Silicon Valley’s oldest worker

Barbara Beskind is a 91-year-old inventor who has landed her dream job after 80 years. Working in Silicon Valley, a place often in the news for its low number of female and senior employees, Barbara is putting ageists in their place and showing the worth of life experience.

As a ten-year-old girl growing up in America during the great depression, Barbara made the most of limited resources – from that point, it was her dream job to become an inventor.

Unfortunately, at that time, women weren’t accepted into engineering schools. So her life took a different path, serving in the US Army as an occupational therapist, from which she retired with the rank of Major.

Jumping forward to 2013, Barbara was retired and living in a retirement home in Silicon Valley, where she often helped her friends by inventing devices to help them deal with problems they have, often related to ageing.

When she heard about design firm IDEO – which is known for creating the first Apple computer mouse – in a piece where the firm’s founder was discussing the importance of diversity in design teams, she applied for a job.

Not only did she land the job, but two years later, she is also still working there, and has become one of the firms favourite employees. Her co-workers are notified by email on Thursdays when she arrives.

Barbara oversees projects related to ageing, and IDEO is currently working to create a prototype of her modified walker, which she calls a ‘trekker’. Barbara also walks several miles a day using ski poles that she modified herself. She also copes with macula degeneration by reading with the aid of a magnifying glass she modified.

Whilst talking about young designers, Barbara stated, “They can’t put themselves in the shoes of the elderly. People who design for the elderly think they need jewelled pill boxes or pink canes. We need functional equipment.

“I feel that elderly people bring experience that you can’t teach.”

Curious? Why not watch Today’s story on Barbara?

Written by ryanbo