Remember Tampon Run, the brilliant game designed by two teenage girls at coding camp to address inequality in the tech industry AND the taboo surrounding periods at the SAME TIME? It remains one of my favourite things we’ve every posted on It’s Nice That, so you can imagine my delight when Andy Gonzales and Sophie Houser, the brainboxes behind it, got back in touch last week to announce that they’d teamed up with a tech company to develop it even further and make it available as a mobile app, so you can kiss goodbye to your bus journey boredom.
We had a chat with Andy and Sophie (who now have a TEDx talk under their belts, to boot) to discuss the unprecedented reception the game received, the process of collaborating on it with Pivotal Labs to make it bigger and better than ever, and what they’re planning to do when they finish high school. Unsurprisingly, they remain two of the most engaging and professional people I’ve ever spoken to, which is proof if any more was needed that they’ll be running the world (and your tech experiences) before you have time to say “menstruation.”
Last time we spoke you had just launched Tampon Run. What was the reception like for the first version? Did it take you by surprise?
Andy: The reception definitely took us by surprise. When we launched Tampon Run we only expected our friends and family to look at the game. We posted it on a couple of pages where we thought people would be interested – like the Girls Who Code Facebook group – but that was about as far as we went with promoting it. The reception was overwhelmingly positive; we started getting waves of fanmail and press requests. It’s been so rewarding to see how our game has made a difference in the world.
Sophie: Overnight I went from just a high school student to speaking to press in-between classes, being flown out to a gaming hackathon and then getting to build an app with Pivotal Labs. This is the craziest thing that’s happen to me so far in my 17 years of life.
How did Pivotal Labs approach you about expanding your original idea?
Andy: We were looking for some assistance making a mobile app for Tampon Run – we felt that the game would translate very easily to a phone, and that we could reach more people (since people are on their phones more often than they are on their computers). The founder of Girls Who Code’s husband, Nihal Mehta, connected us with Pivotal Labs, and we’re so grateful that they offered to work with us pro bono.
Sophie: Pivotal Labs wanted to support us as young women entering the tech field because they believe firmly in creating a diverse environment in tech. They gave us a team, and from there we worked together in order to create the app.
“When we launched Tampon Run we only expected our friends and family to look at the game. We posted it on a couple of pages where we thought people would be interested – like the Girls Who Code Facebook group – but that was about as far as we went with promoting it. The reception was overwhelmingly positive, we started getting waves of fanmail and press requests.”
Was the process of working with Pivotal Labs collaborative?
Sophie: Yes! Andy and I went to Pivotal Labs every day after school to either pair code with one of the programmers (that’s where we work together to code), speak with our designer about how the game should look and have team meetings to discuss new features. Pivotal also makes a programme called Pivotal Tracker that every team at Pivotal Labs uses. The tracker allowed us to see what the developers were doing and working on daily and reorder priorities easily. That way we could be in touch even while we were at school during the day.
Andy: There was a point during our engagement when I was on break from school for two weeks – I spent a nine to six hour workday with them during that time. It was incredible how much interaction and communication existed between the developers and I. It was a very back and forth process. Even though it was ultimately Sophie’s and my job to make the executive decisions, we got a lot of great input from the developers.
What measures have you put in place to make the game bigger and better?
Sophie: We added a bunch of new features! The game now gets harder over time, there’s a new enemy, a leaderboard, game centre achievements and new original music and sounds by Drew Joy. We are hoping that the new additions to the game will make it more engaging.
Your TEDx talk is fantastic! What was it like giving it? Did you get a lot of response?
Andy: It was really nerve-wracking – I’ve given presentations before, but they all were in-school projects where I never presented to more than 25 people. To present that long of a talk to so many people was definitely a new experience, but very rewarding.
Sophie: I’ve struggled with public speaking since I was very young. Class presentations used to be the bane of my existence. Tampon Run has pushed me to overcome this fear, which has been so rewarding. It felt so good to be able to get up in front of an audience for this TEDx talk and discuss the first time I got my period without being immobilised by fear.
“I’ve struggled with public speaking since I was very young. Class presentations used to be the bane of my existence… It felt so good to be able to get up in front of an audience for this TEDx talk and discuss the first time I got my period without being immobilised by fear.”
What’s your plan next? Are you looking at pursuing careers in technology, or promoting equality in other ways?
Andy: I’m still a junior in high school, so I have about a year and a half to go before I go to college. I definitely want to study Computer Science, though! I hope that I can use my knowledge of coding to help change the world – thanks to Tampon Run, I know that I’m capable of doing that.
Sophie: I’m going to Brown University next year and I plan to study Computer Science. I love the opportunity to be creative in tech, so I plan to continue pursuing a career path in the field. I’ve also loved using coding to create social change with Tampon Run. I want to continue to do that, although I’m not sure if that will be through games or something else. In the immediate future, Andy and I are discussing some book concepts to get more girls excited about coding.
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