The young prodigy brings great hope to the progression of diversity in tech with culturally inclusive and innovative efforts.
Considering his long list of accomplishments, it is hard to believe that Iddris Sandu, a tech innovator, is only 21-years old. Since the age of 13, Iddris has had the opportunity to work with some of the most forefront tech companies in the world. As a teen Iddris was provided an opportunity to work at Google. Over the years he’s worked with and alongside organizations like Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. His story is quite intriguing and builds upon his family’s history and heritage—being Ghanaian-American and moving from Ghana with family at the age of three. Iddris was raised in the Compton and Harbor City areas in Los Angeles and now seeks to show young and less fortunate children that they can make an impact on the world. He has no shortage of ideas about the ways in which the tech world could transform, one of those areas regards diversifying the field.
One of Iddris’ main observations was the lack of diversity and cultural inclusion of minorities in the field of tech. Thus, the tech industry can learn and apply the following points from Iddris to pursue diversity and inclusion into the tech world more progressively:
Break Stereotypes in Tech
Iddris’ uncanny break into the tech field allowed him to instantly surpassed many stereotypes and barriers minorities have faced in tech—he was young, Ghanaian-American, and from an urban area in LA. Much to the benefit of the universe, Iddris happened to be at the right place at the right time to meet an employee from Google who helped facilitate his first tech opportunity as a young teen. However, imagine that because of Iddris’ age, ethnicity, and background he was not given an opportunity. Now, imagine no further because this is indeed a reality for young minorities who do not have the means or connections to catch the eyes of key individuals in the tech world.
During an interview with Angie Martinez, Iddris shared “What I’m seeing, at least for me in the tech world, is people are like “tech diversity” or “diversity in tech” is just like a lab experiment. “You know, oh, we’ll just put more people and that’ll get people to stop talking about it.”” He further added, “But we have to realize that hurts your bottom line as a company, you’re actually yielding profit by making your platform diverse. We live in an information age where people are starting to wake up.” Iddris’ success as a young engineer and creator is a huge success for black and minority communities and will open doors for other aspirational minority tech enthusiasts to come. His specific expertise in tech and connection with the culture is what helps him further break barriers in tech. In the same interview with Angie, Iddris also shared “having the culture’s back is one thing, but actually understanding the technology is another. And I haven’t seen anyone in the tech space that understands the culture this well and on the cultural side that understands the technology.” The young prodigy brings great hope to the progression of diversity in tech with culturally inclusive and innovative efforts.
Create Culturally Inclusive Collaborations
The young engineer has had many awe-inspiring collaborations with prominent figures in the black community—including Jayden Smith and Kanye West. However, his most notable collaboration with the late Nipsey Hussle on the creation of The Marathon Clothing store—the world’s first smart store. Iddris first met rapper and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle at a chance run-in at Starbucks. Afterward, Sandu became the Chief Technology Officer for the clothing store the duo designed to be a cross between a physical and digital retail experience. The store innovatively featured clothing, fixtures and store designs that had digital content embedded into them. When you download the store’s app, you can hover it over any one of these items to initiate the playing of a unique piece of digital content, like an exclusive music video or documentary. The store’s launch in 2017 was influential in the tech world, but truly impacted the hip-hop and entertainment worlds. The collaboration was innovative, yet culturally inclusive and relative and cause the interest of many people in the black community. Not to mention, the store is located on the corner of Crenshaw and Slauson in L.A.—a location where Nipsey spent much time in his youth. The area, which was once troubled, became an area of opportunity for minorities who were underserved and lacked jobs and other opportunities. Iddris’ collaboration with the store was a visual and physical testimony of a successful minority collaboration in tech.
Meet Young Minority Enthusiasts Where They Are
In the past few years, Iddris’ popularity has skyrocketed. He has been featured in many interviews and was even invited to be the commencement speaker at NYU’s Black Graduation in Spring of 2019. During an interview with Big Boy, Iddris shared his hopes to inspire and teach young black kids that they can also learn to code, develop and create in areas they are currently interested. He mentioned in this interview that he is working on technology that allows a virtual DJ experience to catch the interest of young minority music and tech enthusiasts—further letting them know that they can use tech to create many different types of experiences, not just mainstream innovations. Iddris shared “I realized that within disenfranchised communities, we look up to the athletes, we look up to the celebrities, we look up to the entertainers. So, if we could get the entertainers, on a mass scale, to talk about programming and make it more cool, we could get more kids, we could incentivize them and make it more cool.” Regarding increased efforts in diversifying the field of tech, this is a major step. Very rarely have initiatives been created to allow young minorities from underserved populations to express or even execute their culturally relevant or entertaining ideas.
Iddris’ background, expertise and creative abilities will definitely reach and influence more young minorities to explore and pursue careers in tech. He is a definite example of how representation matters in creating more opportunities for minorities in tech and will certainly have a great impact on the matter for years to come.
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Candace Parrish, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Communication + consultant in the areas of Public Relations, Social Media/Tech, Visual Communication, Health Communication and D&I. Connect with Candace on Instagram and Twitter.