Dr Thomas BernardDr Thomas Bernard is Co-Founder of QuestFriendz, a STEM educational children’s book publisher on a mission to create the next generation of future innovators.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am originally from France but have lived abroad for the past 20 years, most of the time spent in The Netherlands. I have been working in tech for the past 15+ years in diverse high tech engineering roles. I am currently engineering lead in a global tech company where I strive to create diversity both in terms of gender and diverse nationalities, along with a mix of different backgrounds. My vision is that diversity in teams and workforce enables better ideas that fuel innovation and a more harmonious and engaged workplace.

In addition to my job in a global tech company, I also founded QuestFriendz several years ago together with my wife Lisa Moss, pursuing a lifelong dream to build and grow our own business linked to a mission we are very passionate about. QuestFriendz is a new children’s book publisher, with a mission to produce expertly designed inclusive books that will inspire and equip the next generation to pursue STEM education and careers. In turn, helping to reduce the STEM skills shortage and increasing female representation and ethnic diversity in STEM. I initially noticed the lack of female representation in STEM during my postgraduate (PhD) studies at the University of Amsterdam. As a lecturer for undergraduate engineering and computer science programs, I noticed that there was an exceptionally low female representation both in the classes and at conferences I was attending at the time.

The idea for QuestFriendz was initially sparked back in 2018 when our twin daughters were three and a half years old. My wife and I were looking for books and toys that would nurture and develop their curiosity and help to develop foundational STEM skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. We looked across toys, games and books but found minimal options for this younger age range. And most were limited, depicting stereotypical lead characters or role models such as young boys in white lab coats.

At the same time there was growing media coverage regarding the increasing STEM skills gap around the world including limited diversity in STEM which we also experienced first-hand in the workplace. We saw an opportunity in the market which we decided to pursue and created SuperQuesters: The Case of the Stolen Sun, which is the first instalment in a unique new series which inspires a love of STEM learning through interactive play and stories, expertly designed to develop children’s STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) publishing on 3 May 2022, written by myself and my wife Lisa Moss (illustrated by Amy Willcox).

The SuperQuesters books are also a great screen-free way to help young children develop basic coding skills. The QuestFriendz website (www.questfriendz.com) features a wealth of STEM activities and resources for use in the home or school setting.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have never really worked on career planning in a formal sense. However, from a young age I’ve always been fascinated by all science disciplines with a desire to learn and experiment as much as possible in these areas.

My interest and passion in diverse science disciplines and topics has led me to where I am today in my career. For example, from the age of 11 I discovered programming using BASIC and LOGO educational programming languages. At the time I was focused on learning as much as possible about these languages and how to practically apply them by creating my own computer games. This initial love of programming is what steered me in the direction of computer engineering.

My initial plan was to become a professor of engineering as I’ve always had a love for education and teaching. This was inspired by my love of helping others to develop themselves and succeed. I changed track from academia to industry as I preferred the faster pace of innovation and more diverse innovation topics available to be involved in.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

When I initially moved from France to the Netherlands at the start of my postgraduate (PhD) program, I spoke and wrote very limited English and no Dutch at all. I self taught myself in the first few years, it was an additional challenge at the time both in terms of making sure I could express myself as needed to complete my degree and as an undergraduate lecturer at the university.

Regarding my entrepreneurial experience, there have also been challenges along the way including setting up a business from scratch, learning the ropes of a new industry and establishing a network in the traditional industry of children’s book publishing.

Perseverance and the ability to keep pushing through any hurdles are as essential, as learning from your own mistakes.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Setting up my own publishing business, together with my wife and business partner Lisa Moss, I would say is one of my biggest achievements to date. Coming from a corporate background where everything is well established and arranged, making the transition to setting up our own business has come with challenges but I am feeling extremely proud with what we’ve achieved to date and I’m excited to see the ne par of our journey unfold.

Group of children reading SuperQuesters book at home

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Having a supportive partner has been a major factor in achieving my success to date both in terms of my PhD, career in tech and starting of QuestFriendz. It starts with someone to bounce around ideas/brainstorm with to catalysing these ideas together, to being supportive when faced with any challenges along the way.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

A big part of my role as engineering head is to mentor people around me both in terms of my teams as well as other areas of the company. I help them to become aware of their potential and how to realize it to the fullest extent. It gives me a lot of energy helping others to succeed professionally and personally.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?

Businesses and governments should be aware that having a diverse and inclusive workforce helps to foster new ideas and this is key to driving innovation. If you have people with the same mindset and profile, you will only have converging ideas whereas when you have a diverse pool of talent in the same team or company, this results in divergent thinking which brings novel ideas and approaches to solve real world problems and resulting in making better decisions.

More specifically for businesses, there is a tendency to hire candidates of similar/same profiles of current employees as this feels comfortable and relatable. Companies and government need to train their employees to open up their perspectives in order to address these natural biases and hire candidates who are different from themselves.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

Currently the unfortunate reality is that it is still very much a male driven workforce in STEM/Tech especially in the areas of computing and engineering. There is clearly a need to attract people from both genders first of all to fill this basic gap around the world. In the UK alone, the nation’s growing STEM skills gap is estimated to be costing the economy £1.5bn per year. There is a big transformation taking place as companies across industries and around the world are digitalizing their companies, processes, operations, etc. It is already very challenging to fill critical positions in tech, which is expecting to become even more difficult in the years to come as the number of STEM/Tech roles to be filled will continue to increase.

Also very importantly, as tech starts to play a greater role in everyday life it becomes essential to ensure that all people across gender, ethnicities, abilities and backgrounds are represented in the tech world and that their needs are taken into account including in the innovation funnel.  This links to our mission at QuestFriendz where we are addressing the beginning of the education funnel with our STEM interactive stories, activities and resources in order to inspire the next generation of super problem-solvers and curious creators. Our aim is to bring STEM learning to the masses from a young age, helping children to develop both an interest and confidence in this area in order to become technology creators rather than simply consuming technology.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Dare to follow your own path regardless of what others may say or think.

Everyone will always have an opinion but only you truly know what is the right direction for you, that brings you both purpose and fulfilment.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

The next challenge is to further establish and scale up QuestFriendz as an impactful children’s publisher. Our core values are to inspire STEM learning in children from a young, and we want to bring our business to the next level so that we achieve our mission of Bringing STEM learning to the mass.