#Coding Icon: Kaya Thomas

 #CodingIcon is a mini-series from Jewelbots highlighting the amazing women building the things we use everyday.

It's been said before, and we will say it again: It's hard to be what you can't see. Luckily though, with Coding Icons like Kaya Thomas, nothing is impossible! With her incredible efforts, more visibility is being brought to women and people of color through the power of code.

Kaya is a full time iOS engineer at Slack, where she works on the Messaging team for notifications and accessibility. Before this, Kaya was a student at Dartmouth College studying for her Computer Science degree. During this time, she started learning iOS development through a software engineering internship at Time Inc, Intuit and Apple. Taking advantage of this, she soon after launched her We Read Too app in 2014.

We Read Too is an amazing app that highlights books which celebrates Black, Latinx, Native and Asian authors. Growing up, Kaya noticed there was a lack of representation in literature for kids of color. And so, We Read Too has given diverse literature the spotlight it deserves as educators, librarians, and others in the community can remind youth of color that their stories matter too.

Along with being a book-loving programmer superhero, Kaya is also a proud advocate for representation of women in computer science. She has written in TechCrunch, Fusion, and Medium about how diversity in tech exists and companies need to realize that. Kaya shares her honest opinions as she writes things like, “I wish that tech leaders would just be honest and admit that they’ve made tech culture so exclusive and toxic” in her Medium article response to the Wall Street Journal. For her work in technology and education she was awarded and recognized by Black Girls Rock!, The Root, and Glamour Magazine.

Name: Kaya Thomas
Fun Fact: Michelle Obama honored Kaya for her education advocacy with the We Read Too app!
Twitter: @kthomas901 

Who are/were your role models?

One of my first role models in tech was Kimberly Bryant the founder of Black Girls Code. I watched her TED talk in 2013 and it inspired me to start learning how to code and study computer science.

How old were you when you learned to code?
I was 18 when I started to learn how to code.
How did you learn?
I first learned online through Codecademy then more formally in classes at college.
What makes coding so important to you? (Or what’s your favorite part about coding?)
Coding is important to me because it's the skill of the future. Knowing how to code and understand technology makes me feel that I'm contributing to the future and will always have a part in it. My favorite part of coding is when I learn how to do something new or understand a concept on a deeper level & I'm able to apply it in my real work.
What’re your next big goals or projects for 2018?
Right now I'm working on improving We Read Too, both on the inside and out. I'm refactoring the code to be modern and hoping that improves the user experience & allows me to get more features out to my users. I'm documenting this whole process on my blog (https://kayathomas.info/blog/) and I'm hoping to have more conversations with iOS developers through the process.
Any last pieces of advice?
Coding is a continual learning process. Whether you have been coding for 2 weeks, 5 years or 20 there is always more to learn. In moments when you feel frustration or that you don't know what you're doing realize that every coder regardless of experience often feels that same way. Enjoy the challenge and don't be too hard on yourself.