Edna Martinson is the cofounder of Boddle Learning, which received a Unity EdTech Creator Challenge grant in 2021. Anum Akraam is a senior development engineer at Boddle and part of the team working to make learning fun. We caught up with them both during the GSV Conference this week.
Edna, can you tell us a little about your experience being an entrepreneur and cofounding Boddle Learning? How did you get started?
Edna: I cofounded Boddle Learning in 2018 with my husband, Clarence Tan. Boddle was born from a need we saw in the K–12 educational space for a tool that helps kids learn in a more fun, transformational, and measurable way, while also addressing widening learning gaps.
Building on Unity was a no-brainer, as we wanted to give kids the same level of quality gameplay as their favorite entertainment games. I have a deep passion for creating gamified experiences that improve student outcomes and inspire learning, and it’s been incredible to see Boddle being used in thousands of classrooms and homes, and igniting a spark for learning in kids from all demographics.
That’s incredible! Anum, can you tell us a bit about your role and experience working at Boddle Learning?
Anum: I have loved playing games since my childhood. I was deeply fascinated by different storylines and characters in games; playing them felt like experiencing all the exciting and magical things firsthand. When I started my Bachelor's degree in computer science, I knew I wanted to make my hobby into my career, because I strongly believe that we should do what we enjoy. So, I started implementing the tutorials provided by Unity to make small games with basic 2D and 3D objects.
Working at Boddle Learning has truly been a life-changing experience for me. Edna and Clarence have created an exemplary work environment for the employees here. Everyone is deeply invested in this project and treats it like their own. We feel heard, and health is always considered a top priority within the company. We all believe Boddle Learning has the potential to revamp the education sector with its gamified features that grab children's interest and make learning fun for them.
We love how Boddle is using Unity to create more inclusive access to high-quality education. What’s next for Boddle Learning?
Edna: Currently, Boddle is an interactive 3D math platform. But, as we continue to grow, Boddle will expand its subject offerings, games, and global reach, transforming into a true gamification marketplace. I believe we are all students, so I see a future of continuous learning as I expand my knowledge base and leadership skills, as well as use what I've learned to cultivate other leaders around me. As the saying goes, we rise by lifting others.
Being a woman in tech for me is also an opportunity to highlight and champion representation, and let little girls – especially those who look like me – know that they are capable of achieving what I've achieved and much, much more.
It sounds like you’ve been able to integrate your values and mission into your work. Would you agree with that?
Edna: Absolutely. Three things that were core values even before starting Boddle were the importance of a good education, using the skills and knowledge collected to uplift others, and valuing each other for what's inside.
All three values drive our work at Boddle and are represented within the platform. The unique bottle-headed game characters were created to illustrate filling up on knowledge; while Boddles are learning, their heads fill up, and then they pour back out to grow plants and use superpowers. This teaches kids the importance of gaining knowledge and then sharing it. We also intentionally designed the Boddle characters to be transparent, to encourage the appreciation of others for what's inside them.
Teaching the value of what's on the inside is very powerful. Anum, as a real-time 3D creator yourself, can you tell us about your experience getting started and share any advice you have for new creators?
Anum: When I got into the field, Unity was still in its early days in Pakistan and it was considered a somewhat unstable career choice. But, since I was engrossed in the gaming world, I took a leap of faith and chose to build my career path around Unity. There were ups and downs, but that's a part of any journey. After learning the basics, I started digging deeper into it, which only expanded my interest more. It's a sea of knowledge and possibilities.
There are very few women in tech and even fewer in Unity development, which was a bit overwhelming initially, but with time I overcame that. I have found that there are so many people in the tech industry who are rooting for women to come to the front and claim their positions. My seniors and peers have always been very motivating and helpful regardless of their gender which makes it easier to steer through the challenges of being a minority in this field.
What has helped you navigate being underrepresented in the industry?
Anum: Being the only female dev has its frustrations, but I also see it as an opportunity to become a mentor for young women and provide them with the guidance that I was looking for when I was starting out in my career. Day by day I am seeing a shift in the mindsets of women and industry leaders, and I see women taking on more technical and challenging roles. I would love to have more female devs under my leadership, and I am already trying to equip women who want to learn with guidance and tools they might need to get started in the field.
What's one piece of advice you have for other women?
Edna: There is such a huge need for female representation when it comes to social impact within tech, and particularly in the gaming space. I would encourage other women who have a vision and passion for creating to not let imposter syndrome discourage them from pursuing their passions. Their voices, creative stories, and unique perspectives are needed in order to bring more representation to the industry and inspire other female creators and visionaries.
Anum: My one piece of advice for other women would be to believe in themselves. I often see women who lack confidence in their abilities and step back from so many opportunities, when they’re actually more than capable of doing all the jobs they think they can't handle or don't deserve.
Is there a woman you look up to in your career?
Edna: There are so many incredible women who I look up to, but one that comes to mind immediately is Candice Matthews Brackeen, CEO of Lightship Capital. Her dedication to supporting and championing diverse founders and helping them make an impact while building generational wealth is inspiring.
Anum: I look up to all the women who are working hard against all odds to make change in the world, whether big or small. If I have to choose one, I’ll choose Jehan Ara, CEO of P@SHA (Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT and ITES), because of her countless efforts to promote and develop the software and services industry in Pakistan.
Anum, you also worked as a curriculum specialist for the Generation Pakistan training program. Can you tell us a bit about the program?
Anum: Generation Pakistan is working on bringing awareness, training, and job placements to program graduates, because a lot of them don't know about the opportunities available in the game development industry if you have Unity skills. It was an amazing experience for me to be on the Generation Pakistan team, talking to some of the biggest game studios in Pakistan to understand the gaps in technical training and resources. We took what we learned and shaped our training program around those needs. The goal is to first make students aware of Unity’s potential and then equip them with the entry-level skills and professionalism needed to get their dream jobs in this industry.
We love learning about all of the transformative ways creators are using Unity. Stay up-to-date with leaders like Edna, Anum, and Boddle Learning by joining the Unity mailing list.