Iddris simply wants to be known as a design architect. The 22-year-old unconventional tech genius has written code and algorithms for the likes of Instagram, Uber and Snapchat and consulted for the likes of Twitter. Currently, he’s working with Kanye West and Jaden Smith to create augmented-reality experiences around music and politics for the tech festival ComplexCon in Chicago this July.
Born in Accra, Ghana, Sandu’s parents moved to the United States when he was 3. He learned to code when he was just 13 and shortly after that he had the opportunity to work at Google as an intern.
It was a life-changing experience that cemented Sandu’s meteoric rise in the American tech industry.
He received the Presidential Scholar Award from President Obama. Conceived the world’s first smart retail experience, The Marathon Store, with the late rapper Nipsey Hussle. Designed an album cover for Kanye West. Gave a Ted Talk, Taught a class at Apple, Conceived a high-tech parking meter that will be unveiled this year in L.A, just to mention a few.
Sandu didn’t go to college, he says he couldn’t afford it, being a minority and he also didn’t want to wait four years to make an impact; guess his conviction to change the status quo and the world at large was too great to suppress.
Sandu wants to “level the playing field” between Silicon Valley and black communities. He insists he hasn’t forgotten his roots in Ghana and this is evident in countless tweets he’s shared with his followers on Twitter. He strongly believes the next tech leaders are going to come from Africa. Sandu plans to come back home to the motherland this year to help students envision social platforms of their own.
Techpreneur Magazine reached out to Iddris for an exclusive interview on his passion to change the world through unbiased technology, great design and algorithms.
1. Let’s kick off with an unconventional question, what turns you on Iddris?
Discovery of new information and exposure to new forms of communication.
2. What are your thoughts on technology in general and where it’s headed in the next 5 to 10 years?
I feel like there’s an opportunity for technology to converge with spirituality in the next 10 years. But before we get there, it must be a universal language with universal algorithms. Because it will be accessed by all, we must stabilize rather than infer bias
3. How important is design in shaping the future of technology?
Design is very important during the creation of technology as it applies to both form and function. I feel that we’ll start seeing interactive technology that engages with us more organically (sound, touch, sight, emotion) than through digital means (like screens, keyboards, and mouses).
4. You make tech look and sound so cool, how has the hip-hop culture influenced your career in tech.
I feel like hip hop has always been a proponent of defining how I move within technology.
Hip-hop in itself was birthed through technology through reverse engineering.
Grandmaster Flash reverse engineered turntables, and in doing so, created a platform and presented that to his authentic user base.
The movement would later grow and form the bases of what we have today: being hip hop.
5. You are a big advocate of synthesizing tech with culture, what does this mean exactly to the average person?
By this, I simply mean that culture is not a proponent for technology. Technology is a proponent for culture.
Technology, being presented as something that comes before the culture, is not a valid way of raising the frequency of humanity.
Technology helps us complete work. Work is anything that uses energy. There is always a be-ing that precedes work, therefore work cannot get done on its own without an operator or task that is given. The same with technology, it cannot/ should not operate without a clear goal or purpose in mind.
Technology is encoded and engrained throughout humanity based on the needs of humans. Not the other way around.
6. You’ve pointed out on countless occasions, the lack of diversity in the tech we use today, how can this be corrected and by who?
My truth is that with technology, it becomes very difficult to correct an already biased System.
I feel like the realization should be on newer platforms that are being worked on. They should have diversity — from the ground up.
In the 21st-century, Technology should seek to be a universal language for the masses.
But in order for this to work, the platform that the technology is built on must be diverse in order for it to be universal.
This is the Challenge we are tasked with.
7. Have there been any obstacles within yourself that you’ve had to overcome to be successful?
Absolutely. Like all great leaders, often I feel like the main thing I’ve eradicated from my life is the need for validation from external sources on how to channel in my own source.
8. How do you define success?
I define success outwardly. By this, I mean that as a lightworker, I define my success based on the enhancements I’m able to make for my community and the general world rather than the enhancements of self-gain. Likewise, I need to be the best version of self in order to enhance the community; so in many ways, they both work hand-in-hand. LOL.
9. Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
I produce and write music.
10. There are talks of AI taking over the world, Elon Musk is saying it’s more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Does that scare you? (Excerpts from Iddris’ interview with Nate Storey)
I never get scared or fearful, I get cautious. I’m really cautious because this is us training the machine. What happens when the machine trains another machine to be more efficient? And that machine trains another machine? We’re going to get to a point where our very creation—I mean, it’s already outsmarted us. Everyone goes to Google. It’s so funny, I tell people all the time, whether you’re religious or not, God and Google both start with G but most people go to the latter. People aren’t praying for answers anymore. They go straight to Google.
Elon and all those [guys]—they see the bigger picture. But I’m probably the only one that understands both levels. I sat down with Kanye and assisted with designing his album cover and worked on the album Yandhi. But I’ve also sat down with Elon Musk.
They say all great leaders make their decisions at a big conference table. At the A.I. conference table, we have Elon Musk, Sam Altman, Peter Thiel, and Mark Zuckerberg, and all these people sitting down. Is the table really diverse? Or is it another history session, where you have the very same people that sat down and created the Constitution sitting at the very same table?
10. Your first encounter in Ghana as a kid was unpleasant as you’ve mentioned in quite a number of interviews, have you ever considered revisiting the country to reshape or as you’d put it, redesign your experience?
Absolutely. In the near future, we’ll be discussing our efforts to boost and reshape thinking as it applies to Africa.
Later this year I plan on working towards building a resource center for youth in Ghana to equip themselves with the skill sets needed improve the economy.
It’s time for us to look inward and look at the resources of human capital we have within the country ; rather than outward, how society tells us we must operate causing us to mostly outsource or work.
11. What is one thing you find to be true that most people would disagree with?
Africa will globally lead the future of technology.
12. So tell us about HALT, we hear it’s your biggest project so far.
Yes, Halt is one of the largest projects I’ve worked on thus far.
We plan on revolutionizing the parking meter industry by creating security protocols that serve residents of the community.
I’m redesigning parking meters for L.A. There’s Near Field Communication (NFC), Apple Pay, Google Pay, facial recognition. We can detect when your car pulls up. There’s a camera so you can check on your car when you go to park. You can add more time from the app anywhere. There’s a Wi-Fi beacon at any meter. You can be driving throughout the whole city and be connected to the Wi-Fi. There’s just crazy dope features on the functionality level, but the aesthetics are really beautiful. These state of the art implemented technologies will create safer communities.
13. You must have such a busy schedule at such a young age, what do you do to relax?
I love being in nature as well as making music. I also just love exploring the world and being exposed to different cultures / ways of life.
14. What’s your main focus right now? (Excerpts from Iddris’ interview with Nate Storey)
Infrastructure development. I feel like the most impactful thing we can do is to build an experimental prototype community in Africa, which is going to be where the next generation of global leaders come from, because Africans are exposed to a whole lot of problems that no one else wants to fix. My team and I we’re focused on those big issues, those big giant issues that no one else wants to focus on. I feel like the thing of most impact is building this community in Africa and empowering the next iteration of global leaders with the right tools and skillsets to make a huge impact.
It’s about really representing. I plan on coming to Ghana, sitting down with the president, figuring out how we can push forward technological, economic, and political growth. To be able to do that at 22 years old is amazing. I thank the universe and God for putting me on this path. I feel like everything has already been ordained and the impact I’ll have on our beings, our life forms will be huge but I attribute all of that to nature and the universe. Our skill sets are not ours. They’re just lent to us to serve before we leave, and then they’re given to someone else. I always like to end with that, letting people know, what are the skill sets that nature and the universe and God have bestowed into us. I just want to use all those to push or advance life forms in a positive away.
15. What message do you have for young Africans who want to impact the world in one way or the other?
There are codes in the seeds planted within you; not the earth because you are the earth — and the earth is you. All the tools you need to unlock your greatness are all within.
16. What should the world expect from Iddris in the next three years?
Continuing to evolve the intellectual and vibration frequency of the world; and more specifically Africa.