Randi Zucker­berg Helps Kids Ex­pe­ri­ence Tech

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Liz Pos­ner

For par­ents strug­gling to pre­pare their kids for a tech-cen­tered world while pro­tect­ing them from be­com­ing iPhone ad­dicts, Randi Zucker­berg seems like she’s fig­ured out the right bal­ance.

Zucker­berg, an en­tre­pre­neur and tech in­vestor, is cur­rently man­ning sev­eral projects. She’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ing “Dot,” a girl-power chil­dren’s TV show that’s based on her New York Times best­selling pic­ture book, while run­ning Zucker­berg Me­dia, her pro­duc­tion com­pany and mar­ket­ing firm.

That’s all in ad­di­tion to rais­ing two kids in Man­hat­tan and pur­su­ing a side ca­reer as a Broad­way singer in such pro­duc­tions as the 2014 musical “Rock of Ages.”

Since leav­ing Sil­i­con Val­ley and open­ing shop in New York City, Zucker­berg has turned to ex­plor­ing her deep­est pas­sions.

“Some­thing that’s true of Jewish her­itage in gen­eral is that when you have a mis­sion state­ment for what you do, you get so ex­cited to get out of bed every morn­ing to do what you do,” she said.

Zucker­berg says she is most ex­cited about giv­ing kids and fam­i­lies the op­por­tu­nity to fall in love with tech and science. She be­lieves there aren’t enough chil­dren who have ac­cess and ex­po­sure to tech­nol­ogy.

“So many tech jobs are open and un­filled. For me, that’s a big prob­lem worth tack­ling,” Zucker­berg said. An early em­ployee of Face­book, and elder sis­ter to Mark Zucker­berg, she is pretty well-qual­i­fied to guide Amer­i­can fam­i­lies into the world of tech.

Her lat­est ven­ture, Sue’s Tech Kitchen, is a fam­ily-friendly in­ter­ac­tive cafe and tech play­ground for ages 6 and up that gives chil­dren the chance to code a video game, com­pose mu­sic and ex­plore tech­nol­ogy in­spired by the world’s top minds in STEM re­search, gam­ing and ed­u­ca­tion. Zucker­berg de­buted STK in Chat­tanooga, Ten­nessee, ear­lier this year. Why Chat­tanooga? “It gives kids out­side of places like New York City this op­por­tu­nity. If their par­ents aren’t tech savvy, they’ll still have the chance to in­ter­act with this science.”

In places where chil­dren do have ac­cess, fam­i­lies of­ten strug­gle with the pres­ence of too much tech­nol­ogy at home. Chil­dren to­day are sur­rounded by smart­phones, tablets, lap­tops, tele­vi­sions screens and hand­held video game con­soles, and par­ents are of­ten crit­i­cized when they hand their kids an iPad to keep them quiet. Zucker­berg said it’s hard for par­ents to draw the line to keep them

from be­ing overly re­liant on gad­gets for en­ter­tain­ment. “It’s so dif­fer­ent for every fam­ily,” Zucker­berg said. “I hear from fam­i­lies with kids on the autism spec­trum that tech al­lows their kids to com­mu­ni­cate with peers like noth­ing else. For them, tech is a sav­ior.”

And gad­gets don’t mean, nec­es­sar­ily, screens, by the way. “Play­ing with ro­bots, blocks, en­gi­neer­ing con­cepts, even go­ing out­side on a sunny day and fly­ing a drone. I don’t want par­ents to think screens are the only way to in­tro­duce kids to tech,” she says.

Zucker­berg says her work to en­cour­age chil­dren to ex­plore STEM is re­lated to her pas­sion for find­ing ways to sup­port women in lead­er­ship roles. En­cour­ag­ing fe­male en­trepreneur­ship, like her 2015 in­vest­ment in Moxxly, a fe­male-founded dig­i­tal breast pump com­pany, and push­ing for in­creased women’s en­try into the tech sec­tor are a “huge part of what I do every day,” she said. “Some of the glar­ing gaps in the in­dus­try in­clude a lack of gen­der di­ver­sity, which is why part of what I want to do is in­tro­duce all fam­i­lies to tech­nol­ogy.

“I spent an en­tire decade in Sil­i­con Val­ley as one of the only women in the room. I’d love noth­ing more than to see that change with the next gen­er­a­tion. For me, that starts early, and pro­grams like Girls Who Code are chang­ing this. The prob­lem is, girls start opt­ing out of math and science around the third grade.”

“I’ve al­ways been a cre­ator I’ve al­ways loved to dream up new things,” she said. “I’m com­pletely un­able to be cre­ative when I’m glued to my phone. When you’re con­stantly con­nected to other peo­ple, you can’t un­plug.”

Zucker­berg takes an “un­plug­ging break” every day by go­ing to the gym, see­ing a show or en­gag­ing in some other recre­ational or healthy ac­tiv­ity. She teaches her chil­dren the im­por­tance of this “un­plugged” time as well: “On week­ends, we do a ‘dig­i­tal Shab­bat,’ where we turn ev­ery­thing off.”

“My Jewish iden­tity is hugely im­por­tant to me,” she said. “I re­mem­ber go­ing to He­brew school and ask­ing, ‘Why are we spend­ing so much time study­ing the past?’ Now when I look at the tech in­dus­try, I see peo­ple only think­ing about the fu­ture, ask­ing what’s com­ing down the pipe­line. It’s re­ally im­por­tant to study the past, which is not some­thing I see many lead­ers do­ing. That’s where my Jewish her­itage and re­li­gion come into play. Jews think about the roots of is­sues, and that’s some­thing I think about in my busi­ness. I wish other lead­ers would think about it more, too.”

‘I’ve al­ways loved to dream up new things. I’m com­pletely un­able to be cre­ative when I’m glued to my phone.’

GETTY IM­AGES

BEYOND THE SO­CIAL NET­WORK:

Zucker­berg founded Sue’s Tech Kitchen: a tech play­ground

and cafe.

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