While other kids were at home watching television, a 13-year-old named Iddris Sandu spent most of his childhood in the library, reading texts about the theory of relativity and studying the German industrial designer Dieter Rams.
Now 21, the self-made entrepreneur and California native has made quite a name for himself in the worlds of technology and entertainment.
With a passion for tech and culture, Sandu has written algorithms and code for tech giants like Uber, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, received the Presidental Scholar Award from President Barack Obama.
His “wunderkind” reputation has allowed him to have boldface names like NBA star Steph Curry and Tesla CEO Elon Musk on speed dial.
Private consultant, software engineer, and technologist are just a few hats Sandu wears – though, he prefers the title architect. According to Sandu, he was offered admissions to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology twice, but he declined in order to be a change agent for African-American culture.
“Most people can see, but not everyone has vision,” Sandu told CNBC in a recent interview, summarizing his life’s philosophy and entrepreneurial drive.
Back in 2009, a Steve Jobs podcast served as the spark for Sandu’s desire to learn more about the technology world. As a teenager, the child of Ghanaian parents had a a fateful encounter in a library with a designer from Google. Shortly thereafter, he landed his first internship with the tech behemoth.
Since then, the young entrepreneur has been broadening his horizons by partnering with some very prominent entertainers. Sandu recently partnered with Kanye West and Jaden Smith on a few future businesses, clothing lines and disaster relief projects that are set to launch in 2019.
Just last year, Sandu helped rapper Nipsey Hussle create The Marathon Clothing, a smart store in Los Angeles that gives customers exclusive access to the rappers content. This is where he began bridging the gap between culture and technology, something he encourages the current generation to do.
“We are living in the digital revolution,” he said. Although “we are all constantly exposing ourselves to content in real-time,” he dismissed the idea that the world needs more social media platforms, even though he’s worked for some of the biggest names in the business.
“We need to address the largest issues affecting communities and build infrastructure on that,” Sandu told CNBC.
That foundation should be “inclusive, diverse, and authentic as its core.
One that will give youth an opportunity to amplify their voice and affect change.”
Sandu said he felt a strong obligation to use his platform to share information with the youth of today’s society and “level the playing field” for minorities looking for opportunities in technology.
“There is a division in the tech world, and to be a person of color in a dominant field that doesn’t look like you is tough, but definitely needed to directly affect and empower the culture,” said Sandu.
For anyone aspiring to build a business, Sandu said that they should ask themselves: “How does my product or service help humanity, how does it advance the life of those in my community or society?”
As the boom in technology exposes a host of negative side effects, Sandu said that society needs “more solution-based thinking over problem based thinking. Everyone is capable of identifying problems, but in the real-time…world we live in, it’s the addressing of these ideas….. that’s really going to make the difference.”