In a technological era dominated by Ivy-bred wunderkinds, the unsuspecting career trajectory of 91-year-old Barbara Beskind capsizes Silicon Valley’s customary emphasis on youth.
Beskind, who says she fantasized about being an inventor ever since she was a young girl growing up during the Great Depression, is now living her dream. Two years ago, Beskind joined IDEO -- a design firm perhaps best known for developing the first mouse for Apple.
Every Thursday, Beskind commutes from her retirement community to IDEO's Palo Alto, Calif. offices, where she holds court on a couch surrounded by fellow designers who are old enough to be her grandchildren, NPR reports.
Most of Beskind's work aims to solve problems faced by the elderly. Some of her inventions include wearable airbags intended to help break falls and eyeglasses equipped with cameras and speakers to help users remember peoples’ names. Beskind herself suffers from macular degeneration, a vision condition, and many of her friends where she lives struggle with balance issues.
In addition to challenging the team to think in new ways, the mere fact of Beskind’s presence invigorates IDEO staffers. “People get very excited when she shows up,” IDEO associate partner Gretchen Addi told The Wall Street Journal. “When she walks in, an email goes out to the whole office that just says, 'She’s here!'"
Beskind applied to IDEO after seeing the company’s CEO, David Kelley, speak about staff diversity on 60 Minutes. She wrote to the firm and was hired in a matter of days. IDEO, it turns out, had already been honing its focus on products aimed at the aging boomer market.
Ultimately, however, it did take corporate America some time to catch up with Beskind’s gifts. Though she was designing toys at age 8 and told her high school counselor she wanted to be an inventor, women weren’t eligible for engineering degrees at the time. So Beskind enlisted in the Army, where she served as an occupational therapist for 44 years.
But now, Beskind says, all these years later, she has finally found her true calling. “It makes aging more tolerable, more enjoyable,” she told NPR of her entrepreneurial pursuits. “I think this is one of the best chapters of my life.”