Secret Code is a book that follows the life of a girl just like you! Seriously, you can customize the character to look just like you and you can choose her name too. The creator of the book, Mara Binudin, started the project after feeling frustrated with the option of books available for young girls. She was out shopping one day for a young girl’s birthday party when she couldn’t find anything that she felt spoke to how she wanted a girl to be perceived. ‘Everything was either you had to be a princess or fall in love with some Prince,’ she said, ‘I wanted to tell another kind of story, my own story, I’m someone who likes to code but I still like tutus and all things pink, I wanted her to kick butt and still be a girl because that’s what it means to be a girl; to be exactly what you want to be.’ Mara wanted to change the perception of what it means to be a girl and after winning a grant from Nasty Gal Sophia Amoruso’s Girlboss Foundation, the book Secret Code came to life!
Mara, much like the character in the book learned how to code at a young age. At 12, her father bought her a book ‘How to Use HTML3,’ that walked her through basic coding principles and more. Since coding has evolved and become more accessible, she wanted other young girls to have the same opportunities to learn to code as she did growing up.
In the book the young girl is so passionate about her side project that she has no time to clean her room, however her father doesn’t seem to understand. When he insists she clean her room she decides to build a robot and delegate her chores to the robot. In it, you’ll see the robot get bit out of control and you, the protagonist will have to navigate the robot back to control, plus after the story you can continue the fun with activities to get started in technology, like coding for toys or games.
The idea for the book came to Mara at a point when, she says, she ‘hated her life.’ She felt like throwing everything away and she’d quit in 2 seconds because she felt she was working so hard and losing her soul doing something she no longer enjoyed. She worked as a Creative Director for a larger company when one day she came across a pretty popular book that started from a blog post. The book talked a lot about living truthfully and the crossroads of doing what you ‘must be doing’ and what you feel you ‘should be doing.’
In that she found a light, she realized she was no longer happy with where she was at. ‘Sometimes,’ she said, ‘when you know you’re not on the right path, you can still stay there even though you’re not happy because of the pressure to stay; maybe what you think you may ‘have to do’ or what looks good according to society.’ After 12 years of working professionally as a creative for larger companies such as Verizon and Nike, she called it quits and decided to work on this personal project, and in order to keep herself afloat, she worked as a freelancer, taking on clients part time, as well.
When I asked her what’s the most challenging part of creating the book she referred to the fact that the level of productivity can be frustrating, being your own cheerleader and doing things with very few return can be challenging. Not getting emails back, being on your own means you’re on your own, you reach out to a bunch of people and when you don’t hear back it can be lonely and frustrating and at times you wonder ‘is anyone out there?’
‘When there are eyeballs on you, it’s easier to be good, because you know you have to deliver, but when you’re at home and you just need to do this, there is more pressure and the process can be slower so you have to remind yourself to trust the process.’ At one point Mara went back to work for 2 months but shortly after she realized she no longer wanted to be there anymore. ‘I’m an introvert,’ she said, ‘and the idea of having to be in meetings all day started to drain me.’
‘I get my energy from solitude and I was drained from being around people all day.’ Even though it may be more enticing to work for a larger company, Mara finds freedom in working on her own project. She admits she’s good at her job and she tends to nail the job more than anyone else but she knew it wasn’t where she wanted to be forever. When I asked about the transition, she referred to her upbringing saying she’s used to change and ‘lives for a sense of adventure.’ Mara is half French and half Filipino and moved to Paris when she was 12 and has lived in various countries since, including Canada, the US, where she is based now, and the Philippines, where she was born. Her upbringing has inspired her to go after what she’s wanted and in a lot of ways, she said, her mom has shaped her idea of what it means to be a woman. To her, being a woman means to do things that you want to do, to go against the rules, and to follow what you want regardless of the criticism you may face. ‘My mom ingrained a sense of adventure in me,’ she said.
She was adventurous. ‘My mom married a Filipino in the early 80s and didn’t even tell her parents, she sold everything in her apartment and bought a one way ticket to the Philippines.’ ‘For me, life is all about movement. It’s about taking risk.’ Even though Mara’s upbringing was surrounded by travel and adventure, it wasn’t until she went to school in Paris that she learned more about the arts and being a creative. She never aspired to work for larger companies but she knew she wanted to create, in one way or the other. One day while still in high school, she happened to meet an orientation advisor who told her about an Art School in Paris. She ended up applying, getting in and here, she learned more about Graphic Design, Illustration and Advertising. She did three years at this school, then in her 4th year went to another school while part time interning (equivalent to college in the US but definitely more rigorous, Mara talked about being in class for up to 8 to 9 hours a day in Paris whereas in the US, college on some days can mean you’re only in school for an hour or 2 a day). Today, at 33 she finally feels like she’s doing what she wants; creating. The biggest difference she said in working on her own project as opposed to working for a larger companies is that ‘there is a lot more creative freedom.’ ‘When you work for larger corporations, sometimes the vision can get lost, it’s so big, and everyone has a say, there are so many stages and levels of approval that you have to go through that your original idea can turn out to be so far than what you imagined.’ ‘When you’re working on your own projects, independently and often with smaller groups, there is the chance of creating a product you’re proud of and recognize.’
‘It is different being behind the desk and actually doing the work than when you just see the work from the outside,’ Mara said. It’s important to try many things and when you’re actually in the position you’ll find what you like and dislike. ‘There have been so many times where I’ve held on to things for so long because what I thought society would like but at the end of the day you have to decide what you need and whether what you’re doing aligns with who you are deep down inside.’ You need to dig, dig deep, and listen to your gut. Not everything is as they seem on paper. If you can’t figure it out why you’re unhappy, but you know your soul is being drained, you need to really dig deeper and try to figure out why you’re frustrated. You need to find what makes you happy and unhappy.
‘Even if rationally something seems like the best thing ever, if you’re not happy, get out of there, and find your way. If your soul is being sucked, you need to just trust your gut.’ If your gut always changes, look deeper. ‘When I was younger I’d overthink a lot of things and be afraid so my advice would be don’t worry, there are no mistakes, work hard, be nice, trust your gut and don’t underestimate your skills and talents. Ask for promotions, and go after your calling. You are your biggest advantage. Life is an adventure. Take risks.’
Mara Binudin is an advertising Creative Director working on digital experiences, products, and integrated campaigns. She spent the last three years at AKQA New York and was named as one of Mashable’s ’15 Rising Stars’ in Advertising. Mara was behind the viral TV and digital campaign for Verizon about the lack of women in STEM and its roots starting during childhood, which planted a seed in what she’s pursuing today, Secret Code.