This Coder Wanted Kids To See Themselves Reflected In Books — So She Created An App

by Melissa Ragsdale
Courtesy of Kaya Thomas

While she was still just an undergrad in college, Kaya Thomas rocked the world of literature when she launched her app, We Read Too, a mobile directory of children’s and young adult books written by authors of color, with protagonists of color.

"It's been really special because not only are these books getting to people of color, who need to see themselves reflected in literature and are now going to be able to see themselves, but they're also getting out to kids who should also be seeing a diversity of characters in the books they're reading," Thomas tells Bustle. "I think it's important for all young people to see themselves in books, but also be exposed to people who are different from themselves. So being able to know that both of those things are happening as a result of We Read Too has been really, really rewarding."

After graduating from Dartmouth in 2017, Thomas now works as a full-time iOS engineer for Slack, but in her spare time, she continues to work on the We Read Too app. She aims to increase the size of the directory in the coming months and build collaborations with schools, libraries, and organizations. In combining her passion for literature with her talents as a coder, Thomas has become an inspiration to kids everywhere who dream of making a different through books or coding.

Reading Has Helped Thomas Consider More Perspectives As A Software Developer

Photo courtesy of Kaya Thomas

"One of the reasons I've always loved reading is it gives you a different perspective on the world," she tells Bustle. "You're reading and you're given this character, you're in this character's life, you're in this characters world, and you get to kind of escape from whatever your current situation is and just focus in on this new world that you're reading. One of the reasons that I've always enjoyed reading is it allows you to experience something different from yourself. It's important that developers ... remove themselves from the common use case. ... Sometimes, when people are developing, they forget that other people besides themselves are going to be using it, which can be really dangerous depending on what they're building, right? It can have a really bad effect.

"So I think for me, being a reader, and having that external experience where you're reading and you're getting new perspectives from different worlds, it makes you realize that there are so many life experiences besides your own."

She Believes That Tech And Literature Have More In Common Than People Realize

"There are a lot of creative folks who have been involved in the process of creating technology and folks who have the understanding that it's a creative process," she says. "I think that's where better technology will be created, because we need that creative innovation and that creative perspective. Literature is all about that. And when you think of writing, you don't necessarily think of code, but there are a lot of similarities between writing literature and writing code. No one's going to read a book of code, but I think it's a unique process on its own where everybody has their own style of doing it and their own way of going about it, and the results of writing code can be something that is so beautiful and gratifying."

She Finds Her Inspiration In Afrofuturism And Sci-Fi Written By Black Women

"I've been reading Nnedi Okorafor, Octavia Butler, and most recently I just read Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi," Thomas says. "Those books have really been inspiring me because I've always loved dystopia and sci-fi, but often times people of color are written out of the future in these books, which is really sad. It's really sad to think that these authors could write a new history where people of color pretty much don't exist. [Afrofutursim is] a hope that we not only exist in the future but there are futures in which ... people of color already have invented things and been at the forefront of new technologies and new realities. Seeing Afrofuturism and reading characters who are so powerful and trying to figure out their world has been really inspiring."

Thomas Loves How Reading Can Open You Up To The Wide Variety of Human Experiences

"What it means to be a human being in this world is really hard for us to answer because we all experience life so differently," she tells Bustle. "It can be so easy to think about how your experience in life and make assumptions that everyone experiences life similar to you. But reading a variety of different authors and different types of literature, it reminds you that life is different and unique to every single human being on this planet. When I think about how can we make life's experience better for everyone on the planet, reading consistently reminds me that there's not one answer for that. There's no one-size-fits-all. That's probably my favorite thing about reading."