This 91-Year-Old Is Designing Tech In Silicon Valley…And She Doesn’t Even Own A Smartphone

It's taken her close to eight decades to arrive at the scene, but age is not slowing nonagenarian Barbara Beskind from realising her childhood dream as an inventor in Silicon Valley.

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Age certainly isn't a barrier nor a sign of decline for 91-year-old Barbara Beskind, who is currently living her dream as a tech designer with top Silicon Valley design firm IDEO

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Growing up during the Great Depression, Beskind displayed a knack for designing at the tender age of 8 and had always wanted to be an inventor since she was 10 years old

"Well, in the Depression, if you can't buy toys, you make 'em, " she says. Beskind's first design was for a hobbyhorse. "I was determined I was going to have one, and so I made it with old tires. I learned a lot about gravity, 'cause I fell off so many times."

However, her dreams never did come to fruition, as engineering schools at that time were only reserved for the boys. Instead, Beskind joined the army as an occupational therapist while also writing books and learning to paint.

Beskind joined the Army near the end of World War II, where she worked in occupational therapy, designing braces and other equipment for wounded and polio-stricken soldiers.

After retiring as a major in 1966, she established the country’s first independent occupational-therapy clinic in the U.S., designing new equipment all along the way.

From those years, she has six patents on inflatable devices that help children with balance issues, including a patent related to inflatable therapeutic equipment.

An opportunity arose when Beskind came across an interview with IDEO CEO David Kelley, which made her think about working at the design firm. So she wrote in to apply for a job.

Two years ago, Beskind was watching '60 Minutes' and saw David Kelley, the founder of IDEO, talking about how important it was to have a diverse staff on a design team. He emphasized how important it was to bring different perspectives to a project.

"It took me about two months to write my resume, paring it down from nine pages,'' Beskind told "Then I wrote the letter and sent it by snail mail."
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In an industry frequently criticised for its ageist culture, Beskind was hired in a matter of days. Bringing her invaluable experiences to the firm, the 91-year-old offers feedback and input to designers working on products for the elderly.

Beskind now takes public transportation and walks a few blocks to IDEO's office in Palo Alto, California, every Thursday, where she is a beloved member of the staff. There's even a company-wide email that gets sent to alert her co-workers, many of whom are six or seven decades younger than her, to when she arrives.

"Everybody gives a hug,'' she said. "IDEO is really my second family, and they're very supportive. On Thursdays, I feel 30 years younger."
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Barbara Beskind at her 90th birthday party at IDEO.

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Beskind also shares her own designs and prototypes with her team at IDEO, which she often tests out at the retirement home she resides in

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She still walks several miles a day with the help of ski poles that she bought from Costco and modified, and she has adapted a magnifying device to help her read the paper because of poor eyesight due to macular degeneration. She also has designed what she has dubbed a "trekker,'' a modified version of a walker, which is being developed into a prototype by IDEO.
Image via IDEO

Measuring her wealth based on having "uninterrupted time to think", Beskind considers herself one of the wealthiest people in the world. She also thinks that there is untapped potential in everyone regardless of how old they are.

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"I'm one of the wealthiest people in the world. I'm as wealthy as Warren Buffett, because I measure my wealth by having uninterrupted time. I have no cell phone except one to use for emergency. I have no laptop. I have no smartphone, no iPod, because I can't see them. I have uninterrupted time to think," she explained.

"Everybody has untapped resources. You just have to find them. They may be in music, they may be in childcare, they may be in volunteering at the hospital or at the library. I think with the aging, you so often lose your identity, and I think this is what IDEO gives to me, is the opportunity to explore what my identity is."

Watch Barbara Beskind tell her incredible story HERE:

In the previous edition of Feel Good Friday, we looked at the efforts of a bunch of Malaysians who saw an opportunity to bring people closer together from the ruins of the East Coast Floods:

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