Ayah Bdeir is an artist, engineer, and entrepreneur who founded littleBits, a library of tiny interactive circuit-boards which can be easily snapped together to perform specific functions.
What’s one thing you wish you knew about engineering back when you were in high school?
That when you combine engineering with creativity and design you can create the most magical experiences.
What’s your proudest accomplishment as an engineer?
Creating my company, littleBits! littleBits put the power of electronics in the hands of everyone and are changing the way people interact with and understand technology.
Tell me about a time in your career when your work has been about discovery or curiosity?
I started littleBits as a prototype when I was a fellow at the Art and Technology Lab in New York, called Eyebeam, and made some prototypes and put them on my desk and put them on my website. There was only me at the time, so I continued, and I obsessed about the problem. I obsessed about this idea of how to make electronics accessible and how to make them modular. Three and a half years later, I had a product, and that’s when I decided to start a company.
What are you doing these days?
I am the Founder & CEO of littleBits. littleBits are electronic modules that snap together with magnets for prototyping, learning and play.
I have a background in engineering. I did my undergrad as a computer engineer. In my 3rd year of undergrad we were required to do an internship and I got one at MIT as part of LIDS (Lab for Information and Decision Systems). It was a very dry and technical internship so I frequently went looking for something artistic. One day I stumbled upon a talk by the founder of IDEO at the MIT Media Lab and decided that was where I wanted to do my masters.
When I started engineering, I kept trying to find ways to bring more creative practices into engineering. When I went to the Media Lab it started my mission that I’ve been on for the past many years on how to make electronics accessible, and how to make electronics a creative medium.
Do you feel your work contributes to society? How so?
Electronics are everywhere. We now produce, consume and throw out more electronic gadgets and technology enhanced products than ever before.
Over the past years, technology has moved from being an integral part of our lives, to helping define who we are. Yet, engineering is mystified, electronic objects are black-boxed and creativity is limited by the tools and materials available to each discipline.
I believe creativity with electronics (light, sound, sensors, etc.) will explode when they can be used as, and combined with other traditional materials such as paper, cardboard and screws. Materials are intuitive, accessible, self-contained, expressive, and most of all, can be integrated early in the creative process. Why not be able to combine felt with wood and light? Or Popsicle sticks with sound and motion sensitivity? Electronics are too pervasive and the technology too widespread for it to remain sequestered in its own space.
Why do we need more female engineers?
I was lucky to be raised in a household where we were never led to believe that women were different than men, or ever thought that there was anything we couldn’t do. That upbringing has informed my view in how to contribute to the betterment of women in the workplace. I just try to do the best possible work I can every single day and be proud of it, and hopefully make others proud and inspired too. But what I do actually take a lot of care in, is making a gender-neutral product. This helps us achieve part of our mission to get more girls interested in science and engineering, and has been working very well. It is important to me that men and women are evenly represented at my own company and in the larger field of engineering.
Is there a person who influenced your decision to become an engineer?
Yes, see above. I actually tried to quit multiple times during my undergrad but my parents encouraged me to at least complete my degree and then I could try something else. By the time I graduated, I was convinced of all the creative and powerful things I could do as an engineer.
Check out: Little Bits