Dr Thomas Bernard

HeForShe: Thomas Bernard | Director of Engineering, Typeform & Co-founder, QuestFriendz

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.


Inspirational Woman: Lisa Moss | Co-Founder, QuestFriendz

Lisa MossLisa Moss 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’m originally from Canada but I’ve spent the past 20+ years living in Europe, of which the majority of time has been spent in Amsterdam, NL.  I originally arrived in Europe as part of the international management program I was participating in at my university in Canada. This involved studying in Denmark combined with several internships abroad (England, Scotland and NL).

I spent 20 years in a corporate career where I worked across numerous industries and where I was fortunate to have opportunities to develop and grow into leadership roles across diverse disciplines ranging from product management, marketing, business development, brand strategy and general management. At a certain point I felt it was time to take the leap of faith to pursue an entrepreneurial adventure.

I founded QuestFriendz several years ago together with my husband Dr Thomas Bernard, 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 and inclusive books that will inspire and equip the next generation to pursue STEM education and careers. In turn, reducing the STEM skills shortage and increasing female representation and ethnic diversity in STEM.

The inception of QuestFriendz was initially back in 2018 when our twin daughters were three and a half years old, we were looking for books and toys that would nurture and develop their curiosity and foundational STEM skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. We looked across toys, games and books but found very limited 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 husband Dr Thomas Bernard (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?

At certain points in my career, especially as part of my corporate career, I’ve taken time for some career planning in terms of mapping out what I wanted to do as next steps and creating a rough plan to achieve mid term career goals. However, along the way my career planning has evolved many times and has remained fluid, taking many unexpected twists along the way. I’ve always tried to remain open to the opportunities that have come my way together with the desire to build/shape new initiatives and to drive change, rather than to follow a traditional corporate career progression.

I realized that it’s ok to change course and readjust career paths along the way and to follow your intuition as to what feels right personally for you. At a certain point in my career, I had the feeling that I wanted to do something that felt more meaningful and impactful based on my personal beliefs and passion. This helped to spark the transition from corporate to entrepreneur.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I have faced many challenges along the way both personally and professionally. As a woman (and mother) having held various leadership positions at times in male dominated industries and organizations, I have like other women experienced gender stereotypes, the unconscious bias and sexism in the workplace at times. For example, with women being viewed as less competent or valuable than men or the same behaviour of men and women being evaluated differently.  With this worsening further when women have children and as women age. Being a female in a male dominated environment has sadly been tough at certain points in my career, with times where there was clearly a lack of support system for women and where HR could have played a stronger role in creating a more inclusive workplace.  However, on a positive note, these experiences have helped to fuel personal growth and the desire to drive change for future generations, as well provide the nudge needed to take the leap into the entrepreneurial world.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I consider making the transition from an established corporate career to an entrepreneur in the book industry (a new industry for me) has been one of my biggest achievements. A lot of people underestimate just how big a transition this can be, moving from a ‘comfortable’ situation where you have plenty of support and resources at your disposal, an established way of working and industry knowledge/network to a situation where you need to build everything from the ground up in a new industry, expanding your network and building up industry knowledge and expertise as quickly as possible.  It takes a lot of hard work, belief in your overarching mission and vision and relentless perseverance.

Group of children reading SuperQuesters book at home

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

I believe this has been a combination of factors including my desire to drive change and make an impact, love of taking on new challenges and perseverance in everything I do.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

I believe these tips can be applicable across any industry.

First of all find something that you love to do, that stimulates your personal passion and drive. Find (or create) a company with a mission that you believe in and is aligned with your values and beliefs. Look for career opportunities outside of your comfort zone, by taking on roles that allow you to continuously grow and develop. This can mean sometimes not always taking the expected and traditional next career step. These are often the assignments where you can learn the most. Find good mentors and role models, who really ‘see you’ and your potential, and who are willing to go to bat for you. This is both crucial in the corporate world and as an entrepreneur.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I believe there are still many barriers today for women working across different industries, not only in tech and there are also barriers not only for women but for those who are different from the majority of the workforce. Whether this is linked to gender, ethnicity, disability or neurodivergence the barriers are still there and often leave people feeling discriminated against and like an ‘outsider’.

I believe there are several ways to work towards overcoming these barriers both at the beginning of the Tech/STEM pipeline and further along. It starts with education from a young age, opening up children’s views that everyone can have a role to play in the Tech/STEM world regardless of gender, ethnicity, or abilities and creating a diverse pipeline of people to fill these roles.

Companies have a critical role to play in hiring and developing a diverse workforce. Creating a diverse workforce starts at the top, with a representative leadership team, setting the standard and providing the role models needed to attract and retain diverse talent. An inclusive culture needs to go hand in hand with this.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

One critical way to support the progress of women and minorities in tech, is to make sure they are set up for success when they are hired. Some ways to do this include ensuring that diversity and inclusion is driven from the top and embedded in the company culture where diversity in people and ways of thinking are valued and celebrated. As well as ensuring that there are relevant role models and mentors in place throughout different levels of the organization, with a safety system in place to monitor and evaluate along the way.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would encourage girls to get involved in Tech/STEM from an early age as well as encourage parents and teachers to look at the role they can play in helping to accelerate the pace of change by helping all children to see that tech/STEM careers are for everyone and that everyone can have a role to play. Helping to build an inclusive mindset, as well as encouraging girls and building their confidence in STEM from a young age can help to make significant strides.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are so many resources available these days it’s often hard to decide where to spend your limited time. LinkedIn is a great place to start. I recommend connecting and interacting with a diverse set of people depending on your interests, scheduling 1-2 virtual coffees per week. This is a great way to connect on many different topics and areas of interest.

In terms of networking groups and organizations for women in tech, I recommend Women in Tech and WomenTech Network to name a few. They host some great global and regional in person and virtual events.