Tasnim Bhuiyan On Women, Side Hustles And Knowing What You Stand For

“People always assumed I was male – there’s a perception that women can’t like gaming or coding.”

Tasnim Bhuiyan is a woman who wears many hats: her full-time role, as head of social content for Oath/Tumblr, has seen her leading the social strategy for some of the world’s biggest brands, as well as single-handedly running the international network of influencers and creatives, The NXT. She was named one of Campaign’s 30 Next Female Creative Leaders 2018 and is also a coder, gamer, illustrator and blogger. She talks to us about getting girls into coding, how persistence is key and the importance of building a personal brand.

“When I was at school, there was a poster hanging up that said, ‘Do you want to be a designer?’ I saw that poster and decided that’s what I wanted to do.

“No one was particularly helpful about it at school but near where I lived there was a lady who ran a printer shop and knew about design who helped teach me. She offered work experience to kids at my school and gave me an amazing reference.

“I taught myself how to code at home. My father a was professor of political science and my mother was a language teacher – they didn’t do STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). It’s great to see more women embracing gaming and coding. It’s really heartening to see I’m not alone.

“People always assumed I was male – there’s a perception that women can’t like gaming or coding. People are always surprised that I’m quite a girly-girl. Now, a lot of women are trying to get their kids, their nieces and nephews into STEM subjects, but I think it also needs to start from school, or before.

“I’m teaching my niece, who’s four, how to code. It’s so intuitive. She still loves princesses, but she also loves the Hulk and building robots out of Lego. There’s a massive perception about gender but if you don’t put a gendered name on a toy, it doesn’t matter who it’s for.

“I started out as an artist/illustrator. It’s hard when you don’t know anybody – it took me over six months to get a job. One thing I did to stand out was be a bit different with my CV – I printed it as a 3D box. I went out with a sign, I signed up to every job fair, online and offline. When it comes to immediate impressions, recruiters have seen everything. Can you do something to change their perception?

“My sister has been my biggest inspiration. My mother, too, but she was quieter. I was born in London but my family is Bangladeshi, and there are certain cultural connotations that being a woman, you don’t get to choose what you want to do. You’re expected to become a doctor, accountant or lawyer.

“My sister was a massive rebel – she decided to become an architect. She went out and did what she wanted to do. A lot of people said she was too outspoken, too mouthy. Not my parents - they were understanding - but there was pushback from the rest of the family. She was the first person to tell me to do it when I said I was going to art school. My mum’s first reaction was to cry. She was worried I wouldn’t make any money.

“I started training as an artist quite young and Frida Kahlo was one of my biggest inspirations. She was so brave. Her work is so poignant, so unapologetically about who she was, how she looked. As a woman of colour, I found her especially influential – it allowed me to see that someone else from a certain background could be that powerful because when I was younger, there were very few influential people who looked like me. Even now, I’ll be in a meeting of 50 people and I’m the only person of colour in the room. It’s slowly improving and there are people who are making a difference.

“When it comes to personal brand, the most important thing is to know why you’re doing something - if you don’t know that, you can’t succeed. Through The NXT, I find and work with people on Tumblr who are making great content and I help attach them to brands. I’ve got about 1,000 people on my books, from super-established people to a young, Mexican mother who draws when her kids are asleep.

“Every single one of them has to give me a why before I’ll work with them. I need someone who has a why and is very strong about it, who knows what they will and won’t do. When it comes to personal brand, it’s important to understand their values and how they can showcase their values through their work.

“My additional side hustles include the blogs Design Nerd, a Tumblr blog focusing on art and other things I love, like Star Wars and Marvel, and Most Beautiful GIFs, a site where I shoot stuff and showcase work that’s been submitted by an audience.

“I’m also creating a comic called The Undercity, a dark comic. It’s about a man who wakes up dead and has to realise how he was murdered - he’s a really horrible character so it could be anybody in his life who killed him. My ambitions when I get it finished are for it to be more interactive, more of a game or an app.

“I would also love to work with more female comic creators. We have a lot of women on our books but the way women are portrayed and drawn in comics, often over sexualised is not ideal.

“I’m a massive comic fan but I find myself wincing. You read it, you wince and you turn the page – it’s the same with gaming. I would like to get through the day and a piece of work without having to wince. More people who are more empathetic about how women are portrayed would be great.

“For me, success is being proud of what I’ve made, knowing it’s touched somebody. Even if it’s one person. One of the great things about social media is the instant gratification and the instant feedback. It’s good to listen to constructive feedback – if someone hates this for a reason, I can learn from it. Instantly having an audience tell me helps me in my process, helps me to feel successful when I know people are affected by it.

“For young women who want to work in the creative industries, I’d say it’s hard but don’t give up because it’s very easy to give up in the creative industries. It can be about nepotism, someone’s brother or sister getting the job.

“I’d also say: try and find other influential women via LinkedIn. I’m dying to find more women in the industry who genuinely care. Once you’ve made it, I feel it’s good to help the next person. Most women, I’d like to hope, would like to help.

“If you reach out, that shows drive, ambition, confidence.”