point about you being in school. You have two full-time jobs: You’re a 3rd grader and the CEO of CoderBunnyz, who’s not just responsible for the vision of it but also engaging all of these people in workshops and being the face of CoderBunnyz. How do you balance two full-time jobs? What do you find easy about it and what do you find hard about it?
Samaira: The easy part is, well… I come home from school at 3:30pm. Usually, I have classes after that. Then I go to classes, I come back and do my homework. By that time, it’s usually 6:00pm. I have 3 hours before I go to bed at 9:00pm. I have 3 hours to do coding and work on CoderBunnyz. That’s usually how my normal day goes, and I think it’s pretty easy and fun.
The part I find hard about it is that sometimes when I get so much homework I don’t finish it until 7:00pm or even later, so I get less time to work on CoderBunnyz. Sometimes, I don’t even have any time at all. That’s what I find a little bit hard. But I try to find as much time as I can to work on CoderBunnyz and to keep learning coding.
[40:05] Tammy: There are lots of CEOs in the world. If you asked them what being a CEO means, they might have all kinds of experience and different perspectives about what it means to be a CEO. Given what you do and how you came to this, I’m curious what’s your perspective about being a CEO? What is that job?
Samaira: To me, being a CEO is taking care of your company and making sure everything is at the right place at the right time and everybody’s doing the right thing. What a CEO means to me is somebody who is working on a project, which in my perspective is to help their community.
[40:51] Tammy: Do you want to keep being a CEO or are there other things that you might want to try to do?
Samaira: I want to keep being a CEO and try more things.
Tammy: Tell us one thing you want to try besides playing rock guitar.
Samaira: I want to study being a doctor.
Tammy: Why is that?
Samaira: I think it’s important to help other people in many ways — but I also want to continue coding.
Tammy: Do you think being a doctor will be your ability to help other people?
Samaira: Yes, if I have extra time after coding.
Tammy: I would imagine you might actually find some spare time to be a doctor. You seem like you can manage many things at once, which is pretty cool.
[41:26] Erin: One thing we like to ask our guests on our show is — especially guests who are making things or trying to launch things or put things out in the world — what do you need right now for CoderBunnyz that people might be able to help you with?
Samaira: Right now I need support.
Tammy: What kind of support do you need?
Samaira: I have lots of support already but I want other people to have an interest in my game and help out in ways like putting it into the market, help package the box and send it after somebody buys it.
Erin: Do you need people to help you run more workshops?
Samaira: Yes, I need some volunteers for that, too. I’m planning to get some volunteers. I can train them how to do my workshops because I might not always have the time. That way, I can also focus on other stuff and they can still be giving the workshops that I might have been doing.
Erin: So, you’d like to have more support for getting the game out there into the world and putting it in stores — for example, someone who can help ship it out when somebody purchases your game.
Erin: You’d like to have some volunteers anywhere in the country or in the world to help facilitate these workshops on your behalf.
Samaira: Yes, some people ask me to go to places like Seattle or Chicago to give workshops. I also have school so I can’t always—
Tammy: Yeah, you’re in 3rd grade. You’re like, “As soon as I’m done with 3rd grade, I will come to Chicago!” [Laughter]
Tammy: Essentially, because you’re a CEO—and we have to do this in formal CEO language— you need support with marketing, distribution, and delivery of the workshops.
Samaira: Yes, I need some people not only from California but also from other states. So I wouldn’t have to take time off from school, I could Skype with them so that they can still be giving the workshops.
[43:40] Tammy: Do you have a recommendation for whether or not it should be kids or grown-ups who’d give your workshops?
Samaira: I prefer it to be kids since kids learn better from kids, but it doesn’t matter to me if it’s a kid or an adult because they’ll still be doing the same thing after all.
[44:00] Tammy: At this point, we’re coming to the end. Oh! There’s something else I wanted to ask you, too. Your birthday’s coming up very soon. What do you plan to do on your birthday? You’re the CEO of the company, are you going to give yourself a day off?
Samaira: My birthday is on Thursday, and Thursday is always the busiest day of my week since I joined my school choir. I usually get up at 8:20 for school. I also joined drama after school, so I come home at 4:30, which I usually do at 3:30. After school, I have another class for 2 hours.
Tammy: What class do you have after school?
Samaira: Math class.
Tammy: Will you not be giving yourself the day off?
Samaira: I will not.
[44:36] Erin: Is there anything else you and your parents want to tell us about CoderBunnyz or about you that we haven’t thought to ask you about yet?
Rakesh: Do you want to talk about Bunny Day and your game coming to the market?
Samaira: Yes, it’s coming out this April around Easter.
Tammy: You’re releasing your game in April around Easter time? That’s nicely done.
Erin: Was that mom’s idea?
Samaira: No, that was my idea.
Monica: She doesn’t want to give credit to anybody! [Laughter]
Erin: Was it really your idea? My apologies. I was just thinking that because your mom has an MBA in marketing, it was her idea!
Tammy: Samaira is the CEO of the company for sure! That was great. I like that. That’s a really good CEO move. “I like my mom but that was my idea.” [Laughter]
Monica: That’s a different topic. “I like my mom — but this is business!”
Rakesh: It’s the same thing with the CoderBunnyz name itself.
Monica: She came up with the ‘Z’ thing to give it an extra zing.
Samaira: First, I was actually thinking of ‘CoderBunnys’ but I thought that wouldn’t be as attractive as it would be with the ‘Z’.
Erin: The Z is pretty punchy. I like it.
Tammy: Usually we like to ask three fun questions at the end for all of our folks. I only came up with one for you. This is very serious. Are you ready? Ice cream or cake?
Samaira: Ice cream.
Erin: No hesitation.
Tammy: No hesitation at all. Why ice cream instead of cake?
Samaira: I don’t like cake at all.
Tammy: Well, what are you going to eat on your birthday?
Samaira: Ice cream!
Monica: You asked her the easiest question because she hates cake.
Tammy: I don’t know anyone who hates cake! You’ve never liked cake?!
Samaira: I’ve never liked cake.
Erin: OK, I’ve got one. If you had one whole free day in the summer, would you rather go to a humongous water park or a humongous amusement park?
Samaira: To a water park.
Tammy: Actually, if you had a whole free day, what would you do with it?
Samaira: Could it be related to CoderBunnyz?
Tammy: You can do anything you want.
Samaira: I would work really, really hard on CoderBunnyz and spend half of my day doing coding.
Tammy: What does it mean to work hard on CoderBunnyz? At this point, the game’s all finished. You’re all done!
Samaira: I would try to bring it to more places other than the website. I would spend ¼ of my day doing that, half of my day doing coding, and then the rest of the day watching TV.
Tammy: What do you like to watch on TV?
Samaira: There’s a show called Mr. Young and I really like that show.
Tammy: You’d spend part of your day marketing CoderBunnyz, part of your day doing some coding, and then you would just zone out and watch some TV?
Erin: That sounds like a pretty balanced day.
Tammy: That’s a good day — with ice cream?
Erin: Samaira, thank you so much for having us over and letting us play your game. I definitely want to have a copy for myself someday.
Tammy: Thank you so much, Monica, Rakesh, Samaira. Thank you, Aadit, for hanging out with us.
Samaira, Monica, Rakesh: Thank you.
Erin: This has been another episode of the WITtalks podcast. I’m Erin, saying goodbye for now.
Tammy: And I’m Tammy, saying goodbye for now.
Erin: The best way to get in touch with Samaira is by emailing her mom at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re interested in buying the board game, go to Samaira’s website at www.coderbunnyz.com.