Create & Cultivate 100: STEM & Finance: Kaya Thomas

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Kaya Thomas was been turning heads in the tech industry long before she graduated from Dartmouth in 2017. Her talent is rivaled by her enterprising character. She quite literally taught herself how to code by enrolling in free coding classes online, then went on to switch her major from environmental engineering to computer science once she unlocked her passion.

Inspired by the very organization where she now mentors students, Black Girls Code, Kaya is steadfast on her mission to empower more women of color in the tech industry and to shape a more inclusive Silicon Valley culture. She’s not here for your middle management glass ceilings. She’s here for the C-suite.

This mission laid the foundation for her to create We Read Too, an iOS app that helps readers discover books for and by people of color. Frustrated by difficulty in finding authors of color or books with diverse characters, she took it upon herself to build the ultimate catalogue. You know, on her downtime as an intern at Time, Inc. She’s got accolades on accolodates and has been recognized by the queen herself, Michelle Obama. Her Big Development Energy has taken her talents to Slack where she currently works as an engineer, and she also stays active as a volunteer mentor with Black Girls Code and Google’s Made With Code.

You’ve referred to not wanting to be “the only” when it comes to being a black woman in the tech industry. What do you see for the future of black women in the tech industry?

I see a future where black women are not "the only" on their teams at tech companies, but are also the CEOs, CTOs, and on the board of directors. We have the potential to go way beyond just being employees, but also creating our own companies and technologies. The real change in the tech industry will happen when we have more underrepresented folks in C-suite positions and on company boards.

What tech announcement or new release are you most looking forward to this year?

June is always the most exciting time for me as an iOS developer. That's when Apple hosts their Worldwide Developer Conference and announces all the updates to their operating systems. As iOS developers, these announcements create new opportunities for us to try out new APIs and new features in our apps.

As the founder of We Read Too, an app dedicated to featuring titles written by authors of color, what books are on your own reading list right now and why?

A series I've wanted to read for awhile now is The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Jemisin recently won her third Hugo award in a row, and was the first person ever to do so. She's so inspiring to me as a black woman who is succeeding immensely in her field and creating better representation in literature.

Who is a black woman in tech who inspires you and why?

Arquay Harris is a director of engineering at Slack and she's been a huge inspiration since I joined the company in 2017. She has incredible insight on managing engineers and on how to advocate for your own career. One of the most inspiring things about Arquay is how she cares so much about passing the torch and making sure that other underrepresented folks can create a successful career path for themselves.

What is one app you can’t live without and why?

The Notes app that comes with the iPhone! I am always jotting down notes or lists that come to my mind and I use the Notes app which syncs across all my devices.

When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road + switch gears to find success?

Whenever I hit a hurdle, I try to remember what I'm working towards in the first place. If it's no longer clear how my current work is contributing to some of my larger goals or overall purpose, then it's time to move on and find a new opportunity that will.

What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?

One of the things I love most about being a developer is being able to reach people through the software I build. It's so fulfilling to talk with people who have used something you've made and hear how it improved their life, even in some really small way.

Take advice with a grain of salt! All experiences are different depending on the person, so there’s really no one size fits all advice.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I think the best advice I've been given is to take advice with a grain of salt! All experiences are different depending on the person, so there's really no one size fits all advice. It's important to recognize the context and circumstances behind the advice you're being given and figure out if it will still work for you given your own circumstances.

What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?

The biggest highlight of my career to date was being honored by First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2015 Black Girls Rock award show. I would have never imagined seeing a First Lady of the United States shout "Black Girls Rock!" or hearing her say my name in reference to celebrating education and the perseverance of black women. It was one of the greatest moments of my life!

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