When Iddris Sandu was in high school, he developed a mobile software that would later gain the attention of former U.S. president Barack Obama and land him at the White House, where he received the honorary presidential scholar award.
He was only 16 years old. Now 21, the Los Angeles-based young man is the unconventional tech guru who has accomplished many incredible feats, including being responsible for algorithms that have made Uber, Instagram and Snapchat what they are today.
The software engineer considers himself a “cultural architect” and said he aims to “level the playing field” between Silicon Valley and young communities of colour.
Born and raised in Harbor City, California with parents from Ghana, Sandu would never forget a harrowing experience he had when he was eight – his father had wanted to take him on a trip to Ghana.
“But on the fourth day of the trip, he abandoned me in this village, took my passport and came back to the States,” Sandu told Oxford University’s Music and Style Magzine, adding that he was abandoned for almost nine months before getting into contact with an NGO which helped him travel back home.
He got back to the U.S. when the first-ever iPhone was unveiled, and this started his journey into the tech world.
“I just got super inspired. I thought – this device is going to change the world. The reason why the iPhone was so important was because it was the first time when regular consumers could develop for other regular consumers. Before, you really had to work at a tech company for multiple years to be able to offer any sort of input or to create an app. But Apple made it so mainstream. I knew it was the future,” he said.
Just 10 years old then, Sandu started learning programming on his own for the next two years at a public library and this was where he got spotted by a designer from Google, who offered him an internship opportunity at the company’s headquarters.
At age 13, he got his first experience with programming and worked on many projects such as the initial Google blogger, Google Plus, among others.
Yet, Sandu was determined to affect change, hence, at the age of 15, he designed an app for his high school that gave students turn by turn directions to navigate their classrooms.