"Make People Feel Welcome, No Matter Their Background"

Kaya Thomas ’17 talks about designing apps and her philosophy on technology.

Kaya Thomas

Kaya Thomas ’17 is a computer scientist, app developer, writer, and public speaker based in San Francisco. She created We Read Too, a mobile app that features a directory of books for children and young adults with characters of color, written by authors of color. She has spoken at technology conferences around the world on app development and technology and inclusivity. She is an iOS engineer with the company Calm.

“Actually, you’re a good programmer”

Professor Hany Farid was a great mentor. I remember taking an exam my freshman year in one of his computer science courses. When I got the exam back, I noticed there was a way I had solved a problem that I knew was correct, but it was graded as wrong. I showed it to him and he said, “Oh, OK. You just did it a different way. Actually, you’re a good programmer.”

Even though it was a simple thing, it stuck with me and has motivated me ever since. I figured if Hany Farid, a pioneer in his field, was saying I’m a good programmer, then I must have a knack for it.

Remember people who are different

Accessibility means making sure that you’re building technology for everyone, not just for yourself or for people who are like you. Always remember people who are different from you. For people who have disabilities, for example, technology is a valuable way to communicate with the world. Inclusivity is taking the extra step, making people feel welcome, no matter their background or how they experience life.

I keep fine-tuning the We Read Too app to make it an even better experience for a wide range of users. I also want to grow the directory to surpass 1,000 books. Right now, it’s nearing 900.

True leaders inspire

One of my most memorable Dartmouth experiences came in my junior year, when I was revitalizing the Women in Computer Science student organization. I had to figure out how to engage people and rebuild this community. It was a great crash course in organization-building and leadership.

I believe a good leader motivates and inspires people. That’s tough to do. It’s easier to motivate on a superficial level. True leaders inspire people to work with them because of a deep, honorable motivation.

Strong leaders in my life are my parents and my grandmother. The work I’m doing goes back to what they engrained in me from an early age: It’s important to be generous and give back to your community. You don’t live in isolation. Regardless of how much my grandmother has for herself, she always finds ways to give to people. For me, I just can’t sit around and see people struggling. If there’s a way for me to contribute to make their lives better, I’ll do it.

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