Miriam Tocino, CEO, Author at Zerus & Ona
👩🏻💻 Job: I write a picture book series about computer related topics to help parents encourage their children to become curious about what technology is and how it works
🇳🇱 Amsterdam, The Netherlands
👶🏻 1 boy (3yo)
Resources she enjoys
Authoring: a multidisciplinary field
What do you like most about your current job?
Its multidisciplinary nature. One day, I’ll be writing this interview, tomorrow talking with libraries, and next week writing and illustrating the latest book and updating the liquid templates for the online store.
And I like working on all of them equally because I look at all those pieces as part of one big puzzle serving the same dream, which is making computers accessible to every child.
After being a software developer and a programmer, don’t you miss the technical aspect of the job
There are still some technicalities involved in my job. Building the website and maintaining it is one example. And I love doing that!
Another example is what we did with the last book — the story is also a song.
I worked together with a live coding musician to compose the music. I just finished a tutorial to teach parents and their children to play the song on their computer with SonicPi.
This tutorial is free, and you can watch the videos here.
What is the next project you’d like to work on?
I’m working on two different projects at the moment. One of them is the third title in the series, a story about math and logic happening inside the CPU, which is running out of space!!
Next to it, I’m writing a collection of short stories for the ABC of Computers. It’s a free series where I publish one story for each word to help parents build up their children’s vocabulary about computers. I love that kids will start using each of the words as they play, making them their own!
You can download the first three stories here.
Multiple Career changes
You were an architect, a programmer and a teacher. So you combine all the perfect skills to write books about tech for kids. What was the process to get there?
It all started four years ago, when I had my son.
Having worked as a software developer and a programming teacher, I naturally started thinking about the way in which I’d like to introduce him to the world of computers.
And how I could bring some of the elements that I used in my teaching into people’s homes and help parents open up the conversation about technology with their kids.
It was during a discussion with my husband, who is a game programmer, that the idea for Zerus & Ona first took shape. “What if we read him stories that take place inside a computer? About how computers do maths or graphics, and how the internet works? And what if they were told by a zero and one? They could live in the Binary World!”
That’s how Zerus & Ona were born. They are the two main characters of a picture book series about computer-related topics to get young children excited about technology and build up their vocabulary about computers.
Given the career you had so far, would you have imagined changing your career path one more time? I may be totally wrong, but as you seem to be more of a “multipotentialite”, maybe you knew you would change job again as you love learning new things.
I tend to make decisions intuitively. So at the time of changing my career path, I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t have a specific goal in mind. But now, when I look back, I can see how everything I’ve been learning in the past twenty years of my life led me to create Zerus & Ona.
And I think you’re right. My love for learning tells me that this won’t be the last time I’ll be changing careers!
You have outstanding references as a coding teacher on Linkedin, do you miss interacting with students as a teacher?
I do miss my life as a teacher, and I hope that I can be back at it soon.
I think, among many other skills, great teachers need to be storytellers. And that’s why I usually planned my classes around stories, which always helped me make abstract concepts accessible and keep my students engaged.
Career & Parenting
Motherhood & Career plans
After welcoming your son into your life, you quit your job as a programming teacher, could you explain what happened? How did you manage the transition from teaching to writing with a kid?
I found it challenging to go back to work with a 3-month-old baby at home. On the one hand, I had a big desire to spend my days with him, and on the other, we were constantly sleep-deprived because our baby didn’t sleep much. I didn’t feel fit enough to teach again so soon. And I finally decided to quit.
Journaling was one of the things that helped me the most to manage the transition. I wrote a lot about my feelings, reflected on what I had been doing in my career so far, and where I wanted to spend my time moving forward.
I soon learned how to organize my days around his nap times to fit my writing and drawing routines.
Would you have imagined the impact motherhood would have on your career plans?
Not at all. Motherhood was a very humbling experience in that sense. It taught me that I couldn’t make it all.
I now like to look at it as a gift — becoming a mom gave me an opportunity to slow down. And that’s what we sometimes need before we can speed up again.
For you, what is the most challenging thing about being a mom?
Making sure that we meet everyone’s needs in the family. And asking for the time alone that I need to show up as a loving mom and wife.
Writing books for kids: inspiration, test, format
How do you find inspiration to make stories about the technical world?
Journaling and talking with the characters is one of my primary sources of inspiration. I like to have the feeling that they’re the ones writing the stories and leading the way.
Whenever I don’t know how to go on with a story, I turn to my journal and ask, “where do we go from here, Zerus? Ona?” And they usually send some directions back.
What is the most challenging thing about writing books for kids? Do you “test” the stories with your son before printing? :)
I test everything with him. That’s one of my favorite moments!
But I want my books not to be only for kids. I believe that if we’re going to get children excited about the world of technology, we first need to reach parents and educators.
They’ll be the ones sharing their excitement with them, and that’s where the change happens!
Computers are everywhere, and they’re part of our children’s culture and upbringing. As parents and educators, it’s our job to let them know that understanding computers and how they work will give them superpowers. This understanding will become an important part of their toolkit to express themselves and create their own world in whatever way they choose.
Have you considered other formats than books to teach code to kids? An application for example. Or, as your husband is a game programmer, a gaming format?
A game is in the making. For sure! And let’s see what the future brings!
What is your creative process to write the books?
We could do another entire blog post about the creative process!
I’m documenting how I make books in a video series for anyone who wants to make her own book and start sharing their stories with the world. You can join the newsletter here.
I’d like to share one message with new moms that a friend of mine gave me and has served me in many moments.
GIVE YOURSELF SOME SPACE.
What is an algorithm?
If you want to start to explain some concepts to your kids, in these posts of Zerus & Ona some are explained:
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