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What is We Read Too?

Recorded – watch the full episode on YouTube.

You have an excellent side project called We Read Too. What started it? What was your goal when you first set out?

Kaya Thomas: When I first started it actually I did not start with Xcode, I started with a Word doc and I'll try to explain. And so We Read Too is a directory of children and young adult books written by authors of color and the books feature main characters of color.

The reason why I kind of came up with the idea was actually from my own experience: I'm an avid reader, I've loved reading and when I was really, really young, my parents would like go to specialty bookstores and things to make sure that the characters and the picture books I was reading, look like me.

But then once I got older and I was like responsible for finding my own books, I kind of realized that I wasn't really getting well-represented in the books that I was reading. I didn't really find myself in those characters, and so it affected me.

“So that young people can see themselves in the books that they're reading. And also that people who are not from those backgrounds can be exposed to different types of people and people of all different types of backgrounds.”

And so as I got older and once I started learning how to code, I was like, “Oh, wow, okay. Potentially I could build some type of resource that collects all of these titles that have black, Latino, Asian, native American, all different types of characters from different backgrounds, so that young people can see themselves in the books that they're reading. And also that people who are not from those backgrounds can be exposed to different types of people and people of all different types of backgrounds.”

So that's kind of how the idea arose and when I started out, honestly, I just started searching for these type of books and listing them all in a word document. I didn't know anything about like databases or at that time.

“I think starting small is key, like when you're a starting out indie developer and you want to watch your first app, it doesn't have to be this grandiose thing, it doesn't have to be the best app in the world, it doesn't have to be the most beautifully designed app in the world.”

At that time I had just learned a bit of Python, I didn't even know iOS development yet. And so I started learning iOS development in the summer of 2014. And so then I learned iOS for a moment and I was like, “Oh, I can make some type of app.” And so I really just went on at the time I was reading Ray Wenderlich, AppCoda and doing these kind of tutorials and things and trying to figure out how to make apps and how could I connect it to the database. And then I started out with parts. I had manually took all those books I had listed, and at the time it was about 300 that I had in that word document and manually input them in parts one by one. And then I made the first version, which was really simple. It was like a table view that had two options, Children and YA, and you click on children's and then it would give you another table view that just listed all the books. And that was the first version of the app that I launched, late August 2014.

“And it was specifically made to be so intersectional and so diverse because I wanted to highlight all of these great stories that are from all different types of cultural backgrounds.”

Paul Hudson: There are many remarkable things in what you said, but one thing I particularly love about what you've said is anyone can make an app for themselves. Apps I make, my personal apps, I make for me. And I'm basically relying that there are 10,000, 50,000 folks out there who are just like me. Right? You could have done that because you could have said, “listen, when I was 15 or 16, there weren't enough people who looked like me. I'm going to make an app for black American girls who want to see themselves as characters.” You could have stopped there and you didn't stop there. You carried on going, how can I make this intersectional for everybody that reads? And that just opens up this app to so many more people who also felt the same way, also thought, “well, there aren't many Asian Americans," or whatever. And it just made the app so much more applicable to everyone. It's really, really awesome.

Kaya Thomas: And that's super important to me. I think some people get misconstrued and think that, “oh, it's a book that only has black characters or black authors," and that's not it at all. And it was specifically made to be so intersectional and so diverse because I wanted to highlight all of these great stories that are from all different types of cultural backgrounds.

Paul Hudson: It's wonderful though, because I see folks who are learning Swift and they've got an app idea. They want to build this app, which is great because app ideas are ultimately the nugget of everything we do, right? We've got to have an idea and they want to do it, but then they get hung up, they think “I’ve got to add these features.” They try and learn that bit, then they want to add some more features, they learn that bit. Then they think, “well, I've got to design a website.” Just… cut out as much as you can: go to Squarespace, take one of those things, learn no HTML, don’t try and build it yourself. Get out there with the simplest thing you can do and shape your app.

And actually Apple gave a talk on this some years ago now and were saying how to use keynote as a prototyping tool. It lets you see things working with animations on the screen immediately, not put in 500 hours of work first then see it working. It's much nicer to see very, very quick feedback and just it's right more quickly.

“You have to have a well balanced life, you have to make sure that you're taking care of yourself.”

Kaya Thomas: Exactly. I think starting small is key, like when you're a starting out indie developer and you want to watch your first app, it doesn't have to be this grandiose thing, it doesn't have to be the best app in the world, it doesn't have to be the most beautifully designed app in the world. I think there is a lot of pressure now to have these amazing looking apps and these amazing features, et cetera, but that, you don't always have to start there, you can get there I think.

If I look at where it is now versus where it was five years ago, it's night and day, but it's been five years. It hasn't been two months or two weeks and it takes time. I've really taken my time with We Read too, because I think it's important to know, when you're working on side projects, I think sometimes there's a lot of pressure to let it consume you.

“If I look at where it is now versus where it was five years ago, it's night and day, but it's been five years. It hasn't been two months or two weeks and it takes time.”

And you're working on at night and day and it's all you think about and whatnot, but that really isn't healthy. Right? You have to have a well balanced life, you have to make sure that you're taking care of yourself. And so there are plenty of times where I take breaks and I'm not working on We Read Too, or whatnot, but I made sure that, you want to make sure it's maintained and active, but adding new features and things like that, you don't always have to be adding new things and working on it every minute.

This transcript was recorded as part of Swiftly Speaking. You can watch the full original episode on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio version on Apple Podcasts.

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