Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: PopSmartKids founder Priyanka Raha helps households discover significant display screen time

Priyanka Raha
Priyanka Raha. (Molly Blair Photo)

After a 15-year career in the tech industry in which she’s been a software developer and a technical program manager, Priyanka Raha is now a startup founder, focused on how children use and are affected by technology.

Raha, our latest Geek of the Week, launched PopSmartKids just over a year ago after noticing the amount of exposure her two young boys were giving to their tech devices. She said the company, which provides practical advise to parents on how to engage in their child’s tech time, is driving the mentoring-over-monitoring revolution and is committed to promoting digital citizenship and responsible online behavior.

“The thing that scares me most about kids on screens today is that they are becoming content consumers rather than content creators,” Raha said. “Part of the problem is that app designers build in addictive features that will keep kids glued to the screens. We need to understand that the same rules for designing applications for everyone else don’t apply to developing kids’ apps.”

Raha holds a Bachelors degree in Engineering (Electronics and Telecommunication) and an MBA in Strategy and Systems from Purdue University. She worked and lived in nine cities across India, the United States and Europe before settling in Seattle, which she now calls home.

A core member of the Female Founders Alliance and other female founder communities, she is a zealous supporter of women founders and women in tech. Last year she spoke at the HUE Tech Summit, the first conference for women of color in tech.

PopSmartKids is on the brink of launching PopSmartWrite, an interactive learning tool designed to make writing fun for kids as they can use art, photos and colors to express their ideas. It empowers parents to collaborate and engage in their children’s storytelling process — instead of being removed from their children’s tech games and activities.

“I was on a panel recently when a middle schooler mentioned that he is on YouTube all the time and he knows that it’s an addictive behavior for him and he asked what should he do to avoid it,” Raha said. “The fact that the young kids are waking up and realizing that there needs to be a balance between time spent on media and otherwise, gives me hope. And now we need parents and teachers to be the mentors that our kids want and need us to be.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Priyanka Raha”

What do you do, and why do you do it? Digital citizenship is very near and dear to my heart and I talk about it every chance I get. At PopSmartKids, we empower the digital citizens of tomorrow with tools to thrive by promoting appropriate and meaningful use of technology. I strongly believe that technology is a magic wand and that we can use it to solve tough problems, accelerate innovation and amplify creativity. But like all wands, technology takes on the intent of the human being. We as parents, mentors and adults must teach our kids to be mindful and intentional when it comes to technology use.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? I am in the children’s apps space and the biggest challenge for me has been to strike a balance between meaningful design to boost social emotional skills and a design interface that encourages kids to play on the app. There is the underlying problem of measuring engagement and it is NOT how many times you tap on the screen. I want people to think, how do you meaningfully measure engagement?

Where do you find your inspiration? My inspiration comes from very immediate people. I look at my kids and I know that I need to leave the world a slightly better place than I found it. I am also constantly motivated by fellow entrepreneurs who are tackling some of the biggest challenges that we face today. I admire their courage and grit and it keeps me going.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My phone. I use it to manage my global distributed team and stay connected to my friends and family. Managing a busy work schedule with after-school activities for two boys, with schedules that don’t match, would be impossible without the calendar app. I have my work, personal and a shared calendar between me and my husband — all synced to my phone. So I guess you could say my phone, but more specifically my calendar app.

“Mac all the way,” says Priyanka Raha. (Photo courtesy of Priyanka Raha)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? My home office has an iMac which works very well for spreadsheets and presentations, or if I need two screens. Like most startup entrepreneurs, my workspace is very mobile. I am constantly meeting people outside the house and so I work at coffee shops, different co-working locations and sometimes from places like a dojo while my son is finishing up his lessons. Besides my home office, my favorite place to work is the Atlas co-working space, where I am a member.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Sometimes balance is about blocking out your time even for personal stuff. I love cooking for my family and eating with them. A couple of hours in the evening is my sacred time when I don’t reply to emails and I spend quality time with my kids. We get really silly — draw, chase each other around the house and make faces. It completely de-stresses me. For the evenings when I am unable to do that if I am at events or meetings, my kids get chocolate chip pancakes the morning after. It’s our deal.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac all the way.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Can I say Wonder Woman?

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time machine for sure.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … I would invest the money in PopSmartKids in a heartbeat to further drive its mission of promoting mindful and intentional use of technology in our everyday lives. I want to be doing exactly what I am doing right now, but with even more firepower and growth.

I once waited in line for … This is a story from another era. Back in the day when we did not have cell phones, my dorm at the Engineering college in India had one single phone line hooked on to the wall and I waited in line to talk to my then boyfriend (now husband). I wish I could say I did this once, but might I admit I did it more than I can count? Things ended up working out so you could say it was worth the time!

Your role models: I have always had difficulty answering this question because I cannot point to one single person who has been my role model. My list of role models is a long one and is constantly evolving. But I will say that I most often draw inspiration from the people that surround me in my everyday life. I admire my Mom for her kindness and persistence. My Dad taught me the importance of hard work and financial literacy. In the past year I have been inspired by many entrepreneurs I have met for their work and tenacity. Most recently I am greatly influenced by the work of Devorah Heitner (author of “Screenwise”) for her work on young people’s relationship with digital media.

Greatest game in history: I am not sure I have a favorite game in history. However, I do enjoy playing a mean game of Fruit Ninja with my toddler on the Xbox and plain old chess with my tween.

Best gadget ever: My Apple Watch.

First computer: The first computer I owned was a Sony VAIO laptop after I started working. Prior to that, I never owned a computer and always used the ones in my school labs. Growing up it was not something I could afford.

Current phone: iPhone 6S.

Favorite app: The Apple Activity app. Love that it is simple and intuitive and the rings definitely help me keep track of my daily health goals.

Favorite cause: Sexual assault prevention.

Most important technology of 2019: I believe it is blended learning tech and its power to drive equity in education, if we do it right. I am very excited that a lot of the big companies have already declared that they no longer require employees to have a college degree. This will make the labor market a level playing field for job seekers with real skills.

Most important technology of 2021: Oh, this is a tough one. My favorite one is a third option at gas pumps with bio fuel. I am all about tech for good and sustainable living!

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Always challenge yourself and never stop learning. Feedback and words of advice will be in abundance but only YOU are in a unique position to know what’s best for you. Take in what you need to absorb and move on. And while I have your attention, I suggest to never stop talking to your kids about their tech time. Remember that they might be adept at gliding over the touch screen but you have the wisdom, use it to teach them good practices.

Website: PopSmartKids

Twitter: @PriyankaRaha

LinkedIn: Priyanka Raha

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