Africa: Ghanaian-American Tech Whiz Wants To Level The Playing Field Between Silicon Valley And Black Communities
Iddris Sandu has been one busy young man. In his short tech career, the 21-year-old has coded for Instagram and Snapchat and consulted for Twitter. When he’s not creating algorithms, the Ghanaian-American is on a mission to bridge the gap between Silicon Valley and Black communities.
Sandu was born in Accra, Ghana, and when he was 3 his parents relocated to the U.S. At the tender age of 13, he learned to code and eventually landed an internship at Google.
Within two years of his Google stint, Sandu designed an app to help students at his high school find their classrooms easily, CNN reported. That same year, he received the Presidential Scholar Award from then-President Barack Obama, earning him a visit to the White House. He was 16 years old at the time.
“That was one of the most awesome moments of my life,” Sandu said. “I had an Afro at that time, so I remember him saying, ‘I like your Afro.’ He said he used to have one.”
Sandu, who opted not to attend college, has made a major impact in the world of tech.
He wrote a program for Instagram that filtered key sites or activities by a user’s location to identify possible interests. The design has since been overhauled, but it led Sandu to Uber, where he created software called Autonomous Collision Detection Interface to help detect a driver’s hand motions and position, CNN reported.
“We use a sensor to measure your spinal position in a car,” he explained. “And then we also use a device to measure your hand position, so we can tell where your hands were in a car.”
Sandu has also made a connection with the hip-hop world. He is working on a project with Jaden Smith and Kanye West. Prior to this he opened a tech-smart store in L.A. with rapper Nipsey Hussle called The Marathon Store selling clothing, accessories and music.
Not even a month after it opened, “everyone from Diddy to Jay-Z, Swizz Beatz — Alicia Keys’ husband — everyone came out, and it was amazing,” Sandu recalled.
Sandu is also reaching back to help kids in Ghana. “The next tech leaders are going to come from Africa. Why? Because they are exposed to problems which they have the solutions to,” he said.
Starting in 2019, Sandu will be in Lagos, Nigeria, hosting student workshops.
“Kids aren’t given the skills and the raw information to create on a high level,” he explained.
Sandu wants to create a social media platform for people of color. “What’s happening right now is we are all on Instagram, we are all on Facebook, Snapchat, all these tech giants, and we are letting them control the narrative of how our stories can be told,” Sandu said.
He added: “If we want to really tell our stories the way they need to be told, we should focus on pushing forward platforms that we create so we can tell our best narratives.”
Ultimately he wants to see more Blacks in tech and he spends his time encouraging Backs kids to consider STEM careers.
“Information is one of the highest forms of class. And that is what keeps people divided. You should be able to think on a higher level, instead of being strictly consumers. And people of color in particular are more likely to be consumers than creators. It’s really hard to get out of poverty or to change the structure of economic power if you’re always going to be a consumer rather than creating. Shifting that narrative is what I’ve been trying to do. And thus far, it’s worked, it’s successful,” he told Face2face Africa.
Written by Ann Brown