Nineteen year old Kaya Thomas, who was recently honored at BET’s Black Girls Rock, is passionate about African American youth joining the tech industry.
When she is not busy being a student and a teacher’s assistant at Dartmouth College, the sophomore works as a technical mentor to urban communities, and dishes her coding skills on YouTube.
She also steadily develops her online application called, ‘We Read Too.’ The app serves as a directory of books authored by and for young ethnic people. Thomas is currently in the process of expanding her business to multiple platforms and different entities.
‘We Read Too’ was a concept that the entrepreneur conceived in high school during one of her holiday breaks. As a book enthusiast, she was always disappointed in the lack of African American characters in fictions.
This was also true for the stories by black authors on the New York Times’ Best Sellers List, or just popular books in general. The then freshman student decided to track down African American novelists on the web.
“It took about three to four weeks to find them,” Thomas says. “Most people would have probably given up.”
Although Thomas had a vision, she was unsure about how to accomplish it at the time. Her interest in technology led her to watch online documentaries on computer programming.
What exactly is computer programming?
Also known as coding, it is a program language comprised of letters and numbers that gives tasks or instructions for anything computer related (software, websites, applications.) It essentially acts as building blocks.
Coding wasn’t Thomas’ only source of enlightenment during her docu-researching. One of the creators of ‘Black Girls CODE,’ an organization that teaches computer coding to young girls, made a statement in a video that resonated with Thomas. Since last year, she became this very organization’s technical mentor.
“She said we’re [people of color] only consumers, not creators,” the entrepreneur recites. Thomas built her experience in computer programming and in 2013 launched ‘We Read Too.’
The demand for her service became clear when she snagged more than 300 downloads within just three days of its debut. It currently boasts more than 2,000 users and continues to grow internationally (Africa, Asia, and Europe.)
Thomas, who is from Staten Island, New York, believes technology is a skill needed for any business. Computer Programming is a primary example of a technical skill that she champions.
“It empowers you with the knowledge to understand how your product works from the inside and out,” she says. “It allows you direct involvement with its creation.”
As for ‘We Read Too,’ Thomas hopes to connect with schools, libraries, and book stores. There is also a demand for the free service to impact Android devices, something she is working to fulfill.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, Thomas recommends joining coding programs, especially for those interested in technology. She also advises taking an introductory tech class. There is also the option of watching ‘Code With Kaya’ on YouTube.
“Keep iterating on your idea even after release because there is always room for improvement,” the developer adds.